Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Part-time Human

A school parent recently shared her surprise that the teachers spoke so highly of her child, praising her for her happy demeanor, focused work and generous participation in all activities. “Sometimes I wonder who they’re talking about! When she comes home, she’s a complete wreck!” I replied, “Probably from all the pressure of having to be good for six hours straight!” Other parents seem surprised when we report their child’s outrageous behavior at school and tell us, “He’s a perfect angel at home!”

It occurrs to me that the job of being a 24/7 functioning, sociable and fulfilled human being is not for most of us. Maybe we should lower the bar and just work part-time at it, with a given time each day where we are given permission to be cranky, angry, inappropriate, miserable, selfish, indulgent and just plain bad. Ideally, in a padded room.

I see some of my three-year olds struggling with impulse control. With a combination of loving encouragement and strict consequences, they slowly realize that maybe they shouldn’t keep running around screaming while the others kids are frozen into shapes or aimlessly wander around the room banging on the drums while we’re in a circle singing a quiet song. They start to get the hang of the group sensibility and how to be a contributing member of our little community. But it often happens that they keep it together for twenty minutes of class and then fall apart in the last ten. The pressure is just too much.

Maybe a worthy goal is to keep shifting the ratio— from six-hour human, six-hour monster to 11-hour human, from 50% pretty good to 95%. Build into our day 10 minutes to walk away from it all and go scream, weep, curse and then return to civilization ready to re-engage in the monumental task of being a good citizen who plays well with others, shares our toys and leaves our desks nice and tidy.

So the next time someone questions why we’re falling short, simply remind them: “Hey, I’m a part-time human. Right now I’m off duty.”

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