Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Do I look like an uptight control freak?

On second thought, don't answer that.

I have been beset lately by people who assume I will agree with their opinions on certain less-than-life-threatening issues. If I actually did agree with them, I wouldn't be writing this post, of course.

This morning, another student (let's call her Overwrought, or "O" for short) came by my desk to chat a little. Her 9-year-old daughter is away at camp for two weeks. The camp posts pictures of all of the kids on a website every day so the parents can check in and, presumably, spend their time doing something other than calling the camp office constantly to make sure their kid is okay. Every day last week, O's daughter was wearing the same shirt in the pictures. O finally emailed her daughter (another interesting camp development since I was a kid) to ask her to please change her shirt. Yesterday, the picture was of O and a few friends on a hike with a counselor. Good news: the shirt was not present. Apparently bad news: O's daughter was wearing a bathing suit while the other girls were wearing shorts or capris. O delivered this information* with such gusto and a look of satisfied what-was-my-daughter-thinking-ness that she clearly expected me to recoil and offer large vats of commiseration.

Instead, I asked her why it was so terrible. Her reply? "She was wearing a BATHING SUIT. On A Hike!" She spoke slowly and loudly, as if I was deaf, new to English or stupid.

It's fine if O wants to make her daughter's fashion choices a mainstay of her own worrying. I don't see, however, why I'm supposed to automatically also feel the same. (If you could see WonderGirl most days, you would understand that I'm a big fan of letting kids wear whatever is comfortable, safe and makes them happy.) Lately, our discussions frequently follow an arc of O revealing something equally shocking about a friend or family member, with a pregnant pause during which I'm supposed to validate her feelings.

I noticed a similar trend with a very good friend who visited recently - she would express an opinion that seemed remarkably rigid to me, or be shocked at someone else's supposed laxity in a minor area. Whenever I expressed a different point of view, she seemed genuinely suprised.

My question, then, is this: How on earth did I get a reputation for being the person you should go to if you need to feel validated about your own neuroses? One possibility is that I am usually overly agreeable, and in the past, perhaps I've listened to these stories without responding negatively, so my friends assume that my feelings match theirs. Another possibility is that I truly was as tightly-wound as O and my friend in the past, but after almost 15 years together, DT's laid-back nature has finally infected my soul and turned me into a shadow of my former neurotic self.

As I write this, I'm starting to think that instead, perhaps my kids have taught me to pick battles in ways that I hadn't realized. I would never be accused of being a permissive parent, but maybe I've learned to let more things go unless they're truly important. Maybe I've learned to define "important" a bit more narrowly than I did in the past. Maybe I'm jealous of O's daughter's freedom, and think that I might have fun hiking in a bathing suit as well.

* I was going to call this the "denouement" of the story, but had to look the word up because really, so many vowels in a row are almost impossible to get correct. It turns out the denouement is the tidying-up of loose ends in a story after the climax, so it was the wrong word and I've been using it somewhat incorrectly for years. Also, informed me (graciously, of course) that denouement only occurs in stories with happy endings. The proper term for a similar part of a tragic story is "catastrophe." I knew none of this.

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