Thursday, September 4, 2014

Not the Summit

Last night I watched my five year old daughter exhaust herself during gymnastics.  Abby was working on a drill by herself without any instructor to please or frustrate, yet she pushed herself to utter muscle fatigue.

The tears escaped the second our eyes met after practice.  "Mommy, I'm so, so tired."

"I bet you are, Baby.  You know something?  I'm so proud of how hard you are working out there.  I can see how great you're doing and so can your instructor.  And you know what?  You can rest at times.  I think maybe go slower sometimes.  You don't need to work so hard."

"Let's go home, Mommy."

Then I felt the zing.  The parenting boomerang that headbutts us when we've rallied against the machine.

You don't need to work so hard.

Those are the words I choose to usher my girl into her formative years?  Don't work so hard?  Will her teachers pummel me with spitballs for saying that?  Will her future employers write me a pink slip for teaching her the virtue of slacking off?  Will her future spouse forget my birthday every year because I've raised an entitled child?

I don't think so.

I don't think we live in a day and age where hard work necessarily always wins the good fight.  I think smart work does.  There is a distinction.  And I believe it's unrealistic to expect hard work to result in success every single time.  It won't.  And I don't really want my children falling into that antiquated trap.  Hard work will end in exhaustion every single time.  Which will lead to unfulfilled dreams, slighted passions, and built-up resentment as a result of punching in 12 hour days, plus a cruel hour commute in traffic away from the city.

I'm going to teach my children that hard work is a virtue, yes.  But it is not the most virtuous virtue.  Hard work to be married to intelligent shortcuts and updated thinking is what I believe brings happiness.  What good will your calloused hands do you they are reaching for the bottle of Motrin for your stress-induced migraine or worse, the bottle of gin to numb your pain?

With things moving so quickly online and kids needing to know how to interface well with websites, it seems the natural trend will continue to move toward technology.  I'm not advocating daily marathons of Mindcraft and Lego Batman but I'm also not entirely against it.  Those computer skills, after all, are the real-life skillset our children will need to have in their adult world.  No?  You don't think so?  Ask any new graduate from any college.  Even performance-based schools.  Entire musical scores are recorded, engineered, tweaked, and graded on computer programs that require more hours staring into a screen than practicing bar chords.

Hard work plus a dose of worldly perspective is what I'm after.

Of course I want my children to pursue their interests and their passions.  I want my children to know that you can't skip a practice from a bruised foot and expect to make it regionals.   But you know what else?  I want them to love it.  I want them to look forward to it each and every day, be fueled by it.  I hope when they wake up, they will be itchy underneath their skin for the thing that brings them inner joy, not outward recognition.  I hope Grayson will reach for the piano keys when he can't figure out how to ask someone he's been pining for to prom.  I hope Abby will turn to her art table when she's sorting something out about her crazy moody mother.

I think there is too much to lose from pushing our children to be better, faster, smarter, stronger all the damn time.  If they show Olympic promise?  Ok, go ahead and push.  But for the 97% rest of us, it's a push and a pull.

The push alone gets hard-wired into our children at an early age and before long, their natural curiosity dissolves into ashes on their Gifted & Talented diplomas.  We don't need more "perfect" adults in this world.  We need more imperfect adults who know true personal fulfillment.

We need more imperfect people who glean enlightenment in the doing and not the victory.

Ask any mountain climber why she climbs.  Not many will say the summit.

A taxed, frantic, relentless young mind becomes a neurotic, chaotic, unhealthy adult mind later on.  It's about learning balance early on.  Yes, please do practice your soccer drills.  But also please completely f*ck around in the backyard for an hour afterward without any catalyst or blue ribbon in sight.  That is where your happiness hides.  And sometimes it hides well.  I always want for you to find it.

Life just becomes hard work for hard workers, I'm afraid.  

But life is mysterious, rewarding, and delicious for smart workers.  People who have their finger on the pulse of what makes their generation tick.  People who understand what the hell Bill O'Reilly is saying and why we should dig harder than the sensationalized news channels.  People who aren't so booked every second of the day that they can't take a walk with their grandmother around the parking lot of Applebee's on a regular Thursday.  People who know the importance of following through but also understand regular vacations will keep their fuses soft and their mental health sharp.

People who know how to push themselves and also know how to pull back.

And parents who will let them.

1 comment:

Andrea Mowery said...

Yes! Smart work - I like that. It's also why I encourage my kids to go ahead and spend the afternoon figuring out how to edit a video on YouTube - because someday they are going to have to figure everything out for themselves.

Great, thoughtful post!