Thursday, March 3, 2011

Not so glossy

I mentioned at the beginning of my earlier post that I get uncomfortable when people say their kids aren't self-starters, not brilliant, etc. Here's why.

I focused in that post on the things my kids do well. I actually had composed the story as a response to Peter Gray's Freedom to Learn blog solicitation for stories of how children had taught themselves to do things. Only I was a year late. So, I figured since I had worked so hard on it, I would, rather than pass it along to someone else to use, finally own something I did. It was most certainly not about being perfect.

I'm trying, since I felt so compelled as a child to do everything well, to focus on what they do well, and not worry so much about what they don't. It's one of the things with which I struggle in my day-to-day life. I don't really know who I am. I think of myself as a Jack-of-All-Trades, Ace-of-None.

I don't want my kids to feel like they have to do everything well. We all get enough of feeling like failures on a day-to-day basis without that pressure. We, as the old saying goes, are our own worst critics.

When is it that we had to become so good at everything?

I remember thinking when I was not even in middle school yet, that I was becoming a Renaissance Woman. What really happened is that I sort of learned a little about a lot, but never developed my talent in any one area to actually be successful in any of those areas. And, I never spent enough time working on one thing to feel self-confidence in any one department. And I never really developed a strong passion for anything. Mostly, I ended up confused.

We have our rough days around here, for sure. This is most likely not going to be a blog where I post glossy pictures of some awesome dinner I made, some incredible project I sewed, my new Martha Stewart-esque desk arrangement.

There is no perfect. I see traits in every single kid I meet which fill me with wonder and appreciation. Maybe it's because the kid decided to bring his used books to the park to sell. Maybe it's that a kid is so interested in cooking that he cooks for his family on occasion at a young age. Maybe she's really great at riding a bike. Maybe she's got encyclopedic knowledge of Greek Mythology. Maybe she's excellent at gymnastics. Maybe he's really outgoing and can strike up a conversation with anyone, or make friends at the park on any day of the year. Maybe he's really into numbers and is years ahead in mathematics. Maybe the kid has a really active imagination. Maybe the kid is resolute in her convictions.

I worry about my kids. I am a mom. I worry a lot. I could write an equally long blog post about my worries, but that would be a disservice to my kids. Maybe rather than concentrate on our kids not getting black belts, not becoming budding Monets, not becoming the next Wolfgang Puck, we should look at the full part of the glass. Chances are, someone else is.

We did the piano lesson thing. The piano teacher actually told us to "come back when you feel like making music a priority in your lives." Uh, SNAP! That happened during a time when both the kids were taking lessons, and neither wanted to practice without significant amounts of nagging on my part. We had a discussion about it, which went something like this: "You haven't been practicing the piano. The lessons are expensive. Are you tired of it?" Yes was the answer. "Can we take a break for a while?"

At that time, I was doing a lot of driving around doing things I felt obligated to do. I felt very tense a lot of the time. And tired. And I yelled a lot. I dreaded going to those piano lessons, feeling judged by the teacher, knowing that she knew that I could play the piano, and I wasn't sitting down with them and walking them through the lessons daily. Because that's not what they wanted. They wanted me to take them to the park and read them stories.

They were four and seven years old.

Why did I start them in piano so young?

Probably because I was five when I started.

Besides, George Gershwin didn't even have a piano until he was twelve years old.

We did the dance class thing. Lucy hated being told what to do. She still doesn't care for it much, but I've learned that she loves to help me, and she loves it when I use my good manners. She rewards me for my good manners.

We did the soccer thing, too. We don't have the energy for that. So many of my other friends do. Or they do Tae Kwon Do. Or Guildmasters. Or church. Or choir. Or art lessons. Or fencing. Or Irish Step Dancing. Or raising rabbits. Or designing costumes. Or robotics competitions. I can't even think of all the things they do.

Right now, we like to be. We like to read, hang out with our dogs, try to cook nourishing and hopefully edible meals, play on the computer, play board games and hang out with our friends, who do all sorts of amazing things we don't have the energy or passion to do.

