Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dream Right

I went shopping for graduation cards today. All around me they shouted Dream Big! and Shoot for the Stars! because You Can Do It! since You're #1!

We've been convincing this generation since their earliest days that they are super special. One of a kind. "If you believe it, you can achieve it." There's nothing you can't do, kiddo.
Their theme song might best be summed up by their old friend Steve over at Blue's Clues
Notwithstanding his overkill, we've
always been Steve fans around here.
You can be anything that you want to be. 
Do anything that you want to do. 
If you don't give up, you know it's true. 
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Isn't that just a little bit much? I mean, anything? Really?

Can a child who is grown at 5'2" believe his way into the NBA because he is absolutely certain he's #1? A kid who is color blind become a fighter pilot or astronaut in spite of military restrictions because his mama told him he's super special and the exception to the rules? Can a child without a generous helping of natural talent earn a living by singing on stage simply because she believed hard enough?

Self-esteem is absolutely important and we all know that kids get their biggest dose of self-esteem from home. But I think we might have overdone it in some instances. And I even wonder if we might be contributing to lower self-esteem by accidentally sending the message that less than the absolute best is just...meh.

Take, for instance, the kid who worked hard, studied consistently, read and tutored and planned, and yet doesn't get to give that graduation speech. What about the kid who auditioned well but did not get the part? How about the one who works far harder than anyone else on the team but still loses the starting position to someone else?

Society answers, "Work harder. Dream bigger."

How about this instead? "Keep working. Dream better."

It is really fun to watch our toddlers dance along to the song of easy-peasy-all-you-need-is-a-dream-success while we are full of pride and ambition that we may have created the next great leader, entrepreneur, discoverer, superstar, ruler of the world as we know it. With that first soccer goal or wrestling pin, we cheer and start planning for the Olympics (or at least a college scholarship). When they earn straight As in 3rd grade or have the starring role in the school play, we just know they are destined to be Magna Cum Laude or blow onto Broadway and be the talk of the town.

We can't help it. We're in love with our children. We, Moms and  Dads, are supposed to be their biggest support and cheering section and entourage. It's instinctual and exciting. Ask yourself how heartily you cheered and danced when your little protégé first pooped on the potty. Yes, me too. As if no one else on earth had ever learned to do it quite so well.

We are PROUD of these little people. And rightfully so.

Each one really is super special. And one of a kind. And destined for greatness. I have decided that I need to be careful, however, about defining greatness.

With apologies to Steve and all of his TV friends, I want to give my kids a better theme song:

You can't be anything you want to be, 
but you can be everything you were meant to be.

A dream is good. A big dream is fine. But the right dream is what will guide you to a beautiful life. And that, my sweeties, is how you will change the world.

St. Catherine of Siena said, "If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!"

And I will be there, proud as only a mother can be, believing that no one has ever set it on fire quite so well.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bye-Bye, Baby

Moroccan Mint Tea...yum!

Our oldest turns 20 in just a few days. This would be an important birthday no matter what, but after spending eight days with her in northern Africa, where she is living as a college student, there is no way to deny our baby is grown and gone and a young adult has taken her place. If not for her level head and language skills, I am pretty certain that I would still be wandering around a souk in Meknés right now. For sure I would have overpaid every single taxi driver and souvenir seller.

So many times that week she grabbed my arm and said, “Mom!” (as in, “pay attention and follow me!”). I was reminded of how I would grab her arm as a child to gently turn her in the right direction. I felt that familiar parental combination of pride and fear upon realizing that this person who breathed her first breath on my chest and depended upon me for absolutely everything is now smarter than I am. 

Baby's first camel ride!

Lest I seem too overly sentimental, it is the very same feeling I have when my 8-year-old quickly fixes the computer problem I cannot seem to repair. And when my 10-year-old effortlessly remembers the old neighbor’s name that I have tried to recall for days. But at least those two will still snuggle with me at bedtime and need help with homework now and then. They still need me in a way that I now know will not last all that long. 

Hat matter the country.
 One of the best things about being a mom, I have found, is getting to watch a child’s inner spirit develop and emerge. It is easy to type-cast the kids, especially in a large family. “You’re the athletic one.” “You’re the music lover.” “You’re the scholar.” We have made an earnest effort to help our kids explore and grow and stretch into roles that might not come naturally. Some of our best moments as parents have happened when we’ve whispered to each other in an audience or cheering crowd, “I can’t believe s/he is doing this!” 

That’s how we felt when our oldest stepped onto a plane in January and took off for a foreign continent not knowing a single soul yet on the other side. She could easily be typecast as “the shy one” who hesitates to talk to someone new. That sentence is truth. But so is this one: Something in her fabric pulls her out into the world to learn and explore and experience and grow. As I let her lead me around Morocco and show me all she’s found there, I knew that letting that baby go was the best thing we could do for her today and always. 
Every minute together a gift.

All too soon I said good-bye and headed home to the rest of our kids who are still in the process of trying on goals and personas. I watched our toddler hurtle down the steepest slide by himself yesterday. He wanted no help in spite of landing in a muddy heap at the bottom every time until he learned to get his feet under him. “I’ll hold your hand,” I offered. “No! Mine!” he answered. 

Later, by email I let our oldest know her return ticket was purchased for the end of May. “I can’t wait to get back,” she answered. “I’m so glad I got to come here, but I can’t wait to be home with all of you soon.” 

Well done, birthday girl, getting your feet under you. Thanks for sometimes holding your mom’s hand just because you can tell I need it even when you do not.