Friday, January 2, 2009

Of pearls and swine

Don't throw your pearls before swine.

I remember my late Irish grandmother saying that to me when I was an awkward tomboy, brimming with energy and a palpable yearning to be accepted and liked by other children. And I used to giggle at her and feel just a little embarrassed, even though I didn't know exactly what the expression meant.

But I know what it means now.

And I realized just what a great piece of advice it was last week while watching Graham in the play area of the restaurant-which-shall-not-be-named-but-which-I-have-nonetheless-learned-to-love-without-shame.

Yes, my son is only three years old. And no, there were no actual swine involved. There was only a perfectly normal and wonderfully boisterous group of eight or nine-year-old boys who were charging up and down the play structure, shouting and hooting and electrifying the air with their rambunctious energy.

And then there was Graham.

Graham spent the better part of an hour trailing the lot of them like a puppy dog in search of scraps. He stood at their edges, clapping his hands in excitement when they shouted and made vain attempt after vain attempt to join in their games of tag, only to be left in their figurative dust time and time again.

My heart ached to intervene, to distract him or implore the older boys to include him, but I didn't. I merely sipped my coffee and observed. Not only did the boys' rejection do nothing to dissuade him, Graham was so intent on trying to join the crowd that he actually failed to notice the overtures of a smaller, quieter boy who approached him and tried to interest him in a slide designed for children closer to their age.

As I watched I couldn't help but remember my grandmother's advice and I soon realized that the aching feeling in my heart was as much regret as it was sadness for Graham.

When I was younger I spent a lot of time and effort chasing the cool kids and the popular crowd; enough time and effort, it turned out, to ensure my eventual ascension to the top of the social heap in school. And while I largely remember my youth as a happy time, full of friends and socializing, I can't help but lament the huge amount of effort that I put into solidifying my social standing and the huge amount of anxiety I suffered as a result of the whole pursuit.

I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that it doesn't matter what other people think of her. I wish I could tell her that if she has to throw up before going on a date, then that guy probably isn't the one.

I wish I could tell her that B pluses and A minuses are fine, but that A pluses are within her grasp and that they will pay greater dividends than any party invitation. I wish I could tell her that she could win that scholarship to study in Hawaii if only she pursued it as fervently as she did popularity.

I wish I could tell her that sometimes the quiet kids are the most interesting ones and that one day she will wish she had spent more time pursuing deeper relationships with people of quality.

I wish I could tell her that her brother, despite his awkward high school career, was going to be her brother forever and that she would one day regret not cultivating his friendship and having his back in those days.

But we all know that it's impossible to revisit our younger selves. And as a result of that knowledge, I think it becomes all too easy to try and transport our hard-won adult wisdom and confidence to our children.

But the painful truth is, that is equally impossible.

One of the most revelatory aspects of parenting is the way it forces you to relive your own childhood, to suddenly be transported to the days when you faced the same challenges your children encounter.

And as cliche as it sounds, I am realizing that it is hard, much harder than I imagined, to refrain from seeing my child's life as a canvas on which I may repaint my masterpiece and correct past errors.

And maybe it is a tad overwrought to project the whole of my social history onto Graham's tender three-year-old soul, but watching him trail after the maddening crowd the other day left me fervently wishing that one day he would have the strength and the confidence to heed the advice that my younger self had chosen to ignore.

Don't throw your pearls before swine.

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36 comments:

Barrie said...

I want so badly to pass on my "wisdom" to my children. If only they'd listen... Great post, BTW. And...Happy New Year!

Michelle said...

Beautifully done. It really is hard to let go, to let them fall to watch them fail. I imagine that it only gets more difficult. I was on the other side of the teenage years, I got the A's and A pluses, but not the popularity and as a preteen it was crushing. I now have a great deal of empathy for what my mother must have gone through watching my anguish.

The reality is that no one comes through unscathed, and perhaps it's better that way. In my opinion, the best thing we can teach our children (by example) is to live our lives with as few regrets as possible. Ultimately, the choices you made have contributed to the person you are right now and I'd have to say from what I know (and that might not be much), that person is pretty great.

