About six weeks ago I volunteered to direct the 4th grade play at Number 5’s school.
This play is kind of a rite of passage for the 4th graders. It’s been a thing for years.
Number 3 was in the 4th grade play, Number 4 was in the 4th grade play, and Number 5 has been waiting for years to be in the 4th grade play, too.
So when none of the teachers were able to take on the responsibility this year and the principal turned to the parents for help, I, along with three other mothers, volunteered to make it happen.
One mom is the producer, two are the musical directors, and I am the director.
So I get to deal with all the fun stuff.
But I volunteered for it, so it’s my own doing.
Honestly, overall, I am really enjoying it.
But it has been quite a learning experience, that’s fo sho.
And we aren’t even halfway there yet.
I knew there would be challenges.
I knew there would be people who were unhappy.
And it took until last week to be contacted — publicly — by a parent whose child was unhappy with a part she didn’t get.
A very minor extra part that would involve wearing a costume for approximately three minutes.
I can appreciate the child being upset.
I’ve lived this myself.
Number 4 was semi-devastated with the part she received three years ago when she was in the 4th grade play.
There was a lot of crying.
A LOT OF CRYING.
We are talking hours-of-hysterics-and-locking-yourself-in-your-room kind of crying.
And I have to admit, I was shocked that she didn’t get one of the lead roles.
It was only last week that she said to me, knowing that I’m directing the play now, “Mom, I never told you this because I felt so ashamed at the time.”
My heart sank immediately. Nobody wants to hear that their kid is feeling shame.
Then she continued.
“One day after the auditions were all done and we were at rehearsal, Mrs. X came up to me and said, ‘Number 4, we were going to give you a much bigger part. But your behavior was so bad at auditions that we decided to give you a much smaller role.‘”
“And Mom,” Number 4 continued, “she said it like it was just another thing. Like ‘oh, and by the way, I know I just crushed your 4th grade dreams, but you asked for it. Okay. Now go over there and sit down.”
OH BOY WAS I A MIX OF EMOTIONS.
“I never said anything because I felt so bad, Mom,” Number 4 told me.
“But the thing is, I really wasn’t that bad.”
Number 4 is pretty good about being honest with herself.
At the time, I actually received a couple texts from a mom who was volunteering during rehearsals. One in particular telling me Number 4 had been threatened to have even her minor part taken away.
This volunteer mom assured me that Number 4 hadn’t really done anything. That the teacher was pretty far off base.
It was quite apparent that the teacher in charge of the play back then had a thing for Number 4. And not a good thing.
That she didn’t connect with her and really, it appeared as though she just didn’t like her at all.
I wanted so badly to say something back then.
But I kept my mouth shut.
Because it was a lesson Number 4 was going to have to learn.
Sometimes things don’t go your way.
Sometimes people don’t like you, and there is nothing you can do about it.
And it sucks.
It’s no fun to be disappointed.
It’s no fun to have your 4th grade hopes and dreams completely crushed.
It’s no fun to know that a person really doesn’t like you at all. Especially when you are a kid. And the person is a grown up who really should know better.
But something good came out of it.
Number 4 had her first lesson in learning that when people don’t like you, it’s not so much about you as it is about them.
And she also learned a lot about how to handle disappointment that year.
And now, three years later, she’s FINE.
In fact, she’s much stronger for it.
So back to this year.
When one of the kids in the play was disappointed to not be wearing an animal costume for three minutes in one song, a parent confronted me.
It was only fair that her child be able to do this also. Because she was crying. And she shouldn’t be crying!
I have to admit I was kind of shocked.
I GET IT.
I hate to see my kids disappointed.
I hate to see my kids suffer.
BUT YOUR KIDS HAVE TO SUFFER.
Because we will all suffer.
We are all going to suffer. A LOT.
Our lives are going to be full of disappointment and suffering.
That is the nature of being a human being.
