She herself was not strong-willed...so she quickly recognized the futility of attempting to alter the course of unalterable events. Enduring what couldn't be cured, she supposed, was what people meant by being adult, though it was ironic that so few of them---including her parents---had mastered the skill themselves. By age twelve she'd already learned to cut her losses and derive what comfort she could from doing so. Generally she was happy or, failing that, reasonably content, though she sometimes wondered if she'd conceded the inevitable too quickly. What if the only thing concessions got you was the habit of conceding?
Marie A. Sherrett, past president of the Prince George's County, MD, chapter of the Autism Society of America, in her article, "Assertiveness and Effective Parent Advocacy," wrote that parents of special needs kids came in several categories:
* Pacifists or those who gets things done;
* Clinging vines or parent advocates;
* Silent victims or fighters;
* Dreamers or crusaders;
* Waiters or initiators;
* Bombshells or assertive parents;
* Appeasing compromisers or action heroes.
"Which are you?" she asked.
The second descriptor after each or, by the way, is the assertive parent, which is the best advocate, according to Sherrett.
I can be any of the first descriptors, but in general I think I tend to err on the side of assertive. What is assertive? I'll tell you what it isn't, also from Sherrett's article:
* Beat around the bush;
* Fail to describe problems;
* Feel guilty or are afraid to be vocal;
* Agree with professionals to keep peace;
* Leave everything to others;
* Accept excuses for inappropriate or inadequate services;
* Are too hasty to act;
* Fail to act;
* Accept the status quo;
* Give in to defeat;
* Are uncomfortable with accomplishments;
* Discourage your child from having hope of success.
These are often humps I have to get over, but constitutionally I am incapable of sitting down and being quiet when I fundamentally believe that is the wrong thing to do.
Like the little girl with the soccer ball I described in my post on Monday, this earns me mixed reviews. It makes me noticeable, and outside the status quo. It leads to backhanded compliments, that seem admiring on the surface but carry a nasty undertone at times. It often creates an embattled feeling.
Still, I can't stop. I have never been one for sitting back and waiting.
On Monday, BubandPie wrote in "1983," "I'm finding a certain pleasure in remembering that old ache of boredom, the helpless longing I felt as I slumped on plastic chairs at many a grade-seven lunchtime dance, hoping for life to find me."
I read that description several times, and read with great interest the comments, all of which seemed to completely identify with that feeling. Except I couldn't. I'd never slumped in a plastic chair and waited for life to find me. I'd always felt a bit of a wildness, a motivation. And when others laughingly expressed how relieved they were to have "grown out" of that crazy energy, again I was stymied. I never have.
I wasn't bored at 12. I was flying to visit my best friend in another state, and traipsing through Paris. I wasn't bored at 13, or 14 either, when I wandered the streets of San Francisco. I wasn't bored at 15 when I worked all year long to earn enough money to backpack through Europe with friends. At senior prom I asked my date to dance when a favorite song of mine came on. "No, I'm tired," he said, and I shrugged and went and danced all by myself. If it matters to me, I'll go and do it, solo doesn't impede me.
The more apt description of how I felt at 12 is this:
...and the teacher, Mr. Karp, puts us upon the stage with our legs around everybody, one in back of the other, and he says: 'Okay, we're gonna do improvisations...Now, you're on a bobsled and it's snowing out and it's cold... Okay, go!'
Ev'ryday for a week we would try to feel the motion,
Feel the motion down the hill.
Ev'ry day for a week we would try to hear the wind rush
Hear the wind rush, feel the chill
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
To see what I had inside.
Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And I tried, I tried!
And everybody's goin' 'Woosh... woosh ...
I feel the snow, I feel the cold,
I feel the air...'
And Mr. Karp turns to me and he says:
'Okay, Morales, what did you feel?'
And I said...
'Nothing, I'm feeling nothing,'
And he says 'Nothing could get a girl transferred.'
They all felt something,
But I felt nothing
Except the feelin' that this bullshit was absurd!
"Nothing," from A Chorus Line, sung by the character Morales
That's pretty much how I sometimes feel at nearly 40, too, at times. And like at 12, and like Morales, it works for me
And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul
Came up to the top of my head,
And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul,
Here is what it said,
'This man is nothing! This course is nothing!
If you want something go find a better class.
And when you find one You'll be an actress.'
And I assure you that's what fin'lly came to pass
I try, often, to fit into the round hole. It's not easy being the Billy Bevel of Polieville. But that's not the point. I also don't think everything is absurd or nothing. That's also not the point.
The point is, unlike Russo's character Sarah, I don't cut my losses at the beginning. I do believe that all constant concessions gain is a habit of conceding.
I asked my mother---the source of all things original to me---if this is an apt description.
"Oh yes," she reassured me, reminding me that she had at least one teacher called conference about me for each year of school.
But I do try for wisdom and diplomacy, and that is perhaps the greatest difference between 12 and 40. I try for a generous dollop of humble with my assertiveness, and I hope I manage it.
Assertiveness with humility is a trait of getting the most from life, but people tolerate it in different ways from men and women. The tolerance extends further in men, and runs out more quickly for women, although both run a risk---especially since it varies more by personality than anything else.
I want the most from life, and hope for the same for my kids. In my mind, being assertive also means being mindful. I will always remain involved with my children as a parent. I understand this means stepping back and letting them be, at times, but it also means interceding at times.
What the wildness within me in my youth has grown into is a lack of automatic acceptance of the status quo and a willingness to evaluate each situation and decide whether it calls for assertiveness. If it does, I'll hop up from my chair and go forth.
The thing people misunderstand is that questioning doesn't automatically mean rebelling; wondering if something is a problem is not automatically declaring it a problem or creating the problem; and being nice doesn't mean being quiet.
I will be clear and speak up when it's called for, I'll describe problems or express concerns, and won't be afraid or guilty of using my voice. I won't appease or accept excuses, but I won't act too hastily or aggressively. I'll encourage my children to hope for success.
Assertive and humble. I'll endeavor to be assertive yet humble, endeavor to get the most from each situation, and teach my children to do the same.
I encourage you to go and read the comments from yesterday's post. There are some fantastic points of view, great information, wonderful opinions, and interesting discussion.
I encourage you to tell us your thoughts on this topic---assertiveness, education, adults, children, gender, politics and so forth. Posts from today or any time before today welcome! Just please link to here so others can see the entire discussion.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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