When I was a freshman in college, I – like everybody else – asked around to find out what were the best classes and professors. I remember there was one course in particular that sounded really interesting to me, a comparative literature class studying the themes of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales.
Word around campus was that the professor, an older German gentleman, was tough. There were no easy A’s, and a lot of reading. Also, his class met before 10am, making him even more unpopular among the undergrad set. Little did we know that someday we’d be awakened daily before dawn by damp toddlers demanding Cheerios.
Anyway, I wasn’t dissuaded. I took the course and loved it. The professor asked me to be his teaching assistant the following year, which was unusual for a sophomore. I think of the experience often, and not just when I read my kids bedtime stories. (The edited versions, that is. In case you didn’t know, the Grimm Brothers’ gruesome fairy tales are about as far from Disney as Pitbull is from the Vienna Boys’ Choir.)
I think about that class when I need a reminder that just because everyone else dislikes something — or likes it — doesn’t mean that’s true for me. It’s easy to get caught up in that herd mentality, especially as a parent. Everyone is having birthday parties at a certain venue, so it must be the best place. Everyone else is against public schools, so I guess we’d better look into private, too. Everyone else says this pediatrician’s the best and that summer camp’s the worst, and they all seem so SURE of everything and I’m not, so I guess I’d better follow the crowd.
Except there have been plenty of times that I haven’t, like that college course, and I’ve been glad. I’ve come to admire people who have the courage to go against the grain, stand out from the crowd. The popular belief is that small children are wonderful and teenagers are horrible, right? At least that’s what those “enjoy this time because just you wait” people would have us believe. But a mom once told me she cherishes the relationship with her teens because they no longer need her to tend to their every physical need and have become great company. I love that.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has said she often has to remind herself that just because something is fun for other people, doesn’t mean it’s fun for you. Like gardening. Or spinning. Or watching American Idol. Or making elaborate educational collages with your children to celebrate Earth Day.
BTW, there was a great essay in Redbook recently about a mom who confesses that while she loves her kids more than anything, she hates playing with them. In fact, she would rather get a bikini wax than play Candyland. Ha! I can relate – I will read books and do puzzles till the cows come home, but PLEASE don’t ask me to play Pokemon.
Anyway, the point is, be true to yourself. It’s OK to like stuff that other people don’t, and vice versa. Instead of being afraid you’ll be sorry for not following the crowd, think about what you might miss if you do. Like the chance to analyze very disturbing children’s stories with an old German dude.
READ O’ THE DAY: I really like Kristin van Ogtrop, the editor of Real Simple. I’ve read her book, Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom, and I always enjoy her letters from the editor in the magazine. Here’s a version of the one in the current issue, her response to Sheryl Sandberg’s ubiquitous book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.