Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Practice Makes Perfect... Unless You're Seven and My Mini Me

I think one of the hardest parts of parenting is seeing the worst of yourself in your children. And then not just seeing it but finding yourself unable to do anything about it because it turns out your children are just as resistant to change as you were.

I'm finding myself in this position right now thanks to dance.

My daughter wants to keep dancing but is frankly lazy about her technique, and she's at an age where that reluctance to not only work on technique but to even think about technique is starting to stand out.

I'm probably (read: definitely) more critical than I'd be if we didn't dance at the same studio. If I wasn't in technique classes myself for most of the year. And so I am all too aware I can't see the forest for the trees.

But it's not hard to notice it when she's the only one whose arms are flopping around. The only one who wobbles when she turns. The one whose feet aren't pointed and whose knees knock together as she thumps her way across the floor.

Sometimes I want to blame prematurity - like maybe if she had been full term she'd be more coordinated. But I know that chances are that has nothing to do with it.

The truth is she's just a lot like I was at seven (and eight and nine and ten) years old... reluctant to practice, quick to shut down when presented with corrections, and convinced that natural talent trumps effort.

Back when I danced as a child I think I assumed that you were either able to pick up technique on your first try or there was no point in trying because you were never going to be able to do it anyway.

I thought that way about everything, really. It made perfect sense in my immature mind because I was gifted in academics and so most of the time in school didn't have to work at anything at all. And that approach followed me into other areas of life with limited success.

The end result was that I was an okay dancer but never a very good dancer. I was horrible at softball when I could have been pretty good. And then as I got older and the academics got more strenuous, I gave up on calculus pretty much immediately before giving up on chemistry because the math was too hard.

I won't go into more specifics, but suffice it to say that my myopic focus on natural talent or lack thereof actually interfered with my life goals a lot in my 20s. There are so many things I didn't do because I didn't put a lot of stock into the value of trying really hard.

It wasn't until I was in my 30s that I internalized the idea that practice matters. That how you approach things actually matters more than whether you're good right out of the gate. That mastering technique matters. Which means that watching my sweet seven-year-old scoff at the idea of having to actually work at what she wants to do is like taking a dagger to the heart.

Now lest you think that I'm forcing dance upon my daughter, know that I am not. I don't want to ever be "that mom" and so I periodically check in with her to ask if she's having fun and does she still want to compete and would she rather try something else for a change. Every time she tells me that she wants to keep going. She wants to be on the dance team. Yes, she says, I still want to dance.

Maybe that means she wants to keep going just for fun, which is fine. But here's the thing... even when you're doing something just for fun, you have to do the thing. As in do it right or at the very least trying to do it right until something finally clicks and you realize you've actually learned something.

I am trying to communicate to my daughter that sometimes learning something means doing it wrong a lot with slight adjustments and that it's hard because you know you're doing it wrong but you keep doing it anyway because you're figuring it out. Sometimes it even means admitting you don't know what you're doing so that someone who does know what they're doing can show you how to do it the right way.

Believe me, I remember how hard that is to do even though the older I get, the easier it is to say "Look I have no idea what you're talking about so could you please show me again and explain it like you are talking to a clam. A literal clam." And because I remember how hard it felt I want to find a way to explain to my children that it's really not hard at all.

People will often respect your willingness to ask questions. To ask for help. To admit that you don't have all the answers but are ready to learn. And those same people will more often than not bend over backward to help you.

This isn't just about dance, of course. In that space, I can say with some certainty my daughter will probably never be a natural but then neither am I - and that can be an individual's reality in the classroom or in the workplace or anywhere people do anything.

This is about wanting to do something and the importance of putting in the effort it takes to do it competently without coming to the erroneous conclusion that the mistakes you make along the way will define you forever.

Now you tell me - how do you teach that to a child?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Roots and the Lack Thereof

I don't have a strong connection to any given place. Maybe it's because we moved a lot when I was a kid - from house to house and town to town - but I don't have roots. It probably didn't help that I had parents living in different states and family living on other continents. My models of adulthood had made journeys - Germany to America, north to south - as part of growing up or growing wiser.

It literally wasn't until I was an adult that I even realized that some people grow up in one town and then settle down permanently a couple of blocks from where they lived as a kid. Like it never even occurred to me that it was an option for an adult to live in the town or the state or the country where they grew up. I just kind of figured you grew up, you move away. That was what you did.

So when the mister said to me, half jokingly, that we were raising townies I was torn. On one hand, it must be nice for a kid to have that kind of constancy. Same town, same house, same friends. That's what he had, for the most part, growing up in Nevada. On the other hand, I felt weirdly defensive about the idea that my children would have that kind of connection to what is for me just another town. Like no way, dude, our kids will grow up and move to New York City or to Japan or the Australian outback like kids are supposed to when they hit adulthood.

Now it's funny but when I imagine my children as adults they're never living a couple of miles away. They are always at the very least living road tripping distance from wherever I am in this vision. But maybe that makes sense. When we bought this tiny suburban house I said from the get-go that we'd live in it for two decades while we raised kids and then we'd get the hell out of dodge. And when I thought about that just recently it occurred to me that maybe it's not my children who are meant to move to New York City or to Japan or the Australian outback. Maybe it's me.

Because if we stay in this house on this street in this town until my children are grown, they will have roots. They will feel a connection. This place will always be home. I don't have that and the disconnect there is so great that I honestly can't even imagine what it's like to feel like some piece of earth is a part of me and I'm a part of it.

Who knows, though. Maybe given enough time my children will become the roots I never had, anchoring me to this place without my even realizing it. But if they turn out to be wandering hearts like me, expect to find me and the mister in some random spot on the globe - in about 20 years time.

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