I don’t have children. There are two beautiful souls in California that I like to think I helped to form when I had the privilege of step-mothering them for 12 years, but as for biologic offspring I chose a different path.
I am an only child. Growing up I was very close to my mom’s sister Marta and her children; my four hilarious, generous, loving, quirky and exceptional cousins. They are each so different from the other, yet there is a sameness—a baseline of caring and goodness that is unmistakably “them.” So it comes as no surprise that their children sprouted into the world with joyful abandon and hearts as big as the universe.
Three of the ten are about to leave for college. That’s 30% of the kids in the family. So what does my tribe do when faced with the annihilation of its ranks? We honor them, we spend every minute with them that they will give us and, we the elders, gather to talk about the old times and we cry and hug and laugh and say little prayers for their safety and happiness. We plot care packages, visits, holidays and how we can make things even more special for the returning warrior cubs when they deign to visit us.
Going away to college is a rite of passage. It’s exciting, liberating, scary, stressful, anticipatory and such a major huge step in becoming independent. That’s all from the perspective of the ones leaving. For those of us who watch them go it is devastating…and good. It is life.
What can we tell them that we haven’t already said a thousand times? They know to be safe. They know to choose their friends wisely. They know a healthy diet is essential to regular digestive operations. And yet they are bound to take risks that would turn our blood to ice water if we knew what they were doing. They will befriend both sinners and saints, they will gamble and there will be high fructose corn syrup and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it and they will live and thrive and laugh and learn in spite of it. Or maybe because of it.
What do we say to them now that we haven’t said over and over for the past 18 years? I do not have children, so perhaps my advice is less words of wisdom and more “oh, Pammy, please shut up” based on my experiences at their age. However interpreted, it is all from my heart.
You truly do not know how your kindness and compassion impact the people and the world around you until one day, perhaps a year from now, perhaps when you are very old—you will find someone has held you in their heart because you showed kindness at a time when he or she was on the brink of losing all hope. You weren’t aware of it—that time you offered a stranger a helping hand with a heavy burden, or you dropped everything to drive a friend of a friend of a friend to an appointment. Unwittingly, on that day at that moment you changed the script. You saved a life. You made a difference and you never even knew it.
So always go on the assumption that the way in which you treat people will be remembered forever, by them. It is an awesome burden, this. It will define you.
Laugh at disaster.
Tell the worst day of your life to fuck off. Shy of death, there is nothing that will happen to you or around you at this time of your life that you will likely even remember when you’re 30. You will endure a broken heart, a grade you didn’t deserve, to be lonely, scared, anxious and homesick. In the big scheme of things, which means by the time you’re 22, these will have been fleeting emotions—blips on the radar from which you will learn, and those will be the things you use to feather your emotional nests as you continue to grow and mature, which is a life long occupation btw. It doesn’t end after university or grad school, marriage or retirement. It doesn’t end until your heart stops beating.
We learn through repetition. Make observation a habit. Whether you go on to become physicians, actors, artists, philosophers, philanthropists, global financiers or soccer moms or dads, every day of your future will be informed by the events of today and tomorrow, so take mental stock often and in great detail.
I promise you, the feeling of warm sand between your toes on a summer’s day with the voices of children in the background, a breeze ruffling the edge of your beach towel and the sun so bright on the water you have to look away for a second—these are the moments that will help you take flight when you least expect it.
It’s equally important that you etch instances of great sorrow and elation into your consciousness—the look on your lover’s face the first time you say I love you, and when you say I do not love you anymore. The moments that take your breath away whether you are overjoyed or seizing with heartbreak are the same moments that will one day give you strength, inspiration, comfort and the principles upon which you will make wise choices.
Be aware of how people make you feel.
Anyone who makes you feel less than, insecure, not respected or valued or treasured or beautiful is not someone you should have in your life. There are all kinds of psyche terms we could bandy here, but suffice it to say that people who can thrive only by making others miserable are rat bastards who may be pitied, but in whom zero time should be invested.
Break bread with the sinners and see if you can’t corrupt a few saints, but walk away from anyone who doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. And with that admonishment you will surely recognize the absolute need to build others up.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
Go forth and change the world, and know that your tribe—those who went before and we who remain—are one footstep behind you should you stumble or fall. And when you run we will be cheering.
An article entitled Ten Toxic People to Avoid Like the Plague appeared in my inbox this morning. I clicked it fast as I could, fully expecting a list of people’s names, which could have been handy. Instead I got a list of toxic types: the gossip, the temperamental, the victim, the self-absorbed, the envious, the manipulator, the dementor, the twisted, the judgmental and the arrogant.
