Lessons from the Playground

Recently, when I went to pick up my children from school, my five-year-old daughter burst out of the classroom, leaped into my arms, and buried her face in my neck. When I asked her what was wrong, she said her best friend had told her, “I don’t like you anymore.”

Wow. It’s hard enough to hear this kind of sentiment as an adult. But for a sensitive five-year-old who has never experienced rejection? Devastating.

I’m happy to say it all blew over. After a little investigation and instruction from the moms, apologies were said, the girls hugged, and now they’re friends again.

Afterwards, my daughter and I came home and had a long talk. About friendships and strategies and coping mechanisms. And what struck me the most about this conversation was how wise I sounded. How, coming from an adult perspective, I could so clearly see the “right” solution to my child’s problems.

At the same time, I recognized I was being something of a hypocrite. Because, you see, the lessons I was trying to teach my daughter are the very ones with which I’ve been struggling.

Here are some of the things my daughter and I discussed:

1. You shouldn’t want to play with someone who doesn’t want to play with you.

So simple, right? So true. But if that’s the case, then why does rejection hurt so much? Whether it’s by an agent or an editor, a loved interest or a friend, rejection sucks. Big time. But it shouldn’t. Instead, we should just see the pass as information gained and move on with our lives.

For example, writers look for a literary agent in order to find an effective advocate for their work. If an agent does not love your work, then he/she, by definition, will not be an effective advocate. So you shouldn’t want to work with an agent who doesn’t want to work with you. Right? So simple. So true. And so much easier said than done.

2. If someone is mean to you, walk away.

It is so easy to get caught up in other people’s drama. To get drawn into an argument, to retaliate to their hurtful behavior. When the truth is, it is so much simpler to step away and focus on your own work, your own interests, your own family. I may have given this advice to my daughter as if it were truth, but it is something which I constantly have to remind myself.

3. If you want to have a friend, then you have to act like a friend.

I think we all learned this friendship adage a long time ago. I know I did. And yet, I am still learning the corollary: If you want to be a writer, then you have to act like a writer. That means, working on my manuscript, whether or not the muse strikes. It means being willing to do the hard stuff, the parts I may not particularly enjoy but that need to get done. It means getting up to write another day, no matter what blows have been dealt the day before.

4. Just because your friend wants to play with somebody else doesn’t mean she likes you any less.

This, perhaps, was the hardest truth for my daughter to swallow. In her mind, preference for another friend automatically equals rejection of her. As adults, we know better. Or do we? If the writing corollary were true (someone else’s success has no bearing on our own), then why, in the midst of our sincere excitement, do we feel that tiny twinge of, well, rejection when we hear another person’s good news? I honestly don’t know.

Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s because our hearts and heads don’t always align. Or maybe these lessons from the playground are just ones that we continue to learn, every single day.

What do you think? What lessons do you continue to learn as an adult? Why is it so hard for our heart to follow what our minds know to be “true”? What is harder– dealing with friendship drama as a child, or having your dreams rejected as an adult?