Thursday, May 17, 2012

Positive Reinforcement

It seems (for me) that it's easier, or more natural, to "think negative" than to "think positive." It's almost a superstition or a kind of subconscious bargaining, or a way to try to prevent the downfalls that tend to punish hubris (in literature, anyway). I usually don't dare to think much of what I might do well, but dwell on what I should do better. (Maybe that's also a classic girl/self-esteem thing, but I'm not getting into that now.)

It also just feels like positive things don't need me to think about them. If good things happen, it's great! It's lucky, and I appreciate the heck out of it. But good luck doesn't require corrective or preventive action. I don't have to "be prepared" for awesome things to happen. So it's not the jolly what-ifs, but the troubling what-ifs that tend to capture my imagination. One such what-if is my daughter turning out all screwed up because of her odd childhood with a neurotic single mother; or because of any of the other myriad parenting mistakes or genetic flaws I'm shaping her with. I do hope for the best at all times, of course; but if it actually happens, I tend to feel taken by surprise.

And so it was as I started to talk to my little girl about Little Women. It's my favorite book ever and we were watching the movie. My almost-8-year-old's normal level of inquisitiveness heightens intensely the second we start a movie. (Who's that? Why did she do that? What is he saying? Is that real? Does that cost nine thousand hundred dollars? What does that mean? Is anything scary going to happen? Did you ever do that? etc. Nonstop.)

So I explained the premise, telling her that these four girls and their mom love one another and have fun together, and try to learn and do better and appreciate what they have (each other). I said that the Marches (the family in the story) are a little sad and their lives are hard because they are on their own and their father isn't with them. "They're kind of like us," I told my daughter (who has no memory of having a father who was not severely disabled, due to his accident when she was one. My daughter and I have been an official dynamic duo since 2010.).

"But that's not like us. Our life isn't hard and we're not sad," she told me, slightly puzzled and cheerfully.

And at that moment, even I couldn't avoid seeing us as a success.