Talking to a friend yesterday about children and hobbies, I admitted that I don’t do any classes with my children – partly through laziness and partly because I don’t want them focussing on one thing and never learning about other joys and talents they might possess.
When I grew up I did gymnastics, because that’s what my sister did. I did ballet and tap too, but they were soon dropped because my sister did gymnastics and I wanted to do what she did (besides, I suspect I was rubbish at dance).
My sister was brilliant – she competed at county at gymnastics. But, despite going to class several hours a week and practising even more, I was awful. I couldn’t touch my toes even then, and I was never going to do a back flip. It wasn’t for me. I have other talents – I love music and writing and later I became a Guide Leader and found that was a real passion. But there wasn’t brownies or choir or drama when I was little, just gymnastics.
I look at my children now and they have such a breadth of talent. My son is good at football and music and loves reading and art. My daughter makes creations out of pipe-cleaners and tissue paper, invents songs, does pirouettes in the kitchen, plays the piano and writes books. They’re two and four.
Every time I see them doing something I say, “would you like to have lessons in that?” The answer is generally “no”. Amber is happy making beautiful music on the piano without the torture of correct fingering or learning to read music. Aaron likes to hog the ball so would probably hate playing football with others. The only thing they’re really keen on is having horse-riding lessons and even that has diminished since we started pony rides at the farm.
I want to nurture their interest and their passion without killing it and luckily that seems to fit with my general laissez-faire parenting style.
On the flip-side, however, I want them to belong and have good friendships and nothing includes you quicker than being part of a group: whether it’s football, music or dance, you make like-minded friends. I also want them to feel their talents are valued, and to bring out in them the best they can be.
So how to do one without the other? I learned the violin as a child. It was the only option and I was pretty awful at it. I didn’t start until I was nine and that was too old. I wish I’d been made to learn piano aged five, when it would have been easy, instead of taking it up as an adult and finding it so very hard. Such contradictions: where is the happy balance?
As with anything, I think it is a combination of going with the child’s wishes and following your gut. During the conversation with my friend, she mentioned a friend of hers whose sixteen year old son plays professional football. Her attitude was that I should get my son playing football now! That, if he is any good, we could all be making money, and he would have a career and fame and all that.
It made me shudder.
My father often said (and to this day I don’t know if he was joking) “Why couldn’t you and your sister have been professional Tennis Players – and keep me in my old age?” My general response (in my head) was, Dad, you never once played tennis with us as kids, how was that ever going to happen?
But, seriously, who would wish that on their child? A career, yes. Enough money to live without doubt and struggle, yes. But the life of a professional sports person? Endless training, long hours, restricted diet. Growing up too soon, stuck in the limelight, every childish mistake judged by the world? Retired at 35 and still the rest of your life to figure out? I wouldn’t wish that on my kids for anything.
If they want to do it, that’s different. I’ll be there at the side-lines with my pompoms cheering them on. I’ll make sacrifices if need be. But, for now, I’m happy with mediocre. I’m happy with Baa Baa Black Sheep sung by a two-year-old to his own random piano accompaniment. I’m happy to be goal keeper and ball boy and take orders from my mini tyrants. Hurrah for the laissez-faire (lazy?) parent.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire was glad of the satnav, reassuring her she was on the correct road. I don’t remember Burghley being this far out of town.
She’d decided to visit the stately home and get some information together for the blog. Her visitor numbers had suffered, during her fortnight minding Sky, although she had maintained the regular posts by discussing trips out with children. It surprised Claire that they had been her most popular posts for a while.
Mental note to include children’s activities in all my blog posts from now on. There’s a whole world of parenting out there I was oblivious too. I imagine it’s even harder to cater for the tiny ones, although how much entertaining do they need when they can’t walk and talk?
At last the satnav announced the words, “turn right.” Claire looked across and saw the gate houses nestled deep in the hedgerow, with a wooden sign directing visitors to use that entrance. The last time I was at Burghley it was for the Horse Trials. I don’t think we came in this way. In fact, during the horse trials they had barely seen the house. Only a sea of white marquees and a milling throng of people.
She had come with some university friends and, as far as she could remember, they hadn’t left the champagne tent, except to go shopping. Did I even see a horse? I can’t remember. Those were the days. With a sigh of regret for her lost youth, Claire negotiated the cattle grid, hoping it didn’t shake any rusty parts off the Skoda’s bodywork, and drove up the lane. The car park nestled underneath large spreading trees, beginning to leave behind the nakedness of winter and don their spring clothes.
The car park was nearly empty, and Claire wondered if maybe the house wasn’t open. I suppose there aren’t many people visiting a stately home on a Monday morning in April. She shivered as a gust of wind swirled round the car, prompting her to reach into the back for her jacket. When she stood up, she had the impression that someone was watching her. Turning slowly, memories of the mugging in her mind, Claire gave out a startled cry at the sight of a large stag standing only two car-lengths away.
“Blimey, where did you come from?”
The stag didn’t move at the sound of her voice. He merely stood in silent scrutiny, reminding Claire of Bambi’s father surveying the herd from his hilltop lookout. The stag’s antlers spread wide and high above his head.
Barely breathing, Claire walked steadily forward, reaching into her pocket for her phone. The stag showed signs of restlessness when she was a few feet away, so she stopped and slowly took a photo. Then she stood, barely breathing, eyes connected to the impassive stare of the animal. They paused motionless for a minute, and Claire wondered if she could chance getting closer. With her arm outstretched she crept forward. The stag threw up his head, then turned and galloped off to join the grazing herd on the other side of the car park.
Bloody hell. Claire let out the breath she had been holding, and gave a shaky laugh. That’s today’s blog sorted. I can’t imagine some boring old sixteenth-century house can have anything to top that.