Osh said...

New visitor via Michelle...

Wonderful post, and so true!

I hate to tell you this, but you are going to have so many more moments like this, and your skin will never toughen up. I still want to throw myself in front of my 14, soon to be 15 year old son and yell at the the nasty kids that are mean to him, the ones that taunt him...

Thanks for a great post, I will visit again!

verygoodyear said...

This is a really gorgeous post. Motherhood is such an amazing thing and every time I get the chance to read about the thoughts and concerns of another mom, I am so happy for this crazy internet community we've got :)

kittenpie said...

I keep realizing how lucky I was as a child/teen to be largely oblivious to all the social business and be quite happy having a few good friends and doing my own thing. I can only hope that Pumpkinpie becomes the same way, as it saved me a lot of hurt, but I already see that she might not be, when she comes home a little hurt, a little confused by some shifting dynamics among her friends at daycare or school. I can only try and help her understand and see it all as temporary and changeable, subject to reconfigure next week. Here's hoping it's enough, becuase the urge to make it better is strong for all us moms, that's for sure.

Multitasking Mama said...

Excellent post! This is a lesson I need to remember from time to time, even as an adult.

InTheFastLane said...

You know, they might not listen, but if we keep talking, there is always the hope that something will stick. At least that is what i try to remember as my 14 YO daughter tries to find her place.

Melisa said...

It's great to be able to live in the moment and have that kind of perspective, backwards and forwards!

Laura said...

Sweetie - this is the most beautiful post - I can feel your emotion and totally relate. I have witnesssed the exact same thing with my boys and feel the exact same way.

Thank you for sharing.

Hugs and prayers.

Badness Jones said...

What a wonderful post. Thanks.

MommyK said...

If the other kids are older, it's not really an unusual reaction. In a group of varying ages, the older kids are almost always the leaders and the younder kids are the followers. I've seen it with my own son (age 4) and his preschool group and also when we're at the playground with older kids. My son gets what I call "Big Boy Envy" and wants to play with them and do what they do. For the most part, the other kids oblige him, but sometimes they are not so interested in playing with a younger child. And that is hard to watch for me. It's partly the reason that we have chosen to start him in kindergarten at age 6 instead of at 5.

Oz said...

Such a great post. It's the sort of wisdom that I'd like to share with my son (eventually), but I have a feeling that any teenager or even pre-teen might scoff at such advice coming from his mama.

April said...

Beautiful!

sky girl said...

Awesome post Kelly!

Catherine said...

I watch Elliot with the neighbor boys. He can ride a two wheeler like they can, but not as daringly. And sometimes he's included in their games and sometimes not. And when he's not actively included he plays on the fringes, I think he thinks he's participating. Poor guy.

I thought my own childhood was tough on me, I think his will stir far more feelings.

Melissa said...

If there is one lesson that I learned over and over in 2008 it's no one can learn from your experience. Isn't it a shame think of all the hurt we could spare....

Hopefully, Graham's lessons won't be as hard as yours were. And if for some chance they are he will learn to deal with them with grace and acceptance.

At least that's what I try and tell myself as I bang my head against the wall watching my 6 year old do the same thing!

Mocha Dad said...

My son is only five and he is quite concerned about being cool and what the other kids think of him. I try to teach him that the only opinion that matters is his own.

OHmommy said...

I love posts like these. I always reflect back on my own childhood too.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You have such wonderful insights. The most important of those is that you realize that you would not help Graham by smoothing his path--it is by letting him find his way that he will grow up.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

I feel you.

MommyTime said...

This is beautiful. And I can completely relate: it is so hard not to see ourselves in our children and want to shape them accordingly. But you are right to sit back, and you will also be right to try to teach Graham (when he's a bit older) some of the lessons you learned. He will also be normal if he can't hear those lessons from you but must learn them on his own. That is the hardest part about watching them grow, I think.

Happy New Year, though. And I hope your family is doing well (better).

