When the Zanimal was in preschool and still called Little Z, we used to ride together in the morning. I would take her to preschool, and then go on to work. She went through this phase when she was three or four years old, when she would tell me when I looked pretty, and when I did not look pretty.
“You are pretty today,” she would say.
“Oh, thank you.”
“Why do you say, ‘thank you’?” she asked.
“It’s a nice thing to say.”
Then, another day, she would say,
“You are not pretty today.”
What?! I was so hurt.
“That’s not a nice thing to say. You shouldn’t say that.”
“Why not say that? It’s just a fact,” she said.
“It’s just a fact that I’m not pretty?!”
I was so hurt, I couldn’t respond.
But then, the next day, she might say that I was pretty again. And then the next day, not pretty. And so on. I could never convince her to stop saying it out loud when I was “not pretty.” I resigned myself to the fact that I had somehow produced a monster.
Then, after a long time, I started to see a pattern. I had an idea.
“Do you just say that I’m ‘pretty’ when I’m wearing a dress or a skirt, and I’m ‘not pretty’ when I’m not wearing a dress or a skirt?”
She looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the universe.
“Yes,” she said. “Pretty ladies wear dresses.”
Oh. My. God.
I think about this experience from time to time. I wonder how many other things I’ve taken personally that weren’t really meant that way at all?