Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The three little girls that I'm raising and the one little girl that I was

On her second birthday, Nikki spent about an hour trying on all of the clothes she’d just gotten as gifts, while the toys got brushed aside. She rarely wanted to ride in the stroller if she had the option of running. She scoffed at anyone who wasted her time with fairy tales or made-up entities like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Now that she’s thirteen, her friends call her the “Tyra Banks” of her group because of her passion for fashion. She dreams of the day her knee heals so that she can run, run, and run some more. (She’s jealous of me when I run on the treadmill – can you imagine?) She’d rather read a biography than a work of fiction any day.

At two, Julie had a better command of the English language than most teenagers. She learned to negotiate (and sometimes manipulate) almost as quickly as she learned to talk, and before long, we couldn’t keep enough books in the house to keep her happy. Now that she’s twelve, she volunteers for every public speaking opportunity that’s available to her, she’s trying to get a student council set up in her school so that students have more of a voice, and she’s almost always lost in a book.

Some of Maddie’s first words were “can you imagine if…” She filled our house with her imaginary playmates and all of the stuffed toys and dolls her sisters had tossed aside. Her favourite game was a fanciful round of “would you rather?” Now that she’s seven, she still plays “would you rather”, writes story books, paints pictures, calls herself an artist, and creates elaborate play spaces for her dolls under tables or chairs. She loves 3D movies and insists that they’re much better when you reach out for the things that come flying at you.

I don’t know how these things will continue to manifest themselves in my daughters, but I suspect some of it will shape the way their lives unfold. I hope that we as their parents have instilled in them enough of a belief that those passions have worth.

In more than one book I’ve read recently, writers claim that “our youthful passions serve as a foreshadowing of our calling or life’s work.” I want to honour the foreshadowing I see in my children, and so (in my moments of attentive parenting) I buy books on fashion for one of them, help another one coax school leadership to consider a student council, and climb under the table with the third and help her spell out the words for her latest work of fiction.

I want to go back to the child I once was and tell her the same things I try to say to my children. “Those hobbies you have? Those things that make you happy? They’re not just a waste of time. They have value. Don’t set them aside in pursuit of a more practical career. Trust them to direct you into your path. Don’t try to fit into the boxes you think you’re supposed to fit into.”

On the bus yesterday, I read “…just scribble your recollections of childhood passions in the margins here.” And so I did. This is what I wrote:

I loved to go places, either on my horse, my bike, or (on rare occasions when our family went on an adventure) in the car. I loved to wander all over the farm and thought of myself as an explorer in the woods. I had a special little hideaway in the middle of a bramble bush that you had to know how to navigate your way through to avoid the sharp thorns.

I was always creating something – macramé plant hangers, doll beds, decoupaged memory boxes - you name it. I learned to sew and was forever digging through my mom’s fabric closet for interesting scraps of fabric. I was happiest when I had a creative project on the go.

I wrote endless journals, stories, poems, one-act plays, or whatever tickled my fancy. My very first drama was a little play my friend Julie and I wrote and performed in our living room as a fundraiser for a mission organization. I wanted to speak and have people listen. I wanted to influence.

I would walk to the farthest field on the farm if I thought that Dad would give me a chance to drive the tractor. It felt like freedom to me, to be able to drive and to be trusted with something that was usually reserved for my big brothers. I thrilled at the little grin my Dad got when he was proud of my independence and determination.

I loved to be active. I would join almost any team or group activity that was available to me. I played ringette, soccer, volleyball, and baseball. I joined the drama club and the choir. I was never a star but I was always a joiner.

I gravitated toward positions of leadership and influence. I was student council president in grade 9. (After that, though, I had to go to the ‘big’ school in a much bigger town. I lost my confidence and didn’t run for student council again until college.)

What would that little girl tell me if only she could? What were the dreams she had that got set aside when bills had to be paid and careers had to be chosen?

I haven’t totally abandoned those things I loved to do. Even in the practicality of life, I’ve usually found some small way of honouring them. But sometimes we believe other voices rather than our own, we follow someone else’s idea of what our calling should be, and we set aside fanciful things for those that seem more pragmatic and realistic.

Somewhere along the line, most of the passions got relegated to “hobbies” rather than “life’s work”.

What about you?


Barbara said...

This is terrific. And how wonderful that your daughters are receiving your gift of nurturing their gifts. I'm being very vigilant that my grandchildren aren't deterred from discovering their passions and keeping them at the center of their grown-up lives.

andrea pratt said...

Very wise words ... and this definitely needs wider publication. Submit it everywhere you can think of!

We would've been good friends as children, not just because of shared interests, but because you are good at things I'm terrible at (organizing people, public speaking, fabric) and I would've been in awe of you.

Anvilcloud said...

We are blessed in this age to have choices, and we keep on having choices until. A wrong choice can be followed by a right one.

Anonymous said...

Okay, while I don't disagree with you that we shouldn't shove them aside or hide them under the carpet or such... I do wonder at times if we turned our passions into our "jobs" if they wouldn't then become just that - work.

I love to garden, cook and take photos but I think if I did any of those full-time they would no longer be passions but I would watch the clock even then. Is it worth it? I don't want to lose my love for them.

Just thinking...


Pamela said...

I had a daughter that was always dreaming.."What if..."
ha ha.

lovely post.

darrah said...

Heather, this is just lovely. You are an amazing example of good parenting. I'm tempted to print this out, tuck it away, and pull it out when I have children some day. You are the kind of parent I want to be.

I've thought a lot about your post. When I was a kid, I was a drama nerd. I was always rehearsing for plays, taking voice and dance lessons, and living in a goofy, happy imaginary world with my friends. I always wanted to be the lead in the musicals, but what I was most good at were the sensitive, serious acting roles. I had an attention for detail and was a good listener and friend. I was also mature for my age. Adults were always impressed with my poise and ability to communicate thoughtfully.

Although I am no longer pursuing acting as a career, I think I carry the essence of that part of me with me into who I am and what I do today.

Thanks for encouraging me to think about this. Good stuff!

evf said...

I love, love this! My girls are so small yet and I could see their differences the moment they were born-not just the color of their hair and shape of their eyes, but they themselves have always been themselves.

And it is so true, the way our loves in young life get scattered about, but they are always there, somehow a part of us, somehow a part of our children as we struggle to give them all they desire and need.

Jamie Ridler said...

What a beautiful celebration of your daughters and little girl you.

I think there is great truth in this, Heather. I think that self that is so openly expressed in those younger days calls us all the days of our lives. The expression may shift or change over time and we may move sometimes closer, sometimes farther away, but our hearts are always drawn to these loves. And when we head in their direction, they welcome us home.

H.R.H. The Queen Bee said...

What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Here is the key to your earthly pursuits.
~Carl Jung

I came across the above quote recently and it really got me thinking. I have started trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, even though I am well into my adulthood! When I happened upon your blog today, this post resonated with me.

Sadly, I can't really remember most of the things that used to occupy my time as a child, so I am having a bit of a hard time finding my way. I have decided to simply concentrate on exploring those activities which, for whatever reason, strike my fancy.

Your girls are lucky that you are noting, preserving, and nurturing their personal gifts. I have an 8-year-old daughter for whom I will make an extra effort to do the same. I hope that she will always remember those things that make her heart soar but, in case she should grow up and one day forget, she'll have a way to get in touch with the little girl that she once was.