Yesterday, Ava came home very upset. Like really upset. She was emotional and distraught and seemed overwhelmed and lost.
She explained that she had been betrayed by her friends…her “friends.” Not only had there been some flakiness surrounding the science fair (which Ava takes so seriously it sort of alarms me), she found out that two of the girls at her slumber party had snuck into her room and read her diary, after telling Ava to “please leave” because they were “talking about something private.”
She was absolutely betrayed and could not make sense of it on any level: why would they lie? Why would they hurt her like that? Don’t they really care about her? Aren’t they her friends?
As she asked these questions I did my regular searching-for-the-right-thing-to-say routine, in which I inevitably realize I am not cut out for this shit and should not be trusted with somebody’s emotional development.
I listen to her feelings and empathize and commiserate. I feel the urge to say supportive, encouraging, hoo-rah good-mothering comments to her, to boost her spirits and make her feel better…but I just can’t. I can’t get them out. I hear them in my head: “Oh, maybe they were having a bad day. Be a bigger person. Look for the good in them.” Blah blah fucking blah.
But just like in The Stuffed Seal Incident, I can’t bring myself to say them, mostly because that crap never worked for me or helped me and it pretty much always just pisses me off. All that positive self-talk crap.
So instead, I say the truth.
“Ava, people suck. People are self-interested and self-centered. Every person, no matter who they are or how much they love you or you love them or how good they seem, WILL, inevitably, at some point, let you down. They will fail to meet your expectations. They will hurt you. This is not because they are bad people, but rather because they are human. And as humans, they are flawed.”
Maybe that seems pessimistic or negative or defeatist, but I don’t really think it is. And here’s why: because it’s true.
And the truth, in my opinion, is where the freedom lies and real growth can occur.
All that positive self-talk just polishes my anger into something more palatable, or covers it up long enough that I forget it’s there. Ah, but the truth. The truth changes things.
Now if any of you have a close relationship to a human being who has never once failed to meet your expectations, please let me know and I will adjust my theory…but as far as I can tell, not a single human has ever lived on this planet without royally fucking up at least once, injuring the people close to him or her in the process.
I’ve done it. Sometimes I don’t even know I’ve done it. I let people down without even knowing they expected something of me. I’ve been so lost serving my own interests that I don’t even realize my friend needed me. So I’m an asshole consciously and an asshole unconsciously.
That’s actually kind of impressive.
Anyway I was on a roll, so I kept going. “Ava, this doesn’t mean we just roll over and accept the way people treat us without question. We get to choose who is in our lives and who isn’t, and you can cross those girls out immediately if you want, and with reason, but either way, the sooner you let go of the expectation that friends and acquaintances are going to treat you in thoughtful, considerate ways all the time… the sooner you’ll be a happier person.”
And she thought about this. And thought. And thought. And finally said “Yeah, I see that, because I hurt people all the time and get mad and feel bad about it. But I just want them to see that they were wrong.”
And so I said something to her that changed my life when a good, [very mean, very real] friend said it to me: “Well, would you rather be right or would you rather be free?”
She looked at me like I was insane.
But I think she got it one some level…
I chose not to go on, chose not to explain that it’s freedom from bitterness and resentment and pain – freedom from that aching feeling that comes because the world just won’t do what I want and nobody behaves and no matter how hard I try, you fail me. You hurt me. You let me down.
And I think they won’t. But they will.
And I will.
Because we’re human. That’s what we do.
Oddly, when I see that, when I see the humanity in the other person, when I see that they are just like me, I am finally able to forgive them, to move on with a clearer head and less pain. Or at least it doesn’t last quite so long.
And maybe I will walk away, ultimately. And that’s cool. But whether I choose to love them despite their flaws or kick ‘em to the curb, I don’t have to carry that sickening feeling of betrayal, of deep-seated hurt – because I wanted you to be something you literally cannot be. (The Person Who Never Lets me Down.)
I don’t know.
