How To Freak Out About The Right Stuff

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When our daughter was twelve, she would shriek whenever we had plans for her. “I don’t wanna go!” she’d sulk. “I would feel so much better if I just stayed inside and played videogames all day instead of going out to this picnic laser-light show with fireworks and all the family friends.”
As an introvert, I sympathized. But she’d already been staying inside, playing videogames for three days straight on her summer vacation, and so it was time for a change of pace.
And just about every time she’d come home glowing, talking about how awesome that was, bouncing and recalling the way the sky lit up. When asked about her summer, she’d talk enthusiastically about all the things we dragged her to.
Then, when she was sixteen, we dragged her off to something else after a few days spent luxuriously hermiting and killing virtual Nazis. Except now she was fully teenaged, and what had been sulking turned into a full-fledged fight.
“I’m not going to this concert!” she cried.
“You are,” we said. “We bought tickets. Tickets that you agreed to at the time.”
“You never listen to me!” she said. “Why do you never listen to me?”
And we dragged her, and in fact she loved seeing “Weird Al” Yankovic live. On the way home, she was gushing about how amazing it was, watching him nail the tricky raps on “White and Nerdy.”
“Now,” I said, seeing she was in a better mood. “You wanna know why we never listen to anything you say?”
That got her attention.
“Because you’ve trained us to ignore you.”
“But… how?”
“Because you raise a big stink every time it’s time to go out of the house – and I mean every time – and we have this huge fight with you, and nine times out of ten it turns out that you really loved what we had planned. So by screaming ‘I DON’T WANNA’ regardless of the entertainment planned, you have taught us that in fact, you have no goddamned clue what you actually like to do. And so…” I spread my hands. “We ignore you.”
“But…” She pondered this. “Sometimes I’m really tired. Sometimes, I actually don’t want to go out.”
“And on those occasions, you make the exact same fuss as when we haul you out to tonight’s concert, and if we had listened to you, you wouldn’t have gotten to see him do ‘Albuquerque’.”
“But Albuquerque’s my favorite Weird Al song!”
“It is. Which is why we brought you. We want you to have a good time. We actually don’t want to bring you to places where you’ll be miserable. But if you want us to listen to what you want, then you have to teach us to respect what you say you want. And you do that by only complaining when it’s really bad enough to complain about.”
She chewed her lip and thought about that. “Does that mean you’ll listen to me more? About other things, too?”
“Yup. Because you train us to ignore you in one area, it kinda seeps into the others.”
“All right. I’ll try.”
And sometimes, when we had a balloon party with live unicorns and a gateway to goddamned Narnia set up for her, you could see her start to protest – and then she’d swallow, think about it, and go, “All right, lemme get ready.”
And sometimes we had a ticket to a choir of angels – literal angels, descending from Heaven in a sweep of snow-white feathers – and she’d say, “I’m really not up to that.” And we’d hand her the controller and let her kill some more Nazis.
The trick is, as an anxiety-prone person myself, I tend to kick up a lot of fusses. I’ll tell Gini I can’t write this next novel, I’m never going to finish it, my career is going to crash and they’ll banish me to the Black Hole of Calcutta and I’ll never be seen again. Except, of course, that I have been writing for several years since Clarion and I’ve found ways to finish my novels and I have yet to be exiled by the literary world. My opinions often have nothing to do with reality.
And some days, I start to whine at Gini about this dystopian future crashing down around my head, and I think: Do I really need this reassurance, or am I just training her to dismiss my opinions?
Some days I complain. But most days, I hold back my immense tides of writer-angst, saving them for the day I’ll truly need them.
Because what I want to teach her is that when I am freaking out about something, it’s something that matters.

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