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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Compliments

Emma and Lily in the "yellow room"


My wife picked up Emma from a play date yesterday.  Sidebar:  I asked Emma last night if they still call them play dates and she said, "No.  We call them hangouts."  Ahem...My wife picked up Emma from a "hangout" yesterday.  We were talking about the parents, who seem nice enough, and who seem to like Emma.  Leslie told me that the other girl's mother thinks Emma is a really talented singer and that she should sing at the talent show this year. 

Emma will not sing in front of us, so we were trying to figure out how Emma had happened to break into song while she was at a friend's house, in front of parents she really didn't know that well.  I'm still not certain we got to the bottom of that mystery, but we dug a little deeper into why she wouldn't sing for US.

Leslie:  So would you ever just sing a song for us?
Emma (shifting uncomfortably in her seat):  No.
Leslie and I:  Why not?
Emma:  I don't know.  
Me:  Oh come on!  Why not.
Emma:  I don't...you guys will just compliment me.
Me (squinting at her):  And...you don't like being complimented?
Emma:  It makes me feel uncomfortable.

I thought about this a little.  I often have a difficult time accepting compliments.  They make me feel uncomfortable.  I'm not sure why exactly, but sometimes it's because I'm not sure the compliment is sincere, or sometimes because I'm not sure the person giving the compliment understands the context in which whatever I'm doing is framed (like when I draw or write and someone says I'm really good...what is the frame of reference...this is hard to explain...like if all you ever read are kid's stories, and then you read my blog and say, "Wow!  This is great!" maybe it's different than if all you read is Cormack McCarthy and you say, "Wow!  This is great!"  Hopefully that makes sense).  Anyway, I tried these explanations out on Emma to see if that was what she was feeling.

Emma:  No.  Not really, it just makes me feel funny.  I don't like it.
Me:  Hmm.  
Leslie:  What if we listened to you sing and didn't say anything nice?
Emma:  You'd have a look on your face or something.  It would still be weird.  And you'll tell me all the stuff I could be doing better.
Me:  What if we promised to just stare at you expressionlessly and when you were done just turn our backs on you and walk out?
Emma (laughing):  That might be better.
Leslie:  What if we insulted you?
Emma:  That wouldn't be as uncomfortable.
Me:  Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with compliments.  But when you get them, it doesn't matter whether you believe you deserve them or not, or whether you think the person giving them is being honest or not.  Just say, "Thank you."
Emma:  I know.  It's just uncomfortable.
Me:  We don't mean to make you uncomfortable, Emma.  We just want you to know your value.
Emma:  What do you mean?
Me:  I mean, I tell you nice things because I want you to know you're smart or funny or talented, or pretty.  I repeat them over and over so you always hear them from us and you never doubt that we meant them.  I want you to recognize how awesome you are.
Emma (shifting uncomfortably)

I sighed.  I'm still not sure exactly what it is, but I didn't want to push it any more.

Me:  You're a horrible little girl and an embarrassment to the family.
Emma (smirking and looking up at me):  Thank you, daddy.
Me:  You're welcome, baby.
 

40 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. I have a fine line about taking compliments. My mother thinks it's a game I'm playing to be coy or something (I should note that I'm middle-aged). I want the recognition, I find it easier to see people being please about something I've done and overhearing their pleasure, like overhearing the conversation. Then it's easier to accept.

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    1. Right...when you overhear it, you don't question the praise. You don't overthink whether the person giving it is just being nice or polite...you know it's legit.

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  2. I've never read Cormack McCarthy. This is the best blog post you've ever written, Jim. Clearly you are a genius on all levels, who is destined to one day rule the entire internet. Also, your use of bold is sublime.

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  3. You know what...I'm the same way. I reply with the requisite "Thank you!" when I get a compliment, but it makes me a little uncomfortable to receive them nonetheless. Next time my hubs tries to tell me I look pretty, I'm going to tell him to insult me instead. :) (Actually, that would be a great experiment to conduct...to see what my hubs would do. He'd probably think it was some kind of test that he can NEVER pass, like being asked "Does this make me look fat?")

    Mine I think is 100% a self-esteem thing. I also agree with the commenter above that - for me - compliments are easier to take indirectly (or online) than face-to-face.

