Friday, October 08, 2010

What lessons are we teaching our children?

This summer in America was really a huge boon for the entire Bean family. With the start of school and getting into the swing of activities, I've been rather MIA. But, since the middle of the summer I've had this post festering. Today I've finished the work El 3atal wanted me to take care of, dropped the kids at school and responded to e-mails. Finally (!) I have time to blog... I've been thinking an awful lot about how our parents teach us our outlook on life.

We were talking about a cousin who recently moved to a new city. She moved away from home and family hoping to be happy. But, the reality that she has yet to learn (in her 40s) is that happiness isn't a place. Someone who is determined to be unhappy will be anywhere. Someone who is determined to be happy will be - anywhere. And, much of this approach to life is learned behavior. Let me give you an example. This cousin's sister was sitting with a relative one day bemoaning and "poor me'ing" about how hard her life is. She's 30 something and unmarried, she has had such a hard life, and so on. The relative said to her (slightly incredulous), what are you talking about? You are healthy, you own your own apartment in one of the world's best cities, you have a great job where you are appreciated, you make more than enough money to meet your needs. What in the WORLD do you have to feel sorry for yourself about? This cousin thought for a moment and realized, hey, you're right. I'm blessed. Just a couple of weeks ago, she was married to a lovely man who suits her to a T. Once her outlook changed, so could everything else.

This attitude is a serious danger in Jordan. Palestinian mothers, reacting to their own sense of loss and extreme emotional distress over being forced from their homes at very young and impressionable ages have left their children with the idea that they are poor and put upon. I see this attitude among many of the wealthiest families in Jordan. You see wealthy people who hoard their money. They still retain the refugee mentality, even those who have lived in wealth their whole lives. The parents do this, typically, without even realizing it. No parent WANTS their child to be unhappy. But, it is hard not to do what we've learned. As this younger generation has children, they must begin to guard against taking this same approach and instilling this attitude of dissatisfaction and poverty (of spirit if not money) in their children.

This idea first came to me while at Disney World this summer. We were all first-timers at Disney World. El 3atal had been to Disney Land and MimiBean took UncleBean and I (when I was like 1). But none of us would claim to have been there before given the changes and differences. When MimiBean took us, Magic Kingdom was the only park and was smaller than your average Six Flags...

As you can imagine, we saw many meltdowns, tantrums, and cry-fests. And, as we saw them I noticed something. Most of the kids were well-behaved. Most of the parents were excited to be there. But most of the tantrum-throwers' parents seemed annoyed to be there. They were uninterested and inattentive. The correlation there isn't surprising. In addition, the parents' approach to the characters defined the kids' approach. The parents who were willing to look foolish and ran up to greet characters and made it seem like an adventure to wait in line had kids excited to take pictures. The ones who didn't had kids hiding behind their legs or whiny and fussy long before their turn came.

However, the best example of this for me was the Electrical Light Parade. Each night at 9pm, there is a parade. Now, this parade is something else. Really it is. All of your favorite characters ride floats lit with thousands of rainbow light bulbs. These floats wiggle and jiggle, the lights are lit in patterns to amaze and delight. The Beans have a 7pm bed time. Yep, even in the summer. Even in Jordan (where it seems to me the average is 10pm). The Beans go to bed at 7. But, for the Electrical Light Parade, they stayed up. We were at the park from 9 am until 10:30 pm. It was their longest day ever and featured hours of walking and standing in lines in extreme heat. By the time the parade started, I expected them to be tired and whiny. We found a nice spot and sat toward the end of the parade route. The crowds were massive and we were very lucky to find a spot. So, we sat and waited... and waited... and waited. Because although it started at 9, it didn't make it to us until about 9:30.

