There are two basic ways in which brains are wired in the Duff household. One way is the way my son and I think of the universe. Jacob and I? We like the box. We find the walls of the box comforting. We like rules and lists and limits and structure. There are plenty of toys to play with inside of the box, and plenty of creative things you can do with the tools you find there. Neither of us can understand why you’d play a game any way but by the rules.
Then there is the boxless faction, my husband and daughter. Marin is only vaguely aware that there is a box. While her moral compass generally points north, and she is a pretty well behaved kid, and even insists on the rules of proper grammar, this is because she has determined by her own observation and conclusions that this is the way things should be, and not because of some set of rules or expectations imposed by anyone else.
Neither one of these is a better way to be, which is good, because due to the hard wiring of our brains, I doubt there is a pill or program or system that could change us.
I worry, naturally, that Marin’s completely different way of approaching the world on her own terms will result in disaster, because such a thing would never even occur to me. Sometimes I want to get on her about it, but often, that’s where her greatest successes come from.
Take the assignment she had in her language arts class. (An aside: why oh why oh why can’t this be called ‘English’ class like in the olden days?) She was supposed to write an essay about her favorite teacher, and why she chose this particular teacher. Being eleven, and therefore smarter and more knowledgeable than any adult she ever came into contact with, she refused to acknowledge that any of her teachers had taught her anything even remotely worthwhile. I listed all the teachers she’d loved over the years, and she said no. I listed her Sunday School and Hebrew School teachers. Also rejected. I suggested her father or I, or maybe her grandparents. Nope, nope, and nope. She finally settled on the band “Five Seconds of Summer,” also known as 5SOS, which she currently believes is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Their lyrics, she declared, taught her everything she needed to know about life. This idea was soundly (and righteously) rejected by her teacher.
So needless to say, after weeks of flat out refusing to follow the rules, there came a time when the essay was due in ten minutes. She grabbed a piece of notebook paper, scribbled down what popped into her head, and turned it in.
Later, I found out that her essay was deemed of a sufficient quality that she was to be one of only two students to read theirs at the 5th grade awards night. I hadn’t read it – all I knew is that she settled on “life” being her teacher, and I was more than a little miffed that her 11 year old equivalent of giving the finger to an assignment reaped praise and reward.
Then came the awards ceremony. The time came on the program for her to read it. Her similarly boxless father had not yet made it to the school, and I fretted that he would miss it. Never fear, however, as Marin is a Duff, and therefore when she got to the podium, everyone discovered that not a soul, not the teacher, not the administrators, and not Marin herself, had thought to bring a copy of the essay to the podium. She was quickly shuttled to the end of the program while her teacher ducked off to find it.
When the time came for her to read it for realsies, and her father had made it into the room, I was completely blown away. Rather than seem half-hearted, or last minute, or attitude-y, it was brilliant. It was wise, it was witty, and not the least bit snarky. If I weren’t familiar with the circumstances of its birth, I would have suspected that she copied it from some valedictory speech she found on the internet.
So I guess we’re more alike than I thought. We express ourselves better in writing. We’ve both found success taking a path that is comfortable for us and unique to us. And then we’re not alike, because she can do what I can’t. She can take the tools inside the box and run with them and combine them with the freedom of the outdoors and make something brilliant I don’t have the capacity for. Out of the mouths of babes really does come the truth, even if that wasn’t their goal to begin with.
I love that girl, and I admire the heck out of her, even though for now, and probably for the next 7 years or so, she has a deep seated belief that my sole purpose on this Earth is to think of ways to embarrass her and then execute them in front of the greatest number of people.
I’m sure this post will embarrass her. Too bad.
Following is the text of her speech, complete with her spelling errors for authenticity’s sake:
So many people have made an impact on my life that it is impossible to truely choose just one. I’ve decided that life itself is my favorite teacher.
Every time I go outside I feel the crisp air surrounding me, and I feel the soft sunlight wrapping me in a blanket of warmth. This is what teaches me the attire I need. I tend to learn from the small things. I learn happiness when my favorite music soothes my hearing. I learn responsibility when procrastination betrays me, but most of all I learn selflessness when others need me more than I do.
Life helps inspire me with it’s little blessings; it gives me confidence when I feel there is nowhere I can go, it gives me strength when I least expect it, and bravery when fear stands in the path of my goals. Sure, life can beat me, and everyone else for that matter, but it’s the struggles in life that make us tough enough to go on.
In conclusion, to chose a single person as a special teacher to me would be a lie, for life impacts us in a way that no human can.
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Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Asked in the First Place” was a number one Amazon Hot New Release in the Fall of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.