Someone asked Ally this week what she wanted to be when she grew up. An innocent question to engage a child and far better than telling a little girl she looks pretty. But I quietly bit my tongue and shuddered. I think it would be a special kind of hell if a child knew what they wanted to be when they were nine. We are verbs, not nouns. If you think of yourself solely as a noun, you are putting yourself in a corner. And no one puts Baby in a corner!
I want to be, and I want my kids to be, people that do things and if they don’t know exactly what they are going to do next that is quite okay. Too many people think they need to know who they are and what they are before they act. Please, no. Writing, religion, life, art, creativity. None of it has to do with doctrine or belief. It’s about action. It’s about practice. Do the thing and then figure it out.
The writer Mary Karr was once asked to make a case for religion. Her response? “Why don’t you just pray for 30 days and see if your life gets better?”
I love that. And it applies to far more than just faith. It’s about the practice, the discovery, the action.
I’m reading more biographies as I get older and often find myself nodding along at more than one passage. Not often at the genius parts or the reason the biography was written, but at the glimpses of the ordinary parts. People, polymath, prodigy, or sage, are vastly more alike than different.
This becomes especially clear about parenting.
I came across this passage from a book on Queen Victoria from her personal secretary: ““It was easier to go back to [her work] than children having tantrums,” she said. “She always had the excuse of the red boxes.’’
Well, then. She found it easier to be the head of state for the largest empire in the world than to be a parent!
I found that reassuring during this stressful and hectic pre-holiday time. It’s hard, for everyone, but it’s worth it.
We are coming up on report card and conference season and this is just a reminder to myself not to get distracted. Easier said than done. Life has a way of filling any empty space with opportunities, responsibilities, competition, glitter. It can consume us.
So this is a reminder to myself: keep the main thing, the main thing. This might be different for every family or individual but for me, as a Dad, it’s not to lose sight of the main job: raising well-adjusted, self-reliant, decent, happy kids. It’s not hitting benchmarks, or a certain GPA, or college.
The main thing is for them to be healthy, have good values, and have a good sense of who they are and what they want to spend their life on.
Everything else is secondary. Nice, but not necessary.
P.S., The main main thing, of course, is to love them and to love them while we can. I don’t generally need a reminder of that.
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.