Tonight I will watch the final installment of Walter White’s transformation from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” (as creator, Vince Gilligan, has put it) in the finale of “Breaking Bad.” Like most of the show’s viewers, I don’t watch because Walt is so bad, but because he’s learned to become so good at it.
I was a good girl who exhibited typical firstborn, Type A behavior. A mini mommy to my little brother. Babysitting for my neighbors when I was 9. Honor roll, sportsmanship awards…even won Miss Congeniality in camp – twice. I did my homework, ate my vegetables and brushed my teeth.
This was not a sustainable lifestyle.
At some point, I was going to crack. Maybe not SELL crack, but still. Being so good started feeling pretty bad.
I was no longer remarkable for being good. I was just me. I had to start besting myself to get an ounce of praise. It was exhausting. Meanwhile, my third grade peers who would regularly be sent to the principals’ office were getting lauded for the most menial tasks. “You stayed in your seat this morning, great job!” Hey, I’ve been staying in my seat FOR 8 YEARS! It got to the point where, in middle school, a piece of fiction I wrote, for extra credit, was published in a national children’s literary magazine but the 8th Grade Writing Award was given to Daniel L., who simply liked writing. “Well,” the school seemed to shrug, “You’ve always liked writing.” I see. I was just being me. Nothing special. If you’re always good, you fade into the white noise of the day. Just another part of the machine humming along.
So I decided to break bad.
Drugs were not what I had in mind. They wouldn’t be bad enough. Not when your ex-hippie parents inform you that you may try any drug you like, the only caveat being that you’d have to do it in front of them. Message received. I’d be bad some other way.
In my freshman year of high school, I found myself among an entire population of good kids. And I was faced with a choice – separate myself from the pack by being even more good, or by being only slightly less good. The former spelled out hours of community service and participation in clubs with names that only looked good on college transcripts, or on hipster t-shirts. The latter was a dare. I took it.
One night in 9th grade, I failed to do my English homework. I just never got around to it. I was an over-scheduled kid (you know those good types – always racking up extra-curricular activities to impress the future Ivy League admissions officers), and had simply fallen asleep before reading that particular act of Hamlet. Of course, it was announced that homework was being collected. I begged my very good girl friend next to me if I could copy hers. I could see the conflict in her eyes – did being good mean doing the right thing (denying me her homework to copy), or did it mean helping me out as a friend? She chose the latter and I quickly paraphrased her answers, copying the gist of her ideas but putting it into my own words. I got it down just as it was my turn to add my homework to the pile being passed around the class to the teacher.
Imagine my horror when we learned the homework was to be graded.
Now imagine HER horror when mine was returned with a higher grade than hers.
Even when I was bad, I was good.
It was a weird lesson, to get away with something I wasn’t supposed to. To cheat, and not only not get caught, but win. Sure, I felt smug about it. “I got this,” was what I would have probably told myself if that catchphrase existed in 1987. But it didn’t feel that good. It wasn’t very rewarding. And while I could fudge my way through copying English homework, there were just going to be some things I could never be good at. Physics. Returning phone calls. Left-lane merging. But those shortcomings didn’t change who I was. They just added some colorful punctuation to the proper grammar of my life.
So as I’m raising my own firstborn, Type A daughter, I will encourage her to be the best she can be. But sometimes, it will suffice to just be ok. And if she’s excited by the dare, and nobody will get addicted or shot, she should experiment a little with breaking bad.
But just be really really good at it.
Is wanting our kids to be good always the best thing for them? What’s prompted YOU to turn to the Dark Side?