Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Resilience and Persistence

Our youngest one has a personality unlike anyone else in the family. Oh, Chloe. In a family of introverts, she's the outgoing one, always looking for friends and ready for a party. She's blunt while the rest of us border on passive-aggressive. She whines (wait -- so do I and the kids, so scratch that). She will NOT take no for an answer. She's an optimist and a problem-solver (well, Dan has some of those traits, too). I tell her she should be a sales person because she will not stop needling and bartering to get what she wants. And she's four!

In stores there are times when she sucks every last bit of will out of me. It's one thing for a child to ask, "Can I have that?" several times. I'm used to that. I remember that, when Anna and Ethan were younger. But Chloe has taken this to a whole new dimension. I honestly did not know a child could ask for something as many times as she does in the space of 60 seconds, in so many varying ways. "No," is returned with "Just ask the sales people what it costs" and "What about next time?" or "What about THIS toy?" and on and on and on. I dread going into stores with her in a way I never did with the other two.

All of this feel a little old at times -- the tears, whining, sobbing, lying on the floor, complaining and begging.

She is relentless, I thought one day recently. But then in a flash the sentence came to me again. She is relentless. It was like watching the coin flip. You could call her behavior stubborn or strong-willed. But the more I watched her in action the more I saw it as an ability to not be deterred or defeated. Big deal, you might think. What's so great about someone who digs her heels in?

Well, possibly lots of things. We don't like to think about our kids being unflappable or unmovable in terms of bad choices or behavior. But what about in pursuing a dream? Overcoming obstacles? Facing discouragement? Suddenly being relentless isn't such a bad thing.

One day Chloe was trying to figure out how to do something; I think buttoning her pajamas. "I can do this," I heard her whispering to herself. "I'm going to do this." My mouth nearly dropped to the floor because I realized no one had really taught her to be this way. She hadn't tried to button her pajamas before. Dan and I hadn't constantly been cheering her on. What came out was something hard-wired. She was espousing positive self-talk without having to think about it. And as someone who has always naturally spouted out the opposite -- "I CAN'T do this" -- I found this absolutely amazing.

Somehow watching this made me ease up a little on myself. I'm not sure I've ever pep-talked myself without consciously forcing it. I'm a pessimist. That's my natural leaning. And while I don't need to stay there, there's something comforting in knowing that some people are actually born more or less confident. I always wondered why I had a hard time psyching myself up to do stuff. It's not natural to me, just the way it's not natural for Chloe to want to be alone if there are friends to play with. It's okay -- but we can all make adjustments, as necessary, in order to learn and grow.

Since Chloe was a baby she's had this uncanny ability to fall down and then laugh (unless she's in a mood to milk the incident for all it's worth). She epitomizes "bouncing back" sometimes. If we're at the store and she doesn't get the toy she wants, she'll leaving telling herself, "We'll get it next time." She thinks of something positive to end the experience on a high note.

Meanwhile, I have often reacted to disappointment or discouragement not unlike George McFly in the Back to the Future movies. You know, when he stumbles on up to Lorraine and almost gets the courage up to ask her to the Under the Sea dance, only to see the bully Biff burst into the room, and then slinks away quickly, like a dog with its tail between its legs.

Unflappable. Not perturbed. Resilient. Can I have some more of that, please?

Years ago I bought an amazing book called The Unthinkable. It's all about people placed in various tragic circumstances (9/11, a mass shooting, hostage situation, and so on) and explores why people respond the way they do. Of those who had been through something traumatic and were handling life well, a common trait was resilience.

"Resilience is a precious skill," the author writes. "People who have it tend to also have three underlying advantages: a belief they can influence life events; a tendency to find meaningful purpose in life's turmoil; and a conviction that they can learn from both positive and negative experiences."

Yes, yes, and yes. This is grit, as Ethan's first grade teacher liked to emphasize. This is perseverance. This is living like the victor rather than the victim. This is what can come out of my feisty, strong-willed daughter -- if we just keep fine-tuning and pruning. This is what I can learn, as I'm along for the ride.






No comments: