My mom has a long history of being funny, artsy, quirky – and infuriating. At least, when I was little, I thought she was the most infuriating person on the face of the planet. We were often at odds, and I was convinced that her every move was meant to traumatize me in some small way. This was most apparent in the 127 activities I felt forced into on a daily, weekly and even summer(ly) basis.
As a little Kendall (a suburb of Miami) girl, I remember thinking – multiple times – why do I have to DO this? I hate this! Why is SHE making ME do this!? What did I do to deserve this? The “she”, of course, was my mom. She made me do just about everything under the sun: tap, gymnastics, tennis (I loathed this sport), swimming, piano, clarinet, art (of all kinds, though I loved anything artsy). To a fiercely independent kid, these things can feel like a prison sentence. To a mom, I (now, years later) understand that it was her attempt at giving her kid the world.
Structured activities weren’t the only thing – my mom always had a constant supply of books, search a word puzzles, and actual puzzles on hand. I didn’t object as much to these since they allowed the only (bull-headed) child a way to “do” and learn things while still being alone or on her own time in doing them. Yes, I valued freedom (and possibly control) way before I ever knew what it was.
Although most things came fairly easy to me, I still didn’t want to be forced into doing them. If they didn’t come easily, forget it. I was nothing short of a horror. Piano (short fingers…?), tennis (amazing power, issues with aim), etc. These are the things I didn’t care about sliding right off the radar. Eventually, they did. But for the things I loved – swimming, art – I could do these things all day every day. Until I was forced to spend (even) more time engaging in them (i.e. hours and hours practicing swimming as I got older to be competitive was not going to happen – for me). To this day, I still default to anything near/on the water and anything artsy. I still find my center in some of the very things I felt my mom was using as tools of torture.
The truth is, I likely wouldn’t have known all of what I loved or hated or was good at without the forcing. I watch my friends and their kids today and marvel at the insane level of organization and balance it takes to have them exposed to today’s world. Ballet, cheer, soccer, baseball, t-ball… I know some kids want to do certain activities, but I’m sure the great majority are just doing what their parents think is best. I’ve witnessed tantrums, horrible words, and tears due to the forcing. Inside, I’m usually laughing. How did my mom ever survive me?
By experience, I know my friends are now forcing their kids to be successful.
Reflecting on life (I do a lot of that), I do think there should be unforced “space”, the place where kids figure out what they’re naturally good (or bad) at on their own. The kind of space that happens in school, while playing, in nature, or in the company of friends. The latitude to explore is important.
But the latitudes afforded by the people who love us are invaluable. For those of us who are tortured into success, we’re lucky. Every kid should be so lucky as to be forced into exploring their talents.
I love you, DJ.