Nineteen preschoolers twirled to the right; Jenny spun to the left. A dozen four-year-old children flung both hands in the air; Jenny sat down. The kids made a circle following one another conga style as the melodies oozed from the small speakers. Children smiled and bowed as the performance ended to the tumultuous applause of the assembled glowing parents. In short, indescribably perfect.
My wife and I, eager for grandchildren, once again teased Jenny’s parents. “You might want to write down our license number in case she goes missing.” “Bring her back when she’s 20,” they teased back. As we have known Jenny’s family for generations, our droll threat wasn’t taken seriously, and we all went out for frozen yogurt. Jenny mixed four different flavors and got sprinkles. Fortunately, I was willing to inhale her leftovers. A perfect end to a wonderful holiday performance.
The next night we attended another recital. While the children were equally precious, I was bored screaming. Daniella twirled and danced, leapt about and recited. I was stealing glances at my phone, opining that this was a half-hour of my life that I would never get back.
Why the difference in my perception of two otherwise indistinguishable adorable twirling children? I’m not proud of this. But I have intensely negative feelings for Daniella’s grandmother. Daniella’s grandmother was my student 30 years ago. I was her private tutor helping her prepare for a teacher’s exam. I dutifully taught Daniella’s grandmother how to find the area of a rectangle. After a number of patient lessons, Daniella’s grandmother did not pay me.
Having taught not hundreds but thousands of students over the decades, I shouldn’t be surprised that some trifling number would be flagrantly dishonest. Daniella’s grandmother stole from her housekeeper. Daniella’s grandmother stole from her church. She’s just one of those corrupt people. You’d think I’d be able to let it go after all these years. But her thieving still rankles me as does the fact that I had to take her to court to force her to pay her just debt. He taught wrong, she told the judge. The judge, perhaps aware that the area of a rectangle remains the product of its length and width, disagreed.
At this point, there’s nothing she or her family can do to get back into my good graces. Again, this is not a characterological quality of which I am proud. And I am well aware that anger is a quality that destroys the container in which it is kept. I just don’t like Daniella’s grandmother and, as a consequence, her perfectly delightful grandchild’s performance bores and annoys me rather than bringing me joy.
It’s my attitude about what Daniella’s grandmother has done that colors my perception about the range of what she might subsequently do.
The same situation applies to your relationship with your kids. It’s not what your kids do, it’s your attitude about what they do. Jenny got every step wrong in the performance, yet I thought she was wonderful. Daniella was a more skilled entertainer, but I was weary and distracted. Once you make up your mind about who your child is—that’s my easy child; that’s my daughter who doesn’t tell the truth—the narrative doesn’t update. If anything, parents are discombobulated when the kids take on a role contrary to the one they’ve been assigned. He actually did the dishes without being asked? Now, what am I supposed to think?
In the unlikely event that Daniella’s mother were to apologize–my behavior was unconscionable. I was going through a bad patch, but there is no excuse for my trying to cheat you out of the money you earned in good faith–would I be able to put aside my hurt and anger after all these years? Hard to say. If I were to qualify for the Swedish 130-foot skiing team, would I be a gracious competitor? Again, since I have never been on skis, there’s no way to tell. But, speaking of snow, attitudes quickly develop into an avalanche of hardened opinions from which digging out is unlikely.
The takeaway is simple: appreciate your kids, have a good attitude toward your kids, love your kids. That way you get to enjoy everything that they do—even if they sit down when all the other children are throwing their arms up in the air.