Drafts and Commentary part III --this time, it's personal.
Wasted Youth 02/04/09
Today I broke a cardinal rule in the book of parenting--do not allow yourself to live vicariously through your kids. This is a rule that I had always made myself aware of lest I become one of those hideous cheerleader moms that commit murder in order to get their girls on the squad.
But in spite of myself, it sneaked up on me.
Greta, my three year old, loves to dance around the house and sing. All day long she does this. She also loves dressing up and acting like a princess, so when I saw an advertisement for a fairy tale ballet class where they learn the basics of ballet as they dress in princess costumes, I assumed it was a perfect fit. The first couple of lessons went as could be expected, she was a little shy but eventually enjoyed it, and then she would come home and spend the rest of the week talking about her dance class, doing the things she learned, and begging me to go back. Happily, I thought we had found something, nevermind that I also loved Ballet when I was a girl, and nevermind that she is my only daughter, this was definitely for her. So I decided to invest a little $ in some real ballet shoes and dance clothes, and just as the perfect timing of child-rearing goes, as soon as I did that, things went south. The next week, she wasn't so eager to go (actually, she WAS eager to go--until we were about to walk through the door, then she freaked out), but I gave her a motherly push, and with the help of the teacher she went in. This week, she talked and talked about going and was very excited to go until we reached the door, and she wasn't about to give. She clung to my leg and would not go in no matter what. So, in order not to make a scene in front of the 7 other parents whose daughters had no problem going to dance class, and also in order to not make the one teacher "babysit" my daughter, I opted for her to watch until she was ready to go in. This went on until I finally conceded that she was not going in and in fact, wanted to go home. In the car, we had a little mother-to-three year old chat about her intentions with dance class where she informed me that she would like to cancel them altogether. I was very annoyed. More annoyed than I should have been. I wanted to blame my annoyance on the money issue, and even though that is a valid concern, something else was bothering me. Suddenly Greta's childhood started to play out before me in a series of classes signed up for and arguments had about attending these classes. Suddenly, I saw myself, a young girl loving ballet but hating the act of going to ballet class--arguing with my mother every. single. time. This infuriated me. All I ever wanted as a child was to be a ballerina. Or a cellist. Or a really great swimmer. Or a pianist. Or a singer. But I just didn't stick with it. Any of it. And now I am an adult with no polished talent to speak of in any of my beloved interests. How I wish I could be a young girl again with adult determination enough to become a ballerina. Why is it that the seeds of greatness must be sowed in the most fickle time of a person's life? Are there really children who go to classes without being forced? I don't want to force my daughter to do anything, but it seems as though she clearly enjoys it (at home)
--This one shocked me. I think we all have this idealized version of ourselves in our minds, we think that we'll always be calm and collected and take things in stride, we know the "right" way to act and react, and we (or at least I) think we'll act that way most of the time. So of course when we miss the mark completely, it's very shocking. I think this draft shows how difficult it is as a parent to watch your children make their own choices and not have any say in them. To think that my kids might repeat some of the mistakes I have made is a painful concept for me, but I know that they must be allowed to make their own choices and deal with their own consequences.
Oh, and occasionally, to this day Greta will mention her dance class and ask me when she can go again. I just chuckle. More and more I'm wondering what my role as a parent is, do I leave these things to my children and let them motivate themselves? Or is it my job as a parent to make up for youthful fickleness by forcing them to do things that I *think* they'll be happy about later? More and more the former looks like the path I'd like to take, but then I think--ok, where would Appollo Ohno be if his Dad didn't push him a little during his early youth? And then, is it really important for my children to be the kind of professional that must be carefully cultivated in youth? I'm not really sure that it is, but sometimes I wonder.
I definitely think that we can take one major thing away from all of this and that is that being a parent is hard--you know, without over simplifying things.