This happened today with Number 5 and Number 7 at Costco.
Number 5 had some of her own money that she has been saving, and she took it with her “in case she saw something she wanted to buy.”
Number 7 had no money because she chose to take what she had saved to the book fair about a month ago, and she bought herself some stuff there.
Costco has these stuffed animal/pillow “Squishmallows” for sale right now. They are about $15.
Number 5 had $19, and she decided to get one for herself.
Of course this threw Number 7 into a tailspin.
She wanted a Squishmallow, too.
It wasn’t fair.
She needed one, too.
She would “pay me back.” (with her nonexistent money)
She deserved one, too.
If she had known these were gonna be at Costco, she wouldn’t have bought stuff at the book fair.
I almost caved.
I know how hard it is, especially for a seven-year-old girl to see one of these (fucking) Squishmallows and to want it SO BADLY.
I have caved in to things like this in the past.
Because 1) I don’t want to deal with the meltdown that ensues, and 2) because I just don’t like to see my kids feeling sad.
Today I managed to stay strong.
Because a lesson was learned. A lesson about prioritizing and budgeting and instant gratification.
Also, Number 7 already has a Squishmallow that she could give a shit about! She just wanted another one!
Number 4 also had a situation recently.
She, much like her mom, is often lacking a filter.
And sometimes she says stuff that doesn’t sit well with people.
A couple weeks ago she said a couple things that, in retrospect, she wished she could have taken back and said differently. Or not at all.
We’ve all done it.
That is the worst feeling, isn’t it?
That one where you wake up in the morning feeling okay, and then about three seconds after you open your eyes, you remember what you did or said the day before and that shitty feeling in your stomach comes back?
And it won’t go away.
And you just want to curl up into a ball under your covers and stay there forever?
That feeling BLOWS.
And for some of us, we turn to food or drugs or booze or sex or whatever other numbing thing we use to get us out of that feeling of discomfort until it goes away and we wake up and that feeling in our stomach isn’t there anymore.
I wanted to make it better for her because I know how bad that feeling sucks.
It took ALL of my restraint to just let her sit in the discomfort.
WE HAVE TO PRACTICE THAT SHIT.
Because I really, really, really want to give my kids the tools to handle discomfort so they don’t have to undo years of doing whatever it takes to avoid those feelings.
Cause I’m still working on that, and I have to say.
IT’S NOT FUN.
It is hard fucking work to stop using food as a distraction from discomfort.
When we don’t let our kids experience discomfort and suffering, we are doing them a huge disservice.
And we are setting them up for MUCH BIGGER PROBLEMS down the road.
When we stop them from being upset at all costs, we are robbing them of skills they NEED in order to navigate the world.
It is so easy to try to fix things.
It is so easy to do whatever we can to stop the suffering.
We use food and money and presents and our influence to make our kids comfortable at all times.
And then we wonder why they are unable to handle disappointment and failure and suffering when they are older.
OUR KIDS NEED TO SUFFER.
Our kids need to practice being physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially uncomfortable.
Because there is a shit ton of suffering on the horizon for them.
About 50% of our lives are spent in negative emotion.
There will be death and divorce and bankruptcy for some of them.
There will be broken bones and broken promises and broken hearts.
There will be failures and disappointments.
Sometimes your kids will do stuff to bring on the failures themselves, and other times they are gonna get fucked over for no reason at all.
So stop fixing shit.
Stop making everything easy.
Let your kids sweat.
Let them fail.
Let them cry.
Let them feel bad about stuff.
Whether it was their fault or not, let them sit in discomfort.
And then give them the tools to work through it all.
I know it’s not easy.
But I can also assure you that trying to learn this skill at forty-nine years old is exponentially harder than it is at nine years old.
Let the hurt happen.
When it does, let your kids know that while you aren’t gonna fix it for them, you are gonna be there for them.
Because that is the thing that — in the short run and the long run — is truly going to help them the most.