It took me 30 years to learn these lessons. Just kinda hoping she gets it a little earlier.
But seriously, what kind of asshat kid reads somebody else’s DIARY? Little bastards.
ShanWednesday, 8 February, 2012 at 23:07
Dude, could you come and reparent me? Because I could use those talks. And not just when one of your kids needs them.
Karen Hug-NagyThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 5:41
Sounds like you did a GREAT job explaining to your daughter how people are. And yes what a bunch of asses for reading her diary and lying to her, that sucks. I tell my kids the blunt truth when I can get away with it. Yes, that some people do suck, and no they are not your friends, friends would never put you through that crap.
BTW, I love your writing, it’s honest and funny.
Kateri Von StealThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 6:04
I think you took the right approach.
She’s lucky to have such a good mama.
kimThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 6:55
Janelle. Your intuition is so amazing. My gut tells me to say things like, people suck. But that’s all I have. I don’t have the words to follow up with talks about being human and disappointment and expectations.
I love this post so, so much. I just linked the shit out of it. Big kisses.
JenniferThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 7:46
These are the things I wish my mother had told me. Seriously. Would have saved me 36 years of work. Thanks Janelle.
sean marieThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 9:18
Little girls are the cruelest of them all. You think they’re all sweet and innocent but they’re catty little bitches. I so worry about my daughter going through hardships with friends and being disappointed because like you said, it’s inevitable and will happen and when it does I worry I’ll strangle the person who hurts her.
KathThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 13:54
Janelle, you’re flippin’ brilliant.
Denee RebottaroThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 15:25
I think you gave awesome advice to Ava. Hope you don’t mind if I use that advice for myself. It seems I still haven’t learned these lessons. 🙂
LesleyThursday, 9 February, 2012 at 23:08
YES! People screw up, people act like idiots – self-centered and self focused. And Yes, Ava deserves a heartfelt apology too! When someone hurts us, or wrongs us, they really really should KNOW it – not simply because we told them they did, but because they know what it is right and what is wrong and feel bad about it. And want to be a better friend. I hear her pain. And if they are friends worth keeping, they will. And likewise, for her, it’s a lesson about whether we’re going to go thru life being a shark taking bites out of people, or being a doormat and allowing people to continue to walk all over us, or are we going to walk this world caring about our character and how we hurt others and being willing to admit when we are wrong, do better and grow.
it’s so hard. I feel for her (and all of us!) – we need people! Thank you for this fantastic post.
Nancy PerkinsFriday, 10 February, 2012 at 10:22
You have such great intuition, Janelle. Keep on doing what you are doing, because it’s awesome and inspiring.
CarreraFriday, 10 February, 2012 at 16:36
Oh man…I just read this and it almost made me cry, taking me back to my own 10 year old days of betrayal and strife with little bitches. I agree with an earlier poster who said that little girls are the cruellest of creatures. Anyone who disagrees has either never been around them, or was one themselves. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, fo’real.
It sounds like you gave her some sage advice that is relate-able and can grow with her as she gets older. It’s so important to teach children on a level understandable for both adult and child so that they actually learn a lesson, not just to say something nice because we want them to be nice.
BrianTuesday, 6 March, 2012 at 16:53
StefaniThursday, 9 August, 2012 at 7:40
This is one of the greatest blog posts on motherhood, and humanhood, ever. IMHO. Teaching your kids that people suck, things suck, but that we can move on from that and be okay regardless is the best lesson you can teach your kids. I just learned it myself recently, but the reverse lesson, that I could control what people did or that I’m less-than when people treat me as such, has been so ingrained that I need daily reminders like this one.
Amy McCollumThursday, 9 August, 2012 at 8:13
Bravo sista! I needed to hear all of that. Thank you!
P.S. Just found your blog via an Austin Blogger. Love it!!
PollyWednesday, 21 May, 2014 at 11:54
SERIOUSLY good advice. Thank you – LOVE it!!