I have ten presets on my car stereo: two are NPR, one is classical, two are alternative rock, three classic rock, four are pop stations my children like. (Side note: When the children are in the car, I try to tolerate the uninventive, repetitive, and simply mindless pop songs, but soon crack and say, “I’m sorry. That’s just not a song.”) Whenever we’re listening to “the oldies,” I encourage the children to guess. I’m proud to say that they generally can pick out Nirvana, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin.
My parents used to encourage the same sort of “musical education.” In the 70s, I could name the BeeGees, Wings, and the Doobie Brothers. I’m sure they were very proud.
And having just spent a short bit of time with her (though not playing Name That Tune) I am coming to the conclusion that in many ways I am a younger version of her. Decades ago when I was told, “Every girl eventually grows up to be her mother,” I was not happy. (I was likely a recalcitrant teen, i.e., nothing made me happy.)
But now, I’d be more than pleased to morph into her. There is one character trait that I most hope to develop and try to cultivate every day: discerning what matters, which I suppose is an inelegant way of saying “Pick your battles.”
Being a pacifist, I prefer to use the positive framing of the skill of deciding not only what is important but also what is worth acting on.
It can be easy to be swept into bickering and needless arguing. Some people like to always be in the center of a heated discussion and in the eye of a storm of conflict. Admittedly, I open myself up to being in those positions from time to time, and depending on the outcome, I will later assess the value of having said anything. (Side note: if the result is positive, I tend to think the controversy was worth it; if the opposite happens, I’ll label the endeavor a waste of time.)
My “discerning what matters” is not just about what I write here, on other social media, or in my novels, it extends to nearly every interaction I have whether by phone or in person with intimates and strangers alike. It is challenging to keep an open heart and a curious mind when there are days where I feel like I’m expected to apologize for crimes I never committed, explain my rationale for making a choice, or retract my thoughtfully selected words.
While the easy way out would be to react with anger, dismissal, or contempt, I strive (read: struggle) to hold my reaction back long enough to discover why I am reacting as I am, be it shunned, hurt, or misunderstood.
What I have observed in my mother is she lets most of her reactions go, like water off a duck’s back. It may be she is “mellowing with age,” but I like to think that she is purposeful about it. This gives me the hope that I, too, with enough thoughtful effort can get to the point where I can easily discern what matters and, for lack of a better phrase, say “fuck it” to the rest.*
*My mother would not endorse the use of that phrase. She’s far too classy for that. Maybe I’ll “age into” classy. Here’s hoping there’s still time.