Diplomacy is something I have struggled with all my life. This is mainly because 1) I am impatient and 2) I am unabashedly forthcoming with what’s on my mind. Not always the best combination, I have learned over the years. People either don’t like me because I am not diplomatic or they do like me because I am not diplomatic. It’s a strange phenomenon. Needless to say, I would never run for president, though apparently diplomacy is no longer a required skill for that position. (Another blog post altogether.)
While I’ve never been accused of doing anything just for the sake of being liked, the older I get, the more I see the many advantages of using diplomacy. It requires strategic thinking, which greatly appeals to me in all aspects of my life – particularly as the parent of a child who will officially be a teenager in two weeks. Stated differently, my interactions with Margaret could only benefit from greater diplomacy on my part.
For a long time, I wasn’t so sure what Margaret’s diplomacy skills would be. She always had a great circle of friends in elementary school, but she didn’t seem to care what kids thought of her (I really do love this about her!). I’d drop her off at school and kids would yell, “HI MARGARET!” and I’d watch my kid ignore them. I’d ask her later why she didn’t reciprocate and she’d say, “I didn’t hear them, mom!” I suspect she did hear them and didn’t answer because she didn’t like them – and that was her way of being diplomatic at her young age. Anyhow, if she didn’t like something, she spoke her truth and became actionable (I’ve mentioned in a previous post the anti-bully club she started in her after-school daycare program when she was in third grade).
Recently, I felt a sense of relief when I observed that Margaret is already exercising diplomacy, at least outside the home. We were talking about a friend she’s made this summer at the Teenage Drama Workshop at CSUN, a girl her age who was a bit wonky with her the first few days. Margaret observed immediately that her (now) friend – let’s call her “Susie” – is a fairly strong dancer. Susie took every opportunity the first few days to explain to Margaret what dance terms meant, as if Margaret were a beginning dancer. “Margaret, a battement is an alternating movement of the working leg. Let me show you.” Now understand, Margaret took 3 years of ballet at Anaheim Ballet, one of the best ballet schools in Orange County because, as a dancer, I am a strong believer in ballet as the backbone of all types of dance. I wanted her to learn proper technique so that she could transition more easily to any other genre of dance that interested her. I think any well-trained dancer can identify those who never had ballet. This training helped her this past year at Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), where she expanded upon her dance training with musical theater and some contemporary dance. Bottom line, Margaret has known what a battement was since she was pretty much in the womb.
So I asked Margaret what she said to Susie. In my head, I’m conjuring up what I would say to Susie had I been in Margaret’s situation. A few snide remarks came to mind. But thankfully Margaret didn’t choose that lowbrow route. Instead, she smiled and said graciously to Susie, “Oh, OK, thanks.”
When I asked her why she didn’t tell her that she’s taken dance for several years, she replied, “Mom, sometimes it’s just easier to let someone think they are helping you. Besides, I didn’t want to be THAT person.” And by THAT person, she meant me. OK, fair enough.
I pondered what she said for a few days after and despite my petty instincts, I was really proud of her for taking the high road. She was in new territory and Susie, who had been there the year before, knew several people and had lots of friends in the program. I do think there was a way she could have responded to Susie that wasn’t rude but got the point across, something like, “Oh my gosh, I wish my first ballet teacher had explained the mechanics of a battement as well as you just did!” Still, she was strategic in how she approached her response. Puffing her chest and spouting off like I would have done at her age (and let’s face it, probably now) very likely would have resulted in at least one enemy, possibly many more. Turns out, Margaret and Susie became friends and Susie either figured out quickly that Margaret knows how to dance, or she no longer felt threatened by her. Or both. Either way, Margaret’s diplomacy gave her the opportunity to make a good friend and gain an ally.
Though it seems a bit of a stretch, I couldn’t help but look deeply into that speculative lens where we parents try to predict our kid’s future and wonder if perhaps she’ll want to be a diplomat one day. Anything is possible. A friend of mine with whom I grew up and attended the same program each summer is a diplomat for the foreign ministry. It happens!
I haven’t told Margaret yet that I have a lot of respect for her growing sense of diplomacy and that I’m going to try hard to be more diplomatic with her. I was going to start today but I already blew it during a phone conversation with her this morning. So…I guess I’ll start tomorrow when she comes home for good after 6 weeks of being away. Wish me luck!