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    1. agreed. We're all on the same page!

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  4. I know just how she feels. I'm terrible with compliments, and my default (as is most women's default, or so I've read) is to negate the compliment with an insult - someone tells us they like our sweater, for example, we say, "Oh, this old thing? It was only $5 at Goodwill! Ha ha!" Then a couple of years ago, I read an article (which for the life of me I couldn't find now) that pointed out, quite rightly, that you're insulting the person giving you the compliment if you do that, as well as yourself - and the best response is always just a simple "thank you." I've been training myself to do that ever since. It actually makes you feel so much better - you accepted the compliment - and the person giving it doesn't feel like you crapped all over them trying to do a nice thing. Win-win!

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    1. she says thanks. It just makes her feel uncomfortable. NEVER AGAIN! Now I just tell her how disappointed I am in her and she's happy!

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  5. Wow! This is great!

    as is the coffee i made this morning...

    *rubs hands together evilly*

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  6. I'd love to hear Emma sing. Maybe one day, you can get her signing on camera, then upload it to youtube so we can all enjoy her voice.

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    1. I tried surreptitiously sliding my iphone under the door while she was singing in the shower once, but she picked THAT moment to stop.

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  7. I have a huge problem with hearing compliments also! Your daughter seems to understand her worth without words or even seeing you and that is AWESOME!! I hope you get to hear her sing also we are a singing family here minus my husband he is a whistler! PEACE

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    1. i whistle and sing, to which Lily replies, "Don't whistle please" and "Don't sing please" respectively.

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  8. She really is your daughter, isn't she. I would say you are both hilarious, but I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable.

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  9. I would guess that it's uncomfortable because it recognizes that she put herself out there in a way that made someone else judge her. It's weird to be looked at and scrutinized, whether the outcome is insult or praise.

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    1. maybe. I'll ask her. She'll say she doesn't know though even if she does.

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  10. My daughter hates that as well, but she doesn't like it when people stare at her. She tells me "people have scary eyes." We think it has to do with her trying to decipher what is meant behind those looks. She has no problem reading the more obvious emotions, but the more subtle display of emotion is trickier.

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  11. I was once told by a then-seven-year-old that the only way he would swim butterfly stroke in the swim meet was if I covered my mouth and didn't cheer. He was adamant, and it was tough!

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  12. I could see the last part coming, but it still made me laugh. My son is the same way,I am not allowed to attend the school performances at his school. I can come and volunteer to help in class or attend a rehearsal, but not the actual show. Maybe it's the age, maybe its just being a little different, some of it has to be the beginning of the use of sarcasm by their peers at that age and not being able to tell if someone is being mean or really means the compliment.

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  13. Nicely handled, but it would have been better if you'd worn a unicorn head, or at least posted a photo of one. Will you take that kind of compliment?

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    1. I probably need to don that unicorn head again for some more creep photoshoots.

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  14. Ah, she inherited the irony and snark from your side, did she? Well done!

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  15. Maybe if you laugh and roll your eyes when she's singing then she will sing in front of you more often. But it could traumatize her too. Tough call! You decide.

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    1. My decision is...to sneak up on her and listen when she isn't expecting it.

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  16. Your girl is really self aware. That's cool. Also, I hope that thing about her being horrible and an embarrassment turns into the way you tell her you think she's awesome. And I hope you do it in public a lot. And I hope people give you lots of funny looks for doing so.

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    1. I'm hoping so too. We wondered what it would be like if "other" parents overheard us.

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  17. Hey Jim? You suck.

    Emma, on the other hand? Sounds like one amazing kiddo :-)

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    1. Hmmm. Hurtful.

      Yeah, she is. Thanks!

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  18. Cormac McCarthy is too dark. Spongebob is too light. Your blog is just right. So maybe that's a compliment or maybe not... ;)

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    1. hahaha...somewhere between McCarthy and Spongebob. Nailed it.

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  19. Oh. Jim. You're blog is crap and I can't believe I am a regular reader. ;)

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  20. this just chocked me up. that's some awesome daddying there, my friend. truly.

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  21. chocked? jesus. choked. i take it back. you suck.

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    1. how are your typos my fault?? Your many...many typos.

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