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

What a beautifully written post. I can see right down into your soul here. Your inside self really mirrors your outer beauty.

And, I was really touched with what you said about your brother. It took me by surprise at first, because as I read it I felt like I was discovering feelings about myself for the first time. My brother and I never really forged the kind of relationship that could have been, should have been but never was. He was quiet and content with not chasing popularity but rather enjoying his few close friends. I, on the other hand, HAD to be at all the right parties, the right lunch table, wear the right clothes, etc. Now I look back and say, "what a waste". My brother is still here, though distant. The social climb has long since disappeared.

But, at the time, no one could have convinced me differently. I wish I knew the secrets then that I know now.

Mommy Cracked said...

This is some of your best writing yet! And I can certainly relate. While I was never popular, I always chased it and regret the time I wasted.

Mom On The run said...

Great post, and so true! I often have to restrain myself from correcting Sierra's natural tendancies, and I also have to refrain myself from being just like my mother.

I have to admit, I never chased the popular kids - I walked to the beat of a different drum. Then once, long after highschool was over, a slaesperson at a shoe store remarked: I know who you are, you're Janice! I admittedly had no idea who he was, but was astonished to find out that dispite what I thought I was popular, in a different (yet good) way. It was rather strange.

Not Your Regular Mini Van Mom said...

I hear you, if I could go back and tell my younger (ahem thinner) self things, life would be different. It makes me smile to think of the little nuggets of wisdom that we will one day be able to pass on to our little ones.

Renée aka Mekhismom said...

What a wonderful post. I know that we all wish we could do some things differently in the past and that we will see our children repeat some of the same mistakes. And the cycle continues.

for a different kind of girl said...

I wish I could coherently say here what I want to because this post is so wonderful and I absolutely 'get' what you've shared with us here, and so many of the same thoughts and concerns weigh on my heart as I watch my boys go about their lives. I just don't think I can say it as well, so I'm just going to say thank you for this.

Loralee Choate said...

The funny/sad thing is that so many of us continue to do this fruitless chasing of things/approval/acceptance as adults. It's just a different setting and usually in much more subtle ways.

It's a very hard lesson to learn and have stick.

Heather said...

My boys are a little shy and tend to be drawn to the boisterous groups of older boys. I wonder if they see the confidence there that they wish they had.

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

This is so hard, as a mom to now teens, it doesn't get any easier! It is really hard to balance teaching them good skills while dealing with your own old emotions and not projecting those.

Shannon said...

Beautifully written - it's perfect!! I think every little tidbit of your own childhood you share with Graham will help him learn and develop and grow (ok, maybe not so much when he's three, but certainly in a few years!) and at that point, you can rest easy at least knowing you totally did your best. Like your grandmother, we offer the advice, then we have to take a back seat and watch how it all unfolds :-)

Meli said...

That was a beautiful post.

I really wish I could pass this message along to my niece & son but unfortunately they are going to find out themselves and that thought kills me.

Janet said...

My British grandmother used to say "She is the cat's mother." I still don't know what that meant.

My son, who is now 9, used to "include" himself in every game on the playground when he was Graham's age. It didn't matter if the kids were preteens who ignored him completely. He assumed everyone wanted to play with him. He's much more in tune to social cues now. I kind of miss that heart-wide-open version of him.

PS I received the Gargoyle book before Chrismtas and am thoroughly entrenched in the story now! Thanks again.

Lisa b said...

Kelly this is fabulous.

I just read your posts below and I am so sorry to hear about your mother in law.

painted maypole said...

oh, yes. I ached and strived for that elusive "popularity" as well, and now I realize not only what a waste it was, but that the "popular kids" weren't really popular, they just told everyone they were

Jaina said...

That's good advice. I'm the odd one who had great friends but wasn't popular, and didn't much care. I think I get it from my mom. It just doesn't matter to me what people think or say...and to be quite honest it disconcerts most people who expect their opinions and "popularity" to affect me. Graham will get it, he's got a wonderful Mommy who will help him.