I’m going to mother’s, and I’m keeping the ring.
Dot Warner, The Animaniacs
Five-year-old me had a blue record player. It was the type that looked like a plastic suitcase when closed.
From time to time, I would announce to my mother that I was running away.
As I had no actual luggage, I settled for the best approximation and left our apartment toting my record player as clear evidence I meant business.
My students do this from time to time.
“This is stupid,” they say. “I’m not going to do this.”
And then they look at me.
“What are you going to do with that?” their eyes challenge me.
Unfortunately they do not know my mother.
When I declared my independence and walked out the door, slamming it shut behind me, I would stand waiting at the other side.
Each time, I was certain my mother would throw open the door and rush out to find me, desperate at the thought of losing me.
She never did.
Eventually, I would slowly open open the door and slink back in – my mother reading a book or cleaning carrots as if nothing had happened.
It infuriated me, but I never considered turning around to leave.
And so, when met with, “This is stupid!” or “I’m not going to do this!” I reply, “Okay,” and walk away.
They are testing the limits of community the way I was testing the limits of family. I must know enough in those moments to know their commitment to being a part is stronger than their commitment to being apart.
This scenario plays itself out in the adult world as well. Sometimes, we call it circling the wagons and shooting in. Others, we call it taking our toys and going home. Whatever the euphemism, the true test is not to opening the door and not to argue the assignment’s relative stupidity.
In those moments, the true test is acknowledging the right of the other to choose being a part or being apart.