So about a month ago, my great kid asked if I’d get tickets to go see the Big Apple Circus while it was visiting our area. Since I’ve enjoyed our visits there as much as he did, I was all in. And then he asked me to include my Mom (who is not a circus person at all) to come with us, as next year he’ll probably be off at college somewhere far away and we won’t be able to do this again as a family. God bless my Mom who said something to the effect of that while she really didn’t want to go she would because she truly wanted to make him happy, because she knew how much he enjoyed it in the past when we’d take my Dad every year to see the circus. And so off we went.
While we waited for the show to start, we started talking about everything and nothing at all and somehow got on to the subject of Disneyworld. We started talking about his senior trip there and how it started off great but that by the end of the week, when he and his classmates had been together 24/7 for 5 days with little sleep and too much excitement from the theme parks and rides, they were all sick of each other. And I remarked, innocuously I thought, that it seemed that could happen to anyone who spent too much time in too close a proximity without any kind of break. I reminded him that sometimes when he and I go off on vacation together, we’re snarling at each other several days in, each retreating to our separate corners of our hotel room, looking for some personal space of our own.
I thought I’d made a good point, trying to show him that the scenario that played out when he was in close quarters with friends was just one of those things, that it happens all the time. But I was told nicely but clearly that I was way off base.
Mom, he said, you know that thing you do when you try to rationalize when things go wrong for me and put a spin on why it happened because you think you’re making me feel better? You’re not.
Wow. Talk about a light bulb moment. It didn’t even occur to me to disagree with him because he was spot on. It’s something I do, do a lot apparently, even more than I’d like to think. Because I don’t like confrontation with people, I don’t like unpleasant conversations. So I try to explain away bad behavior, or broken promises, or hurt feelings, or an empty feeling in your soul whether it’s directed at me or at someone I love or hold dear.
And it got me thinking about how often or how much of this others do. How much do we rationalize things, just to get through the situation, or to make it another day, or to put up with a bad relationship because we’ve got kids or need that second income or don’t want to be on our own? How often do we concoct excuses for what passes as acceptable behavior these days? And why?
I am loath to engage in self-analysis (just another one of my projects to work on) so I can only surmise why any of us rationalizes what we do, or what others do, or what we allow others to do. And I think it’s that we all to some extent want to go along to get along. Aren’t we surrounded by enough strife and turmoil in the exterior world? We hear hateful words from partisan talking heads on news channels. We read stories, too many stories of innocent children and adults being killed by the proliferation of guns in our society. We live, too often it seems, in a virtual world, a world of Facebook and Twitter where we have friends who aren’t friends at all, and we comment on what people say because we think what we have to say is valuable, and we engage in heated discussions over things that ultimately don’t matter, that don’t change anyone’s mind, that are not important in the long-term.
So sometimes, when presented with a real life dilemma, a problem that manifests itself in our real world, in our home, or office, or your car sitting next to someone you love, our instinct is to smooth things over, to let the water close back over that pebble of a problem thrown in, to swallow the words we want to say and instead smile and agree. Goodness knows, I did this for far too many years with someone who didn’t treat me well and it became a learned behavior, a crutch I fall back on even to this day. I didn’t say things I should have, I don’t say things I should. And it pains me to say that, to know that I’ve let this become part of my life.
But maybe, just maybe my son has learned from my behavior and seen what it can and will do to a person. He’s seen that my explaining away everything in my attempt to soften the blow, to make his way easier, to spare him some of the hurt feelings and brokenhearted days and sleepless nights I’ve experienced have not done what I thought they would or should but instead ricocheted right back to me. And it’s made him smarter and more attuned to his feelings than I was at his age, than I am even now. He stands up for himself. He tells people when they’ve hurt his feelings. He is not shy to confront if confrontation is called for. He is the person I always wished I could be.
So while I’m not happy that I’ve been reluctant to do more for myself than I have, if it has helped my kid take the opposite tack and put him on a path that will make him more surefooted than I am, more resilient, more open and accepting and protective of his heart and his feelings, than any discomfort or second guessing I could do for the way I’ve lived my life is fine with me. Because paying that price to see him become the man he should be is a price I’d pay 100 times over.