It's not about being perfect, at all, because nobody is.


  1. It is such a hard balance between encouraging a child to push themselves harder on a topic that may become their specialty (but has gotten boring) and knowing when to just be human and live life for what it is (cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping, socialization, etc).

    I'm constantly reminding myself of Sam's limited attention span (15 minutes at the tender age of 2, with the occasional spurt up to 30) - it is really hard because she is so darn mature for her age. I often forget she is "only" 2. Maybe I wouldn't forget so much if her English wasn't better than most 4 year olds I've met.

    But this is one of the reasons I like Maria Montessori's works so much. Observe, add a possibly interesting activity where the child can get it and let them get to it on their own. Focus on the everyday stuff that no one likes to do when they grow up because they're discouraged/exempted from it all their childhood.

    Maria's books have really helped "tame" my urges to do-do-do. Unlike you, when I was little we never did much as a family and when we did it was all about my little brother's baseball or soccer or whatnot. The few times I did things I usually had to rely on family friends to get me there and cope with the fact my mother wasn't interested in coming to watch/support me in my endeavors. She wouldn't even cover the $20 (maybe it wasn't even that much) for me to participate in the Voice Recital I practiced for months for at my lessons. Needless to say, I quit shortly after that.

    I've started introducing some Charlotte Mason ideas recently - short "lessons" of "writing" (as narration). I feel more involved having Sam tell me about her day when I get home (even if it is fabricated or an amalgam of the last week) or having her "read" me a book based on the pictures - and it has been doing wonders for her memory, sequencing, grammar, etc. Charlotte Mason is who I realized the attention span thing because of - now when we do 15 minutes of something I feel as if we've actually completed a goal.

    Besides, cooking, computing, board games and hanging out really does translate to "Chemistry, Computer Science, Logic and Sociology" in the long run.

  2. I can totally relate to this, although the funny thing is I'm about to enroll my oldest in soccer (she wants to give it a try and it's a six week season). But I hear you about the temptation to have your kids be overachievers, as if you get a trophy whenever your kid gets an award. I remember taking piano lessons and being nagged about practicing. There's got to be a better way to engage children in playing musical instruments. I think being is very important. I think it's important to be able to relax (even in a messy house) and not be constantly interrupting the fun activities your kids do on their own.



  3. @Wiredpsyche, I am pretty eclectic, in everything I do. I like to take what I think will work for us and leave the rest. I was intrigued by Montessori, but I think the book I had on it didn't explain much. It really encouraged a lot of independence on the part of the kids, and when Everett was that young, while he was way ahead of the curve in language, he needed help with a lot of things. It's interesting how different kids can be -- Lucy wanted to dress herself much earlier than he did, and do things on her own.

    I found _A Charlotte Mason Primer_ on the suggestion of a friend. I haven't taken the time to read it, yet. I have a close friend who uses Ambleside, and it seems to work very well for them. I love to borrow the content, but not the structure (much like I've done with The Well-Trained Mind). I find the reading lists to be an excellent representation of quality literature -- things I not only want my children to experience, but things I enjoy reading as well.

    @Nanda, I can totally identify with your comment about getting a trophy whenever your kid has an award. As an extrovert, my mother has always been very proud of me and my accomplishments. She loves to bring me places and show me off, and it leaves me with my stomach in knots. I don't know if she thinks I still need the back-patting, or if she's doing it for herself. I'm old enough to know that many people would disagree with the choices I have made, and that is fine. What we're doing is working for us right now, and I feel good enough about it to share it in public. I try to remain flexible, able to go whichever way the wind blows us.

    There are plenty self-made musicians. I think it's like with anything else -- a person can take lots and lots of lessons, and with the right teacher, hopefully, all the joy won't be taken out of it. If a person really has some passion, at some point he/she may outgrow the instructor and need to do some exploration on his/her own. The beauty of learning music is that for some folks with true desire, all that may be needed is the instrument and the time to experiment. I think the importance in finding an instructor is to locate one who is not going to force the issue, and who can support learning without taking the student's progress or lack thereof as a reflection on their own worth.