From the moment the lights went down until the moment they came back up after the parade, the whole area around us was silent. It was if these throngs of people had gone to sleep. Maybe some were overcome with awe, but the rest were comatose or something. But, the Beans and I, sitting by the roadside shouted and screamed and cheered at the top of our lungs. We whooped it up for every character that came by. Personally, I figured if we're tired, how much more tired must those poor characters be. They've been there all day in hot costumes (and this is June, now) from sun up past dun down. So, we gave it our all. The Beans were having a splendid time. And you know what? I didn't hear a single whine the whole night. But what I did see was characters blowing kisses to the Beans. Everyone stopped in front of us and waved. The lost boys from the Peter Pan float even psyched out El 3atal as he was putting them on film, nearly causing him to drop the camera. And, for each float that went by, we got one-on-one views and attention. Every character and every float stopped next to us, twirled their lights, and called out to us. After all, who better to acknowledge than the only people within 300 feet who are cheering? And, I'm sure the people around us thought we looked and sounded like idiots. We were crazy people. And I can't remember EVER having that much fun. Ever. Even after 13 hours of walking. Even after skipping dinner. Even standing in heat and humidity so oppressive it could have been a sauna, that was the most fun I've had in my life. And the Beans, they had a great time without whining or fussing. They were exhausted. They fell asleep in the car on the way home (and we were staying 5 minutes away). But they had a great time.

Imagine with me, if you will, what would have happened had I been like all of the other zombies on the parade route. Would the Beans have had such a great time if we had sat as the parade went by and clapped indolently at them? Would they have such great memories if the characters hadn't blown them kisses and waved directly to them? I know they wouldn't have. And, had I not been willing to look crazy and childish, they would have missed that experience. My sincere hope is that it has taught them to being open to looking silly if it means having fun.

And in our house, we talk frequently about the blessings that we have. At Christmas we give clothes to the Angel Tree (yay to our Priest who set one up last year!). During the year, we try to find ways to help others who are less fortunate than we are. I would not accept the idea from any of my kids that they are in some way "poor". They have love. They are rich indeed. They love each other and we love them. They always have a full belly. They have a roof over their heads that doesn't leak. They have friendships to treasure. In what way could they be considered poor? They don't have a swimming pool? Give me a break. They aren't driven to school in a limo? Please. We may not have the material things some have, but we have MUCH more than many. And in Jordan it's very easy to forget, sheltered in our West Amman bubble, that there are people living on 1 JD per day. If one of my kids tries to "poor me", they'll be heading out to serve those less fortunate in a heartbeat. After all, we all need reminders of how blessed we are. What blessings do you have today? Talk to your kids about them tonight. Remind them of how lucky they are (and if you aren't sure how to begin the conversation, go get yourself a copy of the Dr. Seuss book, "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?"). Get involved in creating the next generation of positive, happy Jordanians rather than the unhappy, poor-me Jordanians...

Happy life-lessons!


At 2:19 AM , Anonymous kinzi said...

Love this story!!!! Thanks for taking the time to chronicle it, it's even better in print with all the lessons learned.

At 4:15 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Thanks Kinzi.

At 6:19 AM , Anonymous jaraad said...

I have nothing to add just want to say great post!
What is MIA?

At 6:23 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Jaraad, thanks for your comment. MIA is Missing in Action. It refers to a soldier who, while on operation, goes missing. They aren't presumed dead, just no one knows where they are. Kind of like me of late ;).

At 6:23 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4:51 AM , Anonymous Emi said...

Excellent, excellent - and so true. I've tested it both ways... to my chagrin. There was the absolutely miserable, crying and yelling all the time Emi... and a very unhappy child who was high strung and fighting about everything.

Then there was the "knock that crap off and make your own happiness" Emi who saw a nearly overnight change in her son's attitude and behavior when she changed her own.

I could cry thinking about the time I lost feeling sorry for myself about living in Jordan. But I won't, because that's not emotionally healthy! ;-)

At 6:50 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Emi, sounds like you ALREADY cried about that time. Glad you've found the alternate approach. Then again, finding a support structure makes a world of difference too. So glad you commented. ;)


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