Saturday, April 07, 2012
Moms in the jungle - article in progress
I’m sitting in the dank kitchen in a church basement waiting for my daughter’s latest class to finish. Irish dancing. It seemed like a good idea, good for her coordination, great excercise, lively music,and none of the weight issues and structure of ballet.
My daughter started with the rest of the class of absolute beginners, none of them knew a single step in September. Now most of the girls are picking it up very well and a few are exceptional. My daughter is not one of them; she’s been at it for six months now, and she’s still stumbling over basic steps and waving her arms around like windmills which is the biggest sin an Irish dancer can commit other than dissing Michael Flatley.
I get up and take a peek into the main room. She’s been shuffled into remedial jig with four other girls so they can catch up with the rest of the class. She’s pulling at her underwear and staring at herself in the mirror instead of paying attention. Sigh.
I am caught in the stage of “before it’s too late”, the world of “if they start young it’s easy”, the window of opportunity that allows your child to become a talented, successful adult rather than an ordinary drudge. Every world-renowned dancer, singer, musician, nobel winner, and elite athlete started, it seems, before age 2 and practised every day for 50 hours. And as adults they love what they do and make the world a better place and they thank their mothers every day for the sacrifice and encouragement (nagging) they received in their childhood to keep going. Their success, they say in interviews, was largely the result of their moms guidance (pushing).
I live in the age of the Tiger Mother, and I am a Tabby Cat. I want my children to find passions, but I want them to have fun and enjoy their childhoods. And I agonize over this every second of every day.
How is a Tabby mom to compete? How can I ensure that my children excel in this world of overachievers? I look around at the rest of the moms in the kitchen: some checking their email on their phones, some chatting about learning activities, some helping their other kids with their homework or feeding them something organic. We are all living with the pressure of parenting and wanting to do the best job that we can to raise our children, knowing that if it goes badly, it is all our fault. And that every other mom in the room is doing a better job than we are.
We find activities, pay the registration fees, buy the shoes (leotard, stick, racket, trampoline, chainsaw), and then throw them in and hope something talented happens. If it doesn’t, we think, as moms, that it must be our fault, so we put in more effort.
I have encouraged and asked and drilled and praised and pleaded and scolded, but nothing I have done has made my wonderful child turn into the diligent girls dancing near the front of the class, bouncing gracefully and practising their steps over and over to get them perfect.
It didn’t make her a great ryhthmic gymnast either, laying on the mats looking up at the ceiling of the auditorium while the other girls did effortless cartwheels and twirled without falling over.
We worry about wasting the limited time available and then worry that we haven’t given our kids a long enough time in an activity to truly develop. My limit is two sememsters before we move on, watching for signs that she’s still keen about the old activity. Did she just twirl without falling over? Did she just perform a flawless reel? No, probably not.
And in the midst of all of this, our children skip around in a fairy circle oblivious to talent and judgement and I envy them and realise that I am insane. And I smile and enjoy the dance.
Let’s try karate next.