While I appreciate that someone compiled a list of poisonous personalities to run away from, I find it lacking (although I am enamored of the word “dementor” and plan to use it often and with abandon). Here’s what was overlooked:
1. The kid bragger.
Pretty much all parents think highly of their children so it’s a safe bet to assume when you start banging on about your elfin overachievers you’re setting other parent’s teeth on edge like a piece of aluminum foil hidden in a hamburger. I don’t care if Bimmer was accepted to Harvard before he was potty trained. My Alfie knows how to spell p-a-r-k and t-r-e-a-t, and he’s a dog.
When it comes to our children genius is totally in the eye of the beholder, which is where it should stay. After you get home from dinner you can gaze lovingly onto junior’s pudgy visage and tell him he is waaaay smarter than a dog. It will be a lie, but you’ll only be annoying the living crap out of Fido and not everyone at a dinner party.
2. The disingenuous.
The classic “disingenuous” is Charles Dickens’ sycophant Uriah Heep, notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness and insincerity. “Oh, Master Copperfield, I am but an ‘umble’ man and you are so handsome and intelligent.” In today’s world Heep would open with, “Did you have a little work done? You look great!”
The character of Uriah Heep was based on a real life thief and forger who ingratiated himself to the Dickens’ family only to rob them blind once his bald flattery gained him access to the household. Apparently Thomas Powell told Mr. Dickens that he was a tremendous writer—that all other writers were losers—that Mr. Dickens had married the hottest Victorian supermodel in the world that no one had ever heard of before and that the Dickens children were classy and high quality people. Next thing he knew, Dickens was out $150K, all the silver candlesticks went missing and Tiny Tim had to do without the surgery that would have enabled him to walk sans crutches.
3. The megalomaniac.
Megalomania is a mental disorder in which the mind of the person is seriously broken as the possible result of a traumatic brain injury such as caused by falling off one’s gilded toilet onto one’s head. Megalomaniacs have an unrealistic sense of their own importance, popularity, wealth, power and significance, which is sweet soul music to the disingenuous.
Opposite the sycophant on the teeter-totter of dysfunction, the megalomaniac is easy to both manipulate and provoke. To bend one to your will you must only flatter and pledge undying loyalty, but their frontal lobe explodes when they are called on their shit. These are not philosophers or thinkers of meaningful thoughts, but they are oxygen to the flame of ass kissing and we better hope the two never converge in the White House. That would be #sad and #bad.
4. The willfully ignorant.
While my co-worker claims not to have known that the sandwich in the lunchroom fridge—in a bag with my name on it—wasn’t “up for grabs,” the law itself makes no allowances for ignorance (ignorantia juris non excusat), or in other words, I catch even a whiff of tomato, mozzarella, basil and roasted focaccia on your breath ever again, you are going down.
Sandwich skullduggery notwithstanding, I’m freaked out on a daily basis by the willfully ignorant’s ability to dismiss facts as something…disposable, like wedding rings or green cheese. Try as I might I cannot fathom a mental process by which, you know, evidence simply doesn’t effect decision-making, like the special kind of stupid it takes to touch a fajita plate even though you can literally hear it cauterizing the chicken. Just like the sizzling cast iron pan of death, willful ignorance will burn you in the end.
5. Internet trolls.
It is easier to discuss Kant with a cat than to argue with a troll although in both cases you will want to hack up a fur ball. I was recently blindsided by an exchange on Facebook that began civilly enough, but quickly devolved into what can only be described as visiting a Port-o-Potty next to a beer tent on the last day of a 10-day music festival during a heat wave when the curry guy at the international food tent has accidentally served tainted goat. In other words it was disgusting.
It’s one thing to voice opposition to a particular point of view or opinion, but to expend energy contriving vulgar non sequiturs in order to “get a rise” out of someone is like telling a rock it has a big ass and you don’t like its socks. The rock ain’t gonna change and the person talking to it remains an idiot talking to a rock.
Provocateurs used to be people who said and did thought provoking things usually associated with the arts and the loftier side of humanity. Much as the word “elite” used to be a positive adjective, we are suddenly swimming in a cesspool of co-opted verbiage. Elite is a dirty word while crass, vulgar and stupid stand in for “of the people.” Internet trolls know they don’t have to put any thought into their invective—as long as it’s base, ugly and vile it serves its purpose, which as best I can tell is to further strip humans of their distinction from rocks.
6. People who say irregardless.
Compared to the pulchritudinous people in items one through five, this one, #6, will get you killed.