Don’t

We’re at the home of friends, and we’ve been given a quintessential summer night in the Midwest. Salsa on the dinner table, tortilla crumbs at our feet, Moscow Mules sweating in bright copper mugs.

Later, there will be sticky marshmallow fingers, peed pants, an impromptu shower, a borrowed t-shirt. Later, the mosquitoes will arrive around the fire pit, observing stories, laughter, advice. Later, a toddler will offer us wisdom with a slight lisp.

Don’t do what they tell you to do, she’ll say.

I’ve always wanted to raise a child of character, not of compliance. I’ve always wanted her to ask questions, to push back, to buck the system when necessary.

I’ve always forgotten to do the same.

My friend Ruth and I are chatting about summer plans, about a few small, short goals, about accepting what comes, mostly.

I hadn’t realized Bee was eavesdropping; I hadn’t seen her take a break from throwing sticks into the fire, hadn’t expected her to hop up on my lap to chat for a bit.

Listen, girls, she says. Don’t do what they tell you to do.

We laugh, we thank her, and she’s back to fire duty.

Later, when she’s tucked into star-patterned sheets, when she’s cradling her bunny, when her eyelids are heavy, I ask her what she meant. Don’t do what who tells me to do? I ask.

You know, your persons. Your persons will tell you what to do and you have to think if you want to do it. And then you have to think if you don’t want to do it. But you have to think, you know. And then you do what you tell yourself to do.

That’s very wise, I say.

It sure is, she says.

Thank you, I say.

Yep, and she rolls over to find sleep.

I’ve had a long run of not thinking. I’ve had a long run of compliance, of doing what’s expected, of joining the masses in attempt to keep the peace, to not make waves, to float through life without conflict, without offense.

Sometimes it serves me well.
Other times it does not.

Last week, an email arrived. It was shiny, packaged neatly with a bow, this dream opportunity that I was sure was the right answer, except that it would whisk me promptly away from real life for an indefinite amount of time. There would be prep, pressure, stress, time, travel. But I was asked to do it, my presence was requested, my interest was piqued, my tired little heart was immensely flattered at the fame and fortune surely headed my way.

You’d be crazy not to take this one, the email says.

Don’t do what they tell you to do, Bee would say.

Today, it’s fort building in the sunroom. It’s early, we’re in pajamas, and Bee is offering domino tickets to the circus later. The show will be in the main fort, over here, but not for another one hundredy minutes. You can stay until it’s ready, but you can also not stay. Do what your head says, she says.

I’d like to stay, I say.

That’s what my head says is the right answer, too! she says, scampering off to refill the ticket bowl.

I respond to the email.

I’d like to stay, I say. To stay here. If there’s any way to make both happen, I’d love to be involved.

There wasn’t a way to make both happen. There rarely is. But it’s OK. I’ve got a circus to watch, and it starts in one hundredy minutes.

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