Don’t throw your pearls before swine.
I remember my late Irish grandmother saying that to me when I was an awkward tomboy, brimming with energy and a palpable yearning to be accepted and liked by other children. And I used to giggle at her and feel just a little embarrassed, even though I didn’t know exactly what the expression meant.
But I know what it means now.
And I realized just what a great piece of advice it was last week while watching Graham in the play area of the restaurant-which-shall-not-be-named-but-which-I-have-nonetheless-learned-to-love-without-shame.
Yes, my son is only three years old. And no, there were no actual swine involved. There was only a perfectly normal and wonderfully boisterous group of eight- or nine-year-old boys who were charging up and down the play structure, shouting and hooting and electrifying the air with their rambunctious energy.
And then there was Graham.
Graham spent the better part of an hour trailing the lot of them like a puppy dog in search of scraps. He stood at their edges, clapping his hands in excitement when they shouted and made vain attempt after vain attempt to join in their games of tag, only to be left in their figurative dust time and time again.
My heart ached to intervene, to distract him, or implore the older boys to include him, but I didn’t. I merely sipped my coffee and observed. Not only did the boys’ rejection do nothing to dissuade him, Graham was so intent on trying to join the crowd that he actually failed to notice the overtures of a smaller, quieter boy who approached him and tried to interest him in a slide designed for children closer to their age.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but remember my grandmother’s advice and I soon realized that the aching feeling in my heart was as much regret as it was sadness for Graham.
When I was younger I spent a lot of time and effort chasing the cool kids and the popular crowd; enough time and effort, it turned out, to ensure my eventual ascension to the top of the social heap in school. And while I largely remember my youth as a happy time, full of friends and socializing, I can’t help but lament the huge amount of effort that I put into solidifying my social standing and the huge amount of anxiety I suffered as a result of the whole pursuit.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that it doesn’t matter what other people think of her. I wish I could tell her that if she has to throw up before going on a date, then that guy probably isn’t the one.
I wish I could tell her that B pluses and A minuses are fine, but that A pluses are within her grasp and that they will pay greater dividends than any party invitation. I wish I could tell her that she could win that scholarship to study in Hawaii if only she pursued it as fervently as she did popularity.
I wish I could tell her that sometimes the quiet kids are the most interesting ones and that one day she will wish she had spent more time pursuing deeper relationships with people of quality.
I wish I could tell her that her brother, despite his awkward high school career, was going to be her brother forever and that she would one day regret not cultivating his friendship and having his back in those days.
But we all know that it’s impossible to revisit our younger selves. And as a result of that knowledge, I think it becomes all too easy to try and transport our hard-won adult wisdom and confidence to our children.
But the painful truth is, that is equally impossible.
One of the most revelatory aspects of parenting is the way it forces you to relive your own childhood, to suddenly be transported to the days when you faced the same challenges your children encounter.
And as cliché as it sounds, I am realizing that it is hard, much harder than I imagined, to refrain from seeing my child’s life as a canvas on which I may repaint my masterpiece and correct past errors.
And maybe it is a tad overwrought to project the whole of my social history onto Graham’s tender three-year-old soul, but watching him trail after the maddening crowd the other day left me fervently wishing that one day he would have the strength and the confidence to heed the advice that my younger self had chosen to ignore.
Don’t throw your pearls before swine.