I cannot list for you the first ten U.S. presidents, but I can easily rattle off which of my daughter’s besties met up at Pitfire Pizza last night and who was sitting next to whom and why. I can tell you who has recently had a crush on Brayden. I can also describe for you, in heart-wrenching detail, the fallout that took place when a fellow third-grader named JoJo told my daughter that she didn’t want to be friends anymore.
I love being involved in my daughter’s life, and I’m glad that she lets me in on some details. However, a large part of me thinks that I’m too concerned with her social life. It’s one thing to be engaged. It’s another to be unfocused in a work meeting because I’m playing out an argument in my head between myself and JoJo’s dad (“Well, if she doesn’t want to be friends, she shouldn’t have come to my daughter’s birthday party and taken two goodie bags!!”). I fear my level of concern is unhealthy, so I’m working on trying to take it down a notch (or ten).
My dad didn’t give a shit about my social life. My health, he cared about — like when I played soccer in our unfinished basement and had to go to the ER to have a giant splinter removed from my butt, a story that has sadly become a Price family classic. But my dad didn’t know or want to know the ins and outs of whatever social drama was going on with me. And why would he? Every night of my childhood, Dad came home after a long day of work on the 6:08 train, and he just wanted to eat a TV dinner, watch “Northern Exposure” and go to bed. He didn’t need to spend forty minutes hearing about how my best friend Seth and I were in a fight because Seth made out with the new girl from Portland that I had a massive crush on even though Portland girl and I had bonded playing capture the flag on the theater retreat and SETH KNEW HOW I FELT!!!
I, on the other hand, am transfixed by my child’s recounting of her daily adventures like she’s host of the third grade TMZ. “Bella snuck her iPad into the assembly?! GO ON!” I should also point out that my daughter doesn’t actually have an intricate social life. It’s not Downton Abbey. The daily “drama” revolves around a handful of eight-year-olds doing things like trading slime and passing notes about when they’re going to trade slime. So you’d think by now, the show would get old. Quite the contrary. I’m binge watching, and I don’t want it to end.
I sometimes wonder if I’m all 3GTMZ because my wife and I don’t have any social drama anymore in our own lives; it goes away at a certain point and that’s a good thing. Another reason I think I’m so attuned to my daughter’s social life is that she is an only child, so she doesn’t have that built-in play time at home with a brother or sister. So when she has a negative interaction with a friend, I’ll feel guilty that we don’t have a sibling for her. She’ll come home and I’ll be like, “how was getting frozen yogurt with Alice? Did you make up after the slime note incident? I’M SORRY THAT WE LET YOU DOWN!!!”
And, of course, it’s possible that like every person alive, I have some residual feelings from my own youth. I actually made it through childhood relatively unscathed, coasting by on being a slow but decent athlete and a benevolent smart-ass. But I had my share of drama, including the time my former best friends called me a fat little f*^#@r and told me to look out my window, only to find the house covered in toilet paper and shaving cream. Shout out to my dad who felt bad for me and stepped in on this one (but was also concerned that the Subaru had toilet paper in the tailpipe).
I discussed my over-involvement issue with my therapist, who, unsurprisingly, said that I might want to work on toning it down. From just a few seconds of role playing, she could tell that I was projecting my own anxieties. One thing she suggested is that when my daughter comes in from school, I shouldn’t immediately ask about a certain kid — even if I’ve been thinking about that kid all day. Just be chill about it (i.e. fake it) and ask more general questions, and then if my daughter offers some info, listen and offer advice if she asks for it. The therapist assured me that there’s a lot of room between being too engaged in your kid’s life and apathy. And while I’ll never be apathetic, my goal is to project a little more of a “who cares if Bella ate your last gummy bear? You survived!” attitude, even if I have to excuse myself and privately curse Bella to a sad, gummy-less life.
The point is that I think it’s healthy to care about what your kid is going through in his or her social life, and I’ll always want to help my daughter through any problems, big or slime-related. But sometimes you have to, as Eliza told her man Hamilton, “take a break.” A-Ham didn’t take a break, and, spoiler alert – he ended up cheating on his wife and destroying his career and marriage. And since my psyche (and, more importantly, my daughter) will be better off if I can avoid freaking out over every episode of 3GTMZ, I hereby vow take more breaks from the drama. My dad would definitely approve, even though he didn’t even care that I MET THAT GIRL DURING CAPTURE THE FLAG! IT WAS ROMANTIC!!!
(BTW, I know that I’ve brought this up twice now, but I’m not bitter about it. Seth and I are still good friends, and I even went to prom with Portland girl. Just as friends, though. She made that clear, and I’m not bitter about that, either.)