Several weeks ago I found myself standing in front of a crowded auditorium, speaking to hundreds of eager high school jazz players who had come to hear Wayne Bergeron, a Grammy-award-winning jazz trumpet player, instruct them. It was my job to introduce Wayne and to “pump up” the audience. “You know that I’m just a housewife, right?” I’d asked the guy who told me to introduce Wayne. “You signed up to host this clinic, so you introduce him,” he said. So there I stood at the microphone, reading Wayne’s bio aloud from the jazz festival program (because I knew nothing about Wayne until that very moment), and then said, rather sheepishly, in what I hoped was a crowd-energizing tone, “Let’s give it up for Wayne!”
How did I end up introducing Wayne Bergeron, you ask? Because I have a son, Shane, who plays trumpet in the Crescent Super Band and, wanting to be a supportive mother, I’d signed up as a parent volunteer to help run the Peaks Jazz Festival, where my son’s band was performing. So I spent a whole afternoon at the festival, introducing Wayne and sitting in on his trumpet clinic, then escorting a high school jazz band through its adjudication round (and no, I didn’t know what “adjudication” meant until that day). And all the while I found myself marveling at how our children’s passions take us places we never dreamed of going.
When my children were small, I wanted to give them every opportunity to develop their talents, but I wasn’t sure how they’d discover those talents unless I exposed them to lots of different interests. So I spent most of my children’s childhoods in the car, taking occasional breaks for showering and eating. Here is a partial list of activities we’ve explored: soccer, karate, skiing, gymnastics, tumbling, dance (ballet, tap, and jazz), clogging, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, art, drawing, drama, chess, sewing, choir, voice lessons, piano, violin, clarinet, flute, trumpet, and futsal (a type of indoor soccer—who knew?). And I still felt mean when I told my daughter she couldn’t take fencing, guitar lessons, or horseback riding.
But I eventually realized that sometimes, in my uncertainty as a young mother and my quest to be the perfect mom who had perfectly well-rounded children, I was pushing my kids to do activities they didn’t really want or need to do (I still marvel that I ever thought my oldest daughter might want to be a cheerleader—lol). And we became so busy and our lives were so structured that we never ate dinner together, or had downtime just to play, or daydream. So I learned to relinquish some of my expectations and to set limits. My youngest daughter still asks to do every activity that comes along, but I’m wiser now, remembering the times when she begged and begged to go to [insert desired activity of the moment] and I signed her up and paid the entire semester’s nonrefundable fees and then after the first two lessons she said, “Um I don’t think I want to go anymore.” (That’s never happened to any of you, right?)
What I have discovered is that despite my own often misguided attempts to help them along, my children will eventually find their passions on their own, even if it’s through a series of twists and turns and false starts. My oldest daughter is just discovering a love for post-colonial African and Caribbean literature in her third year of college. My fourteen-year-old currently loves to ski, with little encouragement from me. My youngest daughter is a natural thespian, about to star in a Shakespeare play at school, and a talented soccer player. And Shane—he became a trumpet player in the sixth grade after years of hating the piano, when I got tired of him stomping down the hall every time he had to practice piano and I told him he could quit if he found another instrument to play. Little did I know that out of that default decision and the screechy, tentative beginnings of brass music that followed would emerge a passionate and gifted trumpet player who eats, sleeps, and breathes band and jazz and who now belongs to the most renowned professional high school jazz band in the world. Or that, even though I knew next to nothing about jazz and can’t play a musical instrument to save my life, I would one day introduce Wayne Bergeron in a crowded auditorium—and enjoy it.
How do you determine what extracurricular activities your children do? Do you struggle to keep a healthy balance between extracurricular activities and family time, homework, and free time? How do you foster your children’s interests without imposing your own expectations on them? Have your children’s talents and passions surprised you? How have those passions enriched your life?