Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On remembering Margaret Mead

I am frustrated with my children.

This is not a new feeling, but now that they are adults, I try to treat them as adults. So I don't act out. But I want to!

My 20-year-old daughter is a brilliant girl, studying biology. But she is still clinging to the same boyfriend she had in high school, who is not in college, and works for a nearby borough in the Public Works Dept. He's a sweet guy, and I'm fond of him. But I don't think he'll go the distance. I think if she marries him, she'll be sorry later. I want her to take a risk -- meet new people. Easy for me to say! As she points out, this isn't my business.

My 23-year-old son is a challenge of a different sort. He has hated school since kindergarten, and has finally dropped out of college (for the third time). Now he's thinking about trade school. I think it's a good idea -- but I've seen him quit school so often that I have no faith in this new plan. How do I muster up any enthusiasm? I need to bite my tongue, that's for sure.

About twenty years ago, I went through a Margaret Mead phase, reading all of her books. I remember little or nothing now of what she said, except for one observation, in Blackberry Winter, her account of her youth, when she points out (I'm summarizing, and hoping to get this right) that the most fortunate children are not those children who are simply wanted, but who are also the very children their parents wanted (italics mine). Twenty years ago, this statement really hit home when I read it.

I was not, not for one nanosecond, the child my parents wanted. Both were athletic; I dreaded gym class. Both were outgoing; I was shy, bookish, and liked to fade into the background. When challenged, however, I was stubborn (indeed, I still have a mouth on me). I disdained the social graces, and was never the "little lady" my mother wanted (and I'm still not, I guess, going to work in jeans and a tee-shirt every day). Even after I'd grown up, my mother felt she had to lie about my job, telling people I was the Director of the library where I work, instead of a lowly line supervisor. It's amazing that I don't feel any resentment about all this -- just a kind of bemusement.

But it's not the way I want my kids to feel, and I hope they don't. Which is why my argumentative tongue is firmly bitten most of the time. I'm not God, and can't make my children in my image. I should have known this long ago. I, of all people, should have known it.

So I'm just loving them as they are, and I'm hoping that's what they need.

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