wonderful life

December 17th, 2013


There is a meme going around the teen social media sites (something you will only learn in a dark and fearful hour). If you had to live the rest of your life in a movie which one would you pick? It’s one of the least troubling things you’ll see your kids talking about, although the movies they mention might scare the beejesus out of you.

Someone answered It’s a Wonderful Life.

What a great movie. But it’s not a movie about a wonderful life. George Bailey has a terrible life, remember? And it keeps getting worse. First off, he is not the favored son. He’s denied his dreams, stuck in a dead-end job in a no-count town, left behind to take care of his needy neighbors and crazy relatives. He’s mortgaged up to his eyeballs living in a drafty old house with a passel of noisy kids. He’s dead broke, out of his mind with fear and rage, and probably going to jail if he doesn’t jump off a bridge first. And he’s not exactly father of the year.

Janie, will you stop playing that lousy piano?!$#@&%

Yesterday afternoon after I dropped my daughter off at the tutoring place I stepped into the Starbucks next door for a cup of tea and noticed the guy standing in line behind me. It was the tutor, grabbing a quick cup before the start of the session. Telling you the second story in a week about math tutoring might lead you to conclude that my daughter is either less fortunate or more fortunate than you thought. Either way, this year at school hasn’t been easy. There is a passage that befalls young people: the journey to discover who they are reveals by process of elimination who they aren’t.

I’m not the smartest girl in the class, Mom. I’m not that girl anymore.
I’m not a nerd, I’m not a geek, I’m not a math whiz.
I’m not like that. I don’t want that. I don’t care.
I hate my life. Get out of my room.

It’s not what you would call wonderful.

The tutor didn’t recognize me until I told him who my daughter was, and then the first thing he said was this:

Your daughter is wonderful.

The worry that lifted from me at that moment—the fear, doubt, brittle aching raging pain that departed my heart at the Starbucks on Rosemead at Del Mar on Monday at 4:21 p.m. was so divinely lifesaving that I have to repeat it.

Your child is wonderful. Yes, yours.

We all have to repeat it, every day, over and over, because it’s probably true and we’ve probably forgotten.

It’s not until the last six minutes of the movie that George Bailey’s life turns into any kind of wonderful, because that’s when he wakes up and realizes that it was wonderful all along.

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  1. Your daughter and mine are the same age, and you never fail to give me the words I need at this minute, the only minute really that there is; this minute when life is difficult and delightful. TA child is wonderful, and in every moment, we know that, and it rings like a bell.

    Comment by MichaelDouglas Jones (@MJonesStudio) — December 17, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

  2. This is further proof of the power of the tiny word “AND.”
    All of what wrote, AND, she is wonderful. Thank you for the reminder to find the “AND,” because it is always there waiting.

    Comment by MJ — December 17, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  3. Crying again…oh Karen, your words continue to wash over me like a healing fountain. I thank you a thousand times.

    Comment by Kirsten — December 17, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

  4. and that child who is wonderful is also the child inside you–the pure, unspoiled you that is so hard to find, stay with and love.
    but must be loved here and now in whatever form you feel–angry, tired, depressed–even happy–if you are going to ever love another. as I see it.

    Thanks for sharing your so real story, Maezen.

    Comment by daniel — December 17, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

  5. Oh, Maezen. There’s been so many times I’ve wanted to ask for your comfort when life is freaking me out, so I am so delighted to have something to share with you today:

    “Today, we teach our children that if you are an effective person, you can control your life. This modern image portrays “winners” as people who have it all together. You are not supposed to have internal conflicts, stress, or anxiety — that means you are incompetent. You’re a loser…. But this perspective flattens life. It denies the possibility of finding a deeper meaning to your experience. If you measure your self-worth and effectiveness according to these superficial cultural standards, then each time you suffer you are forced to interpret suffering as humiliation. Why would you choose to acknowledge suffering if it only stands for failure?”

    Philip Moffitt, How Suffering Got a Bad Name

    Comment by Nye Joell Hardy — December 18, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

  6. “To my big brother George, the richest man in town.” I cry every time I hear that toast.

    Comment by Tricia — December 18, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  7. “Wonder-full!”

    Comment by Michael J. — December 19, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

  8. If you allow yourself to see how wonderful you are, then you can see it in your child as well. (I have wanted to see that movie for a few years now, but it’s never on TV over here.)
    Last thursday I was helping in school and the noisiest bothersome difficult boy in class walked in, crying. I put my arm around him and waited till he was quiet and things were alright. And now I can see him just so differently. So wonderful.
    I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and I wish you a happy new year.

    Comment by SK — December 21, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

  9. Always what I need to hear when I need to hear it. I have had “the fear, doubt, brittle aching raging pain” on my heart these past few days. Let down from Christmas? Perhaps. In this moment though, it has lifted. Children are a special struggle.

    Comment by Stephanie — December 29, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  10. When I was in middle school, I said to myself, “its not cool to be smart.” So, I did that, not enough to hurt my GPA, but I understand your daughter. Karen, how do we combat that peer pressure for our children. I have a 4 year old boy, how do I encourage him to embrace his knowledge and reject the peer pressure that he will have?

    Comment by Leigh — January 2, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

  11. Don’t know how I missed this post, but I am grateful to have stumbled on it today.

    I was a little (or a lot) obsessed with George Bailey in high school, to the degree that some friends called me George. When I watched it recently with my kids, I was shocked at how very dark it was. It is not a very rosy movie; it is honest about the dark stuff.

    Comment by Deirdre — July 8, 2014 @ 4:58 am

  12. “He wakes up.” I love that when I am struggling with what to do next, the answer found here is always the same: wake up and breathe.

    Comment by Deirdre — July 8, 2014 @ 5:00 am

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