Sunday, August 25, 2013

Princess Leia Was Right

Any wisdom I have accrued during my time here comes mainly from two sources. Improv and Star Wars. That’s right, not Joan Didion or Buddha or Socrates; it all hinges on the art of making things up spontaneously and from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. And today’s nugget of insight comes from Princess Leia.

(BTW thank you George Lucas for creating a smart, resourceful, moral female character who can kick-ass and knows how to handle a blaster).

In Star Wars: A New Hope, during Leia’s first encounter with Grand Moff Tarkin after insulting his body odor she offers this in retort to his intimidation tactics “The more you tighten your grip the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Genius despite Carrie Fisher’s out of nowhere British accent in that scene only. So let’s delve, shall we.

Control. Yes we all desperately want it in one form or another. Whether it’s over what we watch on TV or what we wear, or what we do for a living, or how other people in our sphere of influence act, or the outcome of our own and our children’s lives, we want control. And why not? It is the softest blanket of content and the most delicious chocolate chip cookie of comfort. We seek it in every aspect of our lives. How neat is my house? My desk? My Car? (if I’m honest, none of them very neat at all). How can I not get fired? Did I make a mistake? Did somebody else? How can I make sure nobody makes a mistake, ever, for the rest of time? (Seriously, my list of mistakes fills the warehouse where they store the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark). How can I make sure my kids are okay? I’ll monitor their homework; dispute teachers on unacceptable grades; tell them to go to bed…no really, I mean now, I’m not gonna tell you again; read their text messages; give them advice; give them the same advice over and over until they do what I tell them whether they believe it or not; get them vaccinated; have “the talk”; nag them about extra-curriculars and credentialing for college; tell them to brush their teeth until it sends me into therapy. If I do all that and more, their future will be secure, right? Everything will be okay, yeah? Nothing bad will ever happen.

Wrong. Darth Vader will still show up in Cloud City and freeze your boyfriend.

The thing about control is, it’s a bedtime story we tell ourselves again and again so we can sleep at night and keep the panic at bay. If we can control the outcome, then we know what to expect and nothing will ever take us by surprise. And how boring is that?

I’m not recommending never cleaning our houses, and letting the kids adapt a Lord of the Flies mentality (actually in that book it was the struggle for control that led to chaos), but the reality is, we cannot control the outcome. Life is messy and unpredictable and if we avoid it, we miss out on so much. Bad things are going to happen, to us and to our kids, and that’s okay because we learn we can get through them. But you know what else, great things are going to happen too. But if we’re too busy following our prescribed path of expectation we will miss those great things and the potential for un-conceived of joy.

I cannot control what grades my kids will get this year. I cannot control whether they will get in trouble or not. I cannot control whether they will get hurt or if they will hurt someone else. I cannot control if they will let in a goal, or score a basket, or remember the distributive property or to brush their teeth.

I can tell them what I think is important. I can encourage them. I can set limits on tv and games. I can make them eggs and bacon in the morning. I can let them fail. I can believe they will succeed.

So I will try to follow Princess Leia’s advice and loosen my grip on their lives. It will be hard, because I love them so much that I feel it in every cell of my body at all times of the day. But sometimes what’s best for them is what’s hard for them. So I will loosen my grip. And maybe if I do that Han Solo will show up in the Millennium Falcon and take me out for a burger.

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