Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quiet Integrity (Happy Holidays)

The company I work for is a family owned business, so the Christmas party was a small affair at my boss’s house.  Sitting around the table, exchanging stories, the writer in me was keenly reminded that each of us has stories, and each person in our circle encompasses some role, often becoming the hero of a funny anecdote or personal family gem.
Generally, each person in our circle serves some larger purpose that we don’t even pay very much attention to on a regular basis.  There’s always the one person who can be called upon, day or night, who would give you everything they have because you need it.  There’s always one person everyone gravitates to, sometimes fun or childish or just charismatic.  There are as many labels as you can think of but, for the most part, any community only works as well as each of the members.  Humanity’s an odd beast.  It takes advantage of the weak and feeds off the charitable, and it never ceases to amaze me how often people mistake kindness for weakness.
When I tell stories about my family, whether they’re tales from my own childhood or those of my children, I almost always tell the funny ones.  You’ll hear me mention Gracie Girl perhaps the most, because she’s a smart ass.  She supplies ample material for daily comedy.  Littlest Guy will get many a mention as well – he has that spark, that intangible thing that makes people gravitate to him.  You could see it in him from day one, children flock to him and adults adore him. 
I think when you prefer to laugh, or want something light hearted and fun, those are the kind of personalities that make for good heroes.
My oldest son has always been quiet and more to himself.  He’s quick and intelligent, but doesn’t often seek out a spotlight.  There are home movies from his 3rd birthday – throughout the entire video, Gracie girl is right in front of the camera, singing and prancing and telling jokes.  Littlest guy is babbling and grinning and charming the hell out of everyone.  And there’s Johnny, off in the background, playing with a car he got as a present… and when his one year old brother came up to where he was playing, Johnny handed him the car and showed him how to do it.
People are always telling me how thoughtful and polite he is, as if I have anything to do with it.  He was gifted with a generous soul.  It’s not something I did as a parent, it’s intrinsically who he is.
There was the time I had all three of them lined up to find out who did something.  I don’t even remember what it was, but all three of them said the universal “I don’t know”.  At a loss for what to do, I grounded all three of them.  Johnny said, “Sorry, Mom.  I did it.  Gracie and DJ shouldn’t have to be grounded, too.”
I found out way later that his little brother did it, Johnny just said he did and took the punishment for him.  You can teach a kid not to snitch, but you can’t teach that.
A few Christmases ago, Santa got a new Nintendo DS for Johnny.  His brother broke his a few months prior, and he was way worse on those things than Johnny ever had been – Johnny’s a kid you never have to tell to take care of his things or do his homework.  So Santa figured, Johnny should get the new one, and DJ could get Johnny’s old one.  A few days before Christmas, DJ broke Johnny’s Nintendo.  Santa didn’t have the time or funds to get two, so I kinda figured, Johnny gets the new one and I knew he’d share, and then DJ could get one for his birthday.
Christmas morning, we all came down and there, with DJ’s toys from Santa, was the brand new Nintendo.  Johnny got up earlier than everyone else, and moved it to DJ’s pile.  He said Santa must’ve made a mistake because DJ wanted one so much more than he did.
In the grand circle of things, I can see him being the ant – all the grasshoppers are out playing while he works and saves, and then he gives them anything they need because they need it, without taking anything for himself.  He reminds me of Beth, from Little Women, who always tugged at my heart more than any other character.
And I worry about him being taken advantage of, because people don’t see kindness for what it is, and they don’t understand generosity for its own sake.  But when I get past the lump in my throat at anything that might hurt him, I hope he never loses that.
Maybe the world would be a better place if we prized quiet integrity more than witty quips.


Laurel said...

Oh, wow, Merry. You are doing something so far beyond right to have a child who thinks like that. Sure, he was born with it, but in the "nature vs. nurture" argument I believe very strongly that nature gets warped by nurture with very little effort.

His spirit is a gift to be cultivated and guarded. Sounds like you have managed to do that. I want to hug that kid's neck.

Also, if any girl every takes advantage of him, you just tell Aunt Laurel. I got dawgs, lots of hunting buddies, and if I go far enough into South Alabama, there's gators. No one would ever know.

Merry Monteleone said...


LOL! I swear, if we could get you, me Avery Debow, Erica and a few others together, it would be a serious party!

You know, I think there's more to nature than people think. All three of my kids are growing up in the same house, but they're each their own person. I think it's a combo pack... in the wrong environment, if you're born generous, maybe you learn to hide it because you get kicked in the teeth too much... but it's still there.

Being a parent is an awesome responsibility. I didn't fully understand what I was getting into until my daughter took her first breath, and then it just kind of fell on me - this is it. This is the most important job I'm ever going to have. This is the only job I'll ever have that it would be unforgivable to fuck up. And I don't mean making mistakes, we all make those... I'm sure I'm giving some therapist in the future ample fodder... but, here's the thing with parenthood - whatever you are or aren't, whatever your personal strengths or weaknesses, your life ceases to be about YOU and has to be about them... them first. Until you draw your last breath.

And even with all of that... I can't claim credit for their strengths. I'm just lucky to get to be a part of it.

Travis Erwin said...

Wow. He sounds exactly like my oldest. And while I only have, two my youngest is both active and a smart ass. Funny how alike life is despite the distances between us.

Laurel said...

It would be a high-octane party. Pyrotechnics of any other than the GI variety had better be strictly prohibited. We might have us a bona fide Mrs. O'Leary's cow experience.

Also, in the whole nature vs. nurture argument within a family unit, I think birth order is part of nurture. It's part of the environment that shapes the child. I'm a classic oldest (similar to your kind hearted son) and my sister is classic youngest. She is perceived as self-absorbed by a lot of people, but she isn't. She has a huge heart but also expectations on how she should be treated based on being the baby; I have a sense of responsibility based on being the oldest (and having to "look out for/take care of/help teach" the baby).

She is also considered the funny one. She is the girl everyone wanted to be friends with or date. Someone once told us (together) how great things worked out in our family because I was so smart and responsible and she was so pretty and funny. And then the idiot who said it was confused that neither one of us felt remotely complimented.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Travis,

Birds of a feather! I think, regardless of what their strengths are, the best ideal is that they're there for their siblings. That's the most important lesson I hope mine get from me - your siblings are the best friends you have, they take the ride with you, and should always be there for you, even while others come and go.

Merry Monteleone said...


Yours, I think is the most common scenario... oldest takes on care taker role, youngest is more outgoing and taken care of...

In my family, I'm the youngest, but I'm also the only girl, and I think a lot of the caretaking role fell on me for that reason.

My kids, well, Gracie's actually the oldest, but she's not the most responsible by nature... that's Johnny... I think if anything, Gracie was probably more naturally suited for the baby role, but then, so was DJ... On the flip side though, Gracie's like the pied piper with kids and always calling the shots (very first born). Johnny just kind of rolls with it and goes along.

Laurel said...

Awww. Then he really, truly was just born that sweet. luuuuurve him.

And I mean it. I will cyber-cut the bitch who hurts my boy.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. Birth order vs gender. Although I was the youngest, I was trying to take care of my older, very quiet brother in our high decibel level house. He did become a rescuer in his own right though - just a much quieter one.

Maybe being youngest means having the loudest voice?

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Sarah!!!!!!

*waves frantically*

You know, now that you mention it, youngests do tend to have a louder voice than most... I think maybe there are a lot of variables to it... the dynamic of the family as a whole - the environment, genetics, disposition... Does kind of make you wonder if even with everything you inherited, you'd end up the same person if you were raised completely different.