Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Think I Can: But What If I Can't?

As a child and as a parent, I loved the storybook, The Little Engine That Could. In the book, a brave little train attempts to make it up a big hill. He accomplishes this feat by sheer determination and bravado – pushing and struggling his way to the top.

However, at my college’s graduation this week, the keynote speaker referred to that childhood book in a different light. He said to these new graduates, “The truth is…You can’t do everything.”

He suggested that we don’t do our children any favors when we tell them that they can do anything, that they can be anything they want to be.

The truth is, there are some things they can’t do and things they won’t be able to be. His point was that, as parents, we’ve bought into a culture that emphasizes encouragement in all things. We want all of our kids to be winners – we want everyone’s self esteem to be protected. But, the truth is, that we aren’t all good at everything.

Some of us are better at public speaking. Some people have the ability to bowl a perfect game. Others have the ability to lift weights. Some excel at cooking gourmet dinners. The speaker suggested that we find out what we are good at – and do that – and avoid fretting about all of the things at which we don’t excel.

Good advice. For example:

  • I am good at writing. I am also a good teacher.

  • I am not as good at administrating: I get stressed when I try to manage too many things or too many people.

  • I am not good at athletics: I am a terrible roller skater, skier, dodgeball player.

  • I love to cook. I love baking even more.

  • I am terrible at keeping up with housework. I will never be a perfectionist

  • I can play a musical instrument – but I tremble at performing.

What is your child good at? How can you help your child accept and flourish in his or her strengths and learn to accept or compensate for weakness?

I remember my daughter’s preschool teacher telling her students that they should try everything once. You don’t have to like it, she urged, but you should try it. This is also good advice. We need to try things, but we don’t need to love everything. We need to attempt – but we might not succeed. We are not meant to be perfect.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Trials of Being a Girl: Cliques and Friendships

When I was in junior high, the cool girls sat at a different lunch table.

Every day, they would sit together in the lunchroom – the four of them – Jodi and Teresa and Diane and Cindy, chatting and giggling with secrets that only they shared. They did the same thing every noon. They would each purchase a different type of bagged chips or cheese popcorn, unfold a napkin, and pour the contents into one provocative mix. The rest of us girls would look up over our individual paper sack lunches with envy. If only we could be a part of their clique – if only we could take part of that chip mix.

In her novel Cat’s Eye, author Margaret Atwood describes the sometimes troubling friendships of girls: "Little girls are small and cute only to grown-ups. To each other they are life sized.”

As grown women, we often reminisce about our childhood friendships. Many of us had a best friend, someone who we confided in and played alongside: from swing sets to Barbies to trying on our older sister’s mascara. But we can also remember the pain of childhood friendships: the cliques, the snobbery, the bossy girls who led the pack and decided who belonged and who should be excluded.

In fourth grade, my daughter entered this minefield. She was best friends with one girl in her class. She also had an "enemy light". This girl did not like my daughter and made her feelings perfectly clear with little comments and rolled eyes. I kept giving my daughter advice: try to kill her with kindness, I suggested; or, ignore her and she'll stop. Nothing worked. We prayed about the situation. She often came home in tears. Then the ultimate betrayal happened. The mean girl convinced my daughter's BFF to turn against her. Suddenly my daughter was alone in the world of female hurt, and I was powerless against it.

I called the teacher who read the whole class a story about being caring and friendly to those in need. It did little good. It took time to lessen the hurt, and my daughter learned some lessons from it. She learned to not put all of her friendship in any one person. She also learned that girls can be cruel to one another.

I encouraged her to not be that kind of girl, to not be that kind of woman.

When I was young, I remember my mom praying that my brother and sister and I would find good friends: friends who would help us, encourage us, and provide positive peer pressure. For all the worrying we do about media's influence, I think parents would be well advised to pay careful attention to our children's friendships. It is in the working out of these relationships, the positive and the negative, that our kids mature and learn how to handle conflict and how to stand up for what they believe.

I am also profoundly thankful to my own friends, from childhood to now, who have stood by my side and made me a better woman.

You know who you are :-)... Thank you all.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why I Loved Being a Band Geek

As I sat in the audience at my daughter's handbell concert, the third one of the year, I couldn't help but say a silent thank you to my own mom and dad who faithfully attended my many band and choir concerts.

My music experience began in 2nd grade - taking piano lessons from Mrs. Vanden Bosch. In 5th grade, I joined the Wolcott Jr. High band pictured above. I am the one not dressed in uniform in the first row, second from the left. Our band director, Mr. Pitts, was an older balding man who wore short sleeve cotton shirts and frequently smoothed down his unrully white wiry hair. Mr. Pitts would patiently lead our beginning band as we squawked and squeaked through the notes. Shaking his head in despair, he would play the song for us on his upright piano. He would then raise his baton back to our 5th grade band, begging us to play anything that resembled the correct tune.

"Marching to Pretoria" was Mr. Pitts favorite song. We played it again and again while marching back and forth on a road next to the town's limestone quarry -- Thornton's only claim to fame. My classmate Paul Larson was probably the best musician in our straggly group - but he played the sousaphone, so his musical finesse was often under appreciated.

I joined the Wolcott choir as well, even though I sang in monotone. My parents, in an act of great pity, signed me up for private voice lessons where the teacher had me belt out Broadway show tunes and practice correct breathing. I remember exhaling slowly directly into a lit candle flame and trying not to make it waiver.

I wasn't a bad musician, but I certainly wasn't a great one either. Nevertheless, we were encouraged to participate in state music contests - where I both sang and played the flute. I am eternally thankful that my vocal rendition of "Edelweiss" was never recorded for posterity.

The pinnacle of my musical career was in high school where I was in the Thornwood Thunderbirds marching band and symphonic orchestra. I experienced the thrill and power of high stepping onto a football field at half time and marching down the Walt Disney World main street during the electric parade in full regalia. It was as close to royal as I have ever felt, participating in something so much bigger than myself or any sound that could come out of one silver flute. I was a member of something significant. I was in band.

My daugher has had a wonderful time as a member of the Clark Handbell Choir. Next year, they are cutting bell choir due to budget constraints. I am sorry about that. I think that most musical opportunities will stay available as extra curricular, after school activities. I hope she continues to be a part of an ensemble.

Band and choir groups aren't just about learning to play the flute or the oboe or the tuba. They are about discipline and growth. They are about seeing yourself struggle to make a sound in the 5th grade choir led by Mr. Pitts and then smiling as you march down Main Street making beautiful music. Music groups are about friendships that happen as a result of being on a team, from being a part of something bigger than any one person.

I am thankful for the teachers who listened to my bad music and who had the patience to help me improve. And, I am thankful to my mom and dad who encouraged me to take a chance, to learn piano, to sing on key, and to realize that I too could make beautiful music for all to hear.