For those unfamiliar with ABC’s comedy The Middle, Sue Heck portrays a wonderfully tragic teenager who tries her hardest at everything, but is constantly rejected. Because she always pulls herself back up, the audience can’t help but root for her. She never gets what she ultimately wants, yet she finds the genuine happiness with whatever she winds up with. Her cheerfulness is annoyingly addictive. By the end of each episode, viewers actually believe that something extraordinary will happen to her. She is the quintessential beacon of hope that every mother dreams her daughter could be…if life resembled a thirty minute sitcom.
In reality, moms fear children like her. See, I know this because I live with a real Sue Heck. My daughter is fueled by her hopes and dreams. In her mind, her goals are always attainable, even if those goals involve opening the first ever dragon training school. When it comes to her own abilities, she doesn’t quite understand the word “can’t”. She is the most admirable ten year old little girl I’ve ever met.
(Insert record scratch here) Then there’s me-the realist. For the record, realists are not without hope. We are just better prepared for life’s onslaught of shitstorms. I am always aware of the equal possibility of success or failure in any given situation. But when my sweet daughter embarks on something new, failure does not exist…that is, until it does.
Because of my daughter’s loyalty to optimism, there have been a collection of gut-wrenching moments for me to endure over the years. With each disappointed smile she gives me when she doesn’t get the part in the play, the mom in me dies a little on the inside. With every “don’t worry mom, I bet I’ll make it next year”, my practical side gets nervous and internally whispers, “what if you don’t?” With the positive spin she puts on each disheartening outcome, the realist in me covertly cries for her, while the mom on the outside tries to match her enthusiasm for what’s next.
She will never know about my anxiety each time I drop her off at an audition, or how I shed a few tears in the shower when she declares that she will keep trying until she gets it. My worry does not come from a lack of faith in her or an expectation of failure. Amazed by her continuously upbeat attitude, I fear that, eventually, the rejection will wear on her, giving her a reason to give up. I’m afraid that there may come a time when her ambition will be history, and the strong, positive little girl I know and love will have disappeared into a mini version of me-the realist.
I want her to hold on to the optimism, so that I can try to hold on with her. But if I can’t, she has at least shown me how to be happy with the unexpected mediocrity that life may hurl in my direction. She has taught me that it’s not really about the problems in life, but more about my reaction to the problems that will make the real difference.
I am grateful for my Sue Heck. And though, at times, her light may be too bright for me, I look forward to walking in her shadow with my sunglasses on.