I like to think I’m not a jerk, and there are a few things that make me a decent human being. For one, I actually try to be a decent human being. I return my cart. I pick up trash if I drop it (and sometimes just trash if I see it). I donate to stuff. I empathize. I don’t care if we’re meeting up somewhere and you’re late. I also don’t care how you feed your baby, how much money you have, where you live, and if you use the correct form of “their/there/they’re.” And I’m trying real, real hard in my 30s to drop the passive aggressive and just be up front with people.
I’m also in charge of 3 little humans I’m trying to teach to be decent human beings. I read all the things- ALL THE THINGS- about how to have happy, nice kids: make them do chores so they’re not entitled, teach them to have empathy, we read “Hands are Not for Hitting” and do the Daniel Tiger mad-then-roar routine. I’m also in the unpopular camp that forces my kids to share (I also have 3 of them, and I’m not buying 3 of everything so they can each play with one, so they have to not only share, but wait their damn turn). I’m just- I’m trying to really hard to teach my kids manners and patience and not just what kindness looks like, but what it feels like. I don’t want them to go through the motions, I want to them want to care about other people.
So, today, we are on vacation and ventured to this quaint little sea-side beach town. We’ve been there before, and the ice cream is good and the live music is kid-friendly. All the kids were called on stage, and my kiddo is standing right up front, right in front of the guitar player. We are edging on bedtime, and he hasn’t napped, so I’m close-by because I don’t know how close we are to The Turn. If you’ve had a toddler, you know what The Turn is. It’s when you know you’ve missed a nap and you’re too close to bedtime to be out in public, but you are anyway, and your child is doing okay and going with the flow, but all it’s going to take to enter a full-on meltdown is for something…some unpredictable thing…to happen to make your kid Hulk Out.
So we’re close to bedtime, but he’s having a great time. He’s sheepishly playing air guitar and pretending to sing the words to songs he likes, but hasn’t actually heard before. And then this kid steps in front of him. And then this kid kind of butts him-with his actual butt- out of the way, so he can stand in front of the guitar. My kid starts tapping him on the shoulder, and I pick him up and pull him away because, again, The Turn.
My son thinks he’s in trouble, and wants to go back. I’m searching in my mind…why did I do that? Well, I did that because that kid was being a jerk, but I did not want my son to react in a way that would get in him trouble. But I struggled in that moment because part of me felt like…my son could totally take this kid. He could stand his ground. He could say, “Hey, Pal. I was here first.” He could have stayed and fought and I could have stuck up for him, going head to head with some other mom over who started it.
But, instead I utter this phrase,
“That kid is being a jerk. But you’re still not allowed to be.”
I was struck, in that moment, by the words coming out of my own mouth. Is it okay that I called someone else a jerk in front of him? Am I teaching him not to stand up for himself? What if he gets bullied someday? Am I crushing his confidence and ability to defend himself?
But, then another thought enters my head. I think-I think- this is what my own dad meant when he told me to “be the bigger person.” My mom taught me that what other people do really, truly, doesn’t affect me. And honestly, a lot of times, people aren’t actual jerks- they’re just doing a jerky thing. So, if you get hung up on a jerk thing they did, it makes it really hard to move passed it. And they were right. I’m not tryna brag, but…I mean, I’m doing okay. I love my neighborhood, my kids, my husband, I started a PhD pregnant, with two-under-two, against all notions of logic. I don’t have many friends, but the ones I have are the most incredible women I know.
None of that came from wasting energy on the jerks: the people who were jealous and shallow and mean. Honestly, it came from not even looking their way. Or, if they were in my way, finding a way around them. Proving a point takes an awful lot of energy on someone who is trying to make you unhappy. I don’t fight many battles (and don’t really have many to fight) and I don’t think I’ve lost any dignity or confidence because of it. I am happy here, in my life, because- I think- I followed my parents’ advice to be the bigger person.
So, in retrospect, I think I’d say it again. And I think in the future, I’ll keep saying it again. When they go low, I want my kids to go high, and I want them to be the better person. I want them to be kind, happy kids who know how to ignore the interference. When other people are jerks, I want them to know they still don’t have to be.