Monday, March 28, 2011

average vs. extraordinary

I have a bunch of wise sisters.

One of them, who happens to be the "baby" of our family, told me something years ago that I still think about all the time.

It was a bit of parenting advice she gave that I had solicited. (I always like to pry any sort of parenting ideas from anyone who will share them...some of my favorites are from those who don't have children yet...they have such a fresh, unbiased outlook on the mothering thing.)

When I asked her advice, she looked at me with my gaggle of small children surrounding me and said, "Make sure your kids do one thing they are really good at. And help them stick with it with all your might."

You see, she wished with all her heart that she could have started dance lessons before she even started walking. She had discovered in her teens that her ultimate passion was dance. And as much as she really was an incredible dancer, she couldn't help but wonder where she could be had she started earlier. In the back of her mind I could tell she was wishing my mother had been a drill sergeant sticking her in dance lessons every spare minute of her life.

Over the years I have pondered what she said, and she definitely has a point. There is something enticing about being extraordinary at one particular thing.

But here's the thing: I don't feel the same way my sister does. I am glad I got to do a bunch of things growing up and that I wasn't stuck at some dance studio or behind a piano for hours on end every week. I was happy as a clam to be average at a bunch of stuff. I could pick up a violin and know where to put my fingers, scratchy or not. I learned to play chess, a teeny bit of volleyball, and "Jessica's Theme" from Man from Snowy River. My sisters and I were in a performing singing group and we even got to put on our own play of Annie one summer up at Bear Lake. I'm pleased as punch that I got to dabble in art and even take a few clogging classes.

Do I wish I could be an expert at one of these things? Sure I do...wouldn't anyone? But I know the price I would have had to pay, and quite frankly I wouldn't want to pay it.

I tried a little of everything, did not excel at anything, but couldn't feel more complete with my growing-up years. As shy as I was, I adored being with my friends. I liked dating. I liked the process of figuring out what I wanted to do myself rather than being dictated by a parent.

Which leads me to this question:

How in the world can a mother know what her child will want when she/he is, say, two-years-old?? Because let's face it, in our society, if you want to truly excel at one thing you kinda have to start about then to become super-amazing at it.

Now, I am a little biased, but I think my mom knew us pretty darn well growing up. She spent time with us. She and my dad had regularly scheduled planning meetings specifically addressing our development and what would be good for us. But there was no crystal ball to tell them "this child is going to want to be a concert pianist," or "this one's going to want to do a little of everything." There's no way they could have known way back then that my sister would want to drink in dance lessons. Parents just have to figure it out as they go.

Yes, we have the best resource in the world: a loving Father in Heaven who will most certainly be our partner and help guide us along as we reach out for help, but there's a lot I'm sure He prefers we (and our children) figure out ourselves. And man alive that is tough.

But I believe that part of the struggle of figuring out what we want to be makes us grow even more.

For the last couple weeks I've been agonizing over whether or not I should have Claire join a more advanced gymnastics class she qualified for.

Now, it's not a big, huge olympic decision or anything, just a simple choice that would make a difference of six of her hours each week. Six of my hours. Six of our family's hours (which is more of a big deal, especially since it will cause a sizable shifting-around for the family schedule if it happens). But to me it signifies the choice of whether I want to help her branch off to be extraordinary at one particular thing, or whether I want to have her take the branch leading the other direction: average at a bunch of things (and please note that the word "average" should have a good connotation here). The question I keep asking is whether her inner self is more like my sister or more like me. And the problem is that I don't know that I can really know that at this age. She doesn't know it for crying out loud!

As I watched her little gymnast body out there on the floor "trying out" for the new team I was taken back by the fact that she really is good. She's got quite a bit of natural talent. But is gymnastics what will make her happy in the long run?

At some point you realize that you have a lot of power as a parent. You can push your child one way or another because really, they just don't know when they're so young. Claire herself could take or leave this class and all the future things it could lead to. But what in the world is her future self going to wish for? My sister's voice in my head tells me to push her...make her her excel. Will her future self be grateful if I push her into something I see so much promise in? Or will she be like me and thank her lucky stars her mom didn't shove her into something that would eventually take her away from exploring so many other things she loves? At seven I can't for the life of me tell which direction Claire's future self will thank me for.

I finally decided we should give it a go. "It's just a class!" I thought to myself. We'll try it and see.

And then Grace accidentally slammed Claire's finger in the car door on the way into gymnastics for the big sign-up. It swelled up like a balloon...all black and blue. It may be broken. Although I don't know much about gymnastics I do know that it would be tough to do a round-off back handspring when you have a broken finger. Is that a sign? Hmmmmm...

Gymnastics is just a little example. Yes, a tiny drop in a sea of much more important things in life. But it's just got me thinking. Life is chock-full of these little forks in the road. I guess ultimately we must turn to the One who knows best, and go forward with faith that we are on the right track....teaching and loving our children as best we know how along the way. That is what will help make them extraordinary, whether they are well-rounded or highly sharpened at what they do in the end.
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