Allison’s close contact status disrupted a few birthday celebrations, her own and her friends. She was upset. A reasonable reaction from an excitable 8 year old but also an opportunity, not for flash cards, I couldn’t find a way to work those in, but for my Dad rhetoric.
The pandemic has taken so much but also provided a few less obvious things to be thankful for. Thanks for giving me hundreds of consecutive days at home with the kids. Thanks for helping me slow down. Thanks for helping me structure my day around the things that matter most.
Every situation has two handles. You can decide to grab onto frustration or appreciation. You can pick up the handle of resentment or gratitude. You can look at the obstacle or get a little closer and see the opportunity.
Cecilia very much reminds me of me when I was her age and thrust into just about any social situation. Unless it involved sports or someone handing me a book, I was filled with equal parts terror, embarrassment, and anxiety. Michelle cannot wrap her head around this plight.
I only have two bits of advice that might help. First, any fears about what other people think are overblown and rarely worth getting worked up about. Social media doesn’t help, but it’s not just technology, it’s human nature. We selfishly love ourselves the most but often care more about what other people think. Even complete strangers. If there was one thing I could hammer into a teenager’s head it’s that other people think about you far less than you imagine. The next time you are feeling self-conscious, stop and look around, pretty much everyone else is likely doing the same thing.
Second, as we head into gratitude season, when in doubt, just say thank you. There is no downside. Showing too much gratitude to the people in your life is rarely a problem. Even a teenager can’t roll thei— wait, yes they can.
Is there a gene that kicks in when you become a parent where you start to worry about giving you kids too much stuff? I certainly remember having no qualms about accumulating stuff when I was a kid. Stuff was great. I was happy with stuff. I wanted more stuff.
Now? Not so much. Maturity and parenting can be such a drag. If I could just Amazon Prim a bunch of stuff and make my kids happy things would be simpler.
One odd side effect of this streaming, on-demand world is that the girls are really into commercials. They see them so rarely they’ve become appointment viewing. They hate when I skip over them. This doesn’t help reduce their urge to mainline materialism.
Maybe the supply chain hiccups will provide a mandatory reprieve this year and a slim window of opportunity to cultivate more intangible experiences with a handy ‘Sorry, the shipping contain is stuck in Long Beach’ or ‘Sorry, Santa couldn’t find any competent reindeer this year.’
How do you fight against the cult of stuff as a parent? Show them examples of friendships, interests, hobbies, and other activities that you don’t need to buy but can do just for the sake of doing it. Look for an identity beyond the buying power of a debit card.
We started the holiday season early last week by going to Hadestown, the musical. If a female trombone player getting a big spotlight in a Tony-award winning musical doesn’t inspire Ce, I’m out of intangible ideas.
At the risk of going thematically off the rails again, I’d like to revisit effort again. This is a frequent topic in our house because of the tug of war between music, improvement, and daily practice. And maybe because of 80s movies. Rocky IV, Karate Kid (“You’re the best… AROOOUNND!”), Teen Wolf, Bloodsport, or Dirty Dancing include the training montage showing the blood, sweat, and beards required to get good at something. Those aren’t exactly accurate despite the awesome soundtracks and hair. They might present a slightly skewed view of the cost of improvement.
Now here’s the part I get stuck on. I think a key part of making the mental switch, and potentially enjoying or understanding better, the link between practice and effort is admitting that you suck and want to get better. My girls have incredible confidence. It’s something I admire about both of them. They put themselves out there in ways I never could. I don’t want to blunt that or discourage that. But they also lack almost any critical self-awareness.
The fact that they aren’t great (yet) is totally fine. But there is not a magic training montage on the horizon to cultivate improvement. There is just a loop of a little bit of practice, get a little bit better. Repeat for as long as it takes. There is joy to be found in sucking a little less each day. It just takes a willingness to embrace being bad first.
This sounds like an almost unsolvable riddle. How do you get a kid to understand that the more effort they put in, the more chances there are for something remarkable to happen?
It doesn’t have to be sweat and blood. Ally often sits at the piano and just noodles along playing chords and singing (mostly) nonsense. I go out of my way to praise that sort of lazy type of effort.
Lazy, is probably the wrong word, maybe meandering or exploratory, as this is the type of effort that I find better than setting a timer and stopping mid-song when the chime goes off.
Some days I feel like I’m parenting a phalanx of budding lawyers where they do everything to the letter and no more. To just satisfy the ask with the least amount of work is rarely a road worth taking.
For me, paying attention to details and taking the long way instead of seeking a shortcut is the best chance to do something that creates a little big of magic in the world. Now, how do I explain that to a middle-schooler and avoid an eye roll?
I was a volunteer at Ally’s school this week, helping harvest their class garden for an upcoming Thanksgiving feast. Trying to corral the bouncing kids, get them to pay attention to the master gardener, and not impale themselves on the pitchforks reminded me of my few seasons trying to teach many of the same kids soccer or basketball. Without the pitchforks.
The hardest part about being a coach for me was not being able to forget being a player. You know what it’s like to be the person you’re now trying to coach. You know how to do these things. Or you think you do.
Similar thoughts occurred to me again later in the week when I (gently and cautiously) asked Cecilia about an upcoming assessment. I’ve learned, like new math, that one should never call something a test anymore. I offered my help and some suggestions (yes, flash cards might have been mentioned). Why not? I was a kid. I remember being a middle schooler. Or I thought I did.
And that assumption might be part of the problem. Coach, player, or parent, the game has changed. Yes, certain truths and experiences about childhood will forever remain the same, but every generation also grows up in its own context, with its own unique problems and opportunities.
Old methods might still get you there in the end but it might also make everyone miserable in the process.
The girls are not me. They are growing up in a different world and my job is to figure out how to fit my experiences into a structure that they’ll understand. Not the other way around.
The game has changed and I have to change with it…or it will pass me by.
Cecilia brought home a test recently where she did really well overall but struggled in one section. I asked about that section first. Cecilia got upset. And she was right. I assumed she knew I was proud that she did well on the other sections.
I sometimes get complacent as a Dad or just let the eye rolls wear me down. I shouldn’t assume. I shouldn’t wait. She gets plenty of instructions in school. And she’ll continue to get our help at home, of course, but I can’t forget to also be a cheerleader and their biggest fan, too.
You never know what moments are going to be formative or resonate with them, but I can guess it might not be the night of the big jazz performance, or after the dance recital. It might be a random afternoon when they need a boost and their Dad gave them a pat on the back.