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I was at the playground with my daughter J the other day for some fun on the swings, and next to us was a boy a little older than her. When they noticed each other, my 19-month-old daughter looked right at him with a smile and a “hi!” This scared the hell out of her new friend, who quickly retreated to the safety of the area behind his mother’s leg.
I realized right there that my daughter has definitely inherited my ability to just simply talk to anyone. I believe that my having that ability, honed through years and years of practice, is one of the key reasons for my success. Never being afraid to start the conversation, never being the wallflower, and most importantly, never being afraid of what anyone else might say about what I do, is the key driving force behind almost everything I’ve achieved.
As I pushed her higher and higher, (much higher than Mommy or Grandma would ever allow, because well, hell, I’m Daddy!) it occurred to me that I secretly hoped that she wasn’t the hugely popular kid when she starts school in a few years. I realized that I don’t want her to have all the friends, and on occasion, I WANT her to worry about having someone to do something with on a weekend.
I’m sure this goes against Parenting Law 105 or something, and I have no doubt that the second this post hits Facebook, I’ll be vilified the same way villagers would burn those they thought to be witches. But hear me out:
To understand my logic, you need to take a step back to the early 80s, when I was growing up. See, I was not a popular kid, by any stretch of the imagination. I had the occasional friend, usually a similar computer geek like me, and we’d spend hours toiling away on who could write the best programs in BASIC.
But popular? Not so much. I rarely got invited to the cool parties, I remember the one time I did get an invite to the one cool kid’s birthday party in Junior High, it became a five-star production to get to every clothing store in New York City so I had the absolutely best outfit possible. It was also the year of Miami Vice pastels, and I’m pretty sure I wound up looking like a Papaya.
But not being popular had a hugely positive flip-side, even though it didn’t seem like it at the time. The number of times I came home crying that “I have no friends, and I never will!” were too numerous to count, and of course, I would never wish that on my daughter. What sane parent would? We don’t want to see our kids fail, we want them to bask in the sunshine of success. But what I didn’t know, as I would walk home after another day of being made fun of, is that I was secretly learning how to rule the world, and those cries of “I have no friends” would turn into “you know everyone! It’s amazing!”
See, here’s the key: When you’re the most popular kid at the playground, you don’t have to work for it. All you have to do is show up, and people flock to you. That doesn’t bode well for the future, because you never learn how to get it. You just assume popularity will always be there, and it won’t.
But when you’re not the most popular kid? You have to work at it. Over, and over, and over. When you’re socially awkward? You need to learn from your mistakes. Over, and over and over.
So what do I wish for my daughter? Certainly not the pain I went through as a kid, but I also don’t wish her a childhood full of ease, either. Honestly? I want her to have to figure out how to get the friends she wants, I want her to figure out what she needs to do to be the kind of friend people want to be with, not simply flock to because she’s the flavor of the month.
I want my daughter to actively want to take an interest in her friends. Ask questions. Ask how she can help. I want her to truly care about them, and ask how she can be involved in their lives for the better.
That’s my wish for my daughter. Because that’s how she’ll gain the wisdom to know who she wants to be in the future.