UP CLOSE: Extracurricular Activities– Whom do you worship?

Ben plays the viola; Stefan and Xander are violinists. More that once it’s been suggested that we simply need a cellist to form our own little string quartet.

A quartet was certainly my original plan…..

Nine years ago I was full in the throes of Suzuki-supermom syndrome. Ben and Stefan had a fantastic violin teacher, I was on the board of the state Suzuki society and was surrounded by fabulous women whose children had regular gigs with the Utah Symphony. I could hardly resist putting a cello in little Hansie’s hands.

He was 4 years old.

Then, as now, Hans had a sweet amiable temperament. Obediently, he did the drills, plucked out little tunes and pulled his tiny bow across the strings to coax music out of the stubborn instrument.

I tried to be patient as we went over the simplest of exercises day after day but my calm veneer was rubbing thin. One night we were practicing together when I finally collapsed in frustration. “You’re just not trying Hans!” I accused him angrily. He tossed down his bow in a huff and left the room. I apologized to him before bedtime but I was still upset.

The next morning I went on a long run in the mountains. As I ran I prayed, “Please Heavenly Father, I’m struggling with this little boy! How can I help him learn to play the cello?”

A few miles later my answer came in one of those rare flashes of pure knowledge. For just a fraction of a second I saw Hans as he really is—a noble, mighty son of God. Shame washed over me and I began to cough and sob. I had been entrusted with the care of an eternal being and I was spending time nitpicking at his weaknesses.

I recalled words from C.S. Lewis, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.” It is an incredibly serious thing to be raising God’s children. I realized I had to loosen my grip on the ten-year plan and look at the eternal one.

While a family quartet is lovely, I was creating one simply to feed my own ego. And Hans! Have you met my darling, funny, sunshine boy? How could I complain about cute Hansie?

Earlier that week I’d been at a baseball game when a neighbor boy came up to bat. He is a polite, sweet boy– winner of the sixth grade spelling bee and a gifted athlete. It was the ninth inning, his team was behind and the bases were loaded.

He struck out.

As he dejectedly walked back to the dugout his father took him by the arm and drug him behind the bleachers. We could all hear him yelling and haranguing. The boy emerged with his shoulders shaking and wiping tears from his eyes. I felt sick as I watched the scene. “Can’t you see who your boy really is?” I wanted to ask the father.

Remorse filled my heart as I realized that my behavior with the cello hadn’t been much different than the angry father. True, I didn’t yell at Hans in public but I had made it perfectly clear to him that he wasn’t measuring up.

As I began to sift through events in my mind I realized that most of the time I felt unhappy it was because I somehow felt I wasn’t measuring up. I wasn’t smart enough, thin enough, talented enough, etc. Was this the legacy I wanted to pass down to my children?

NO!!!

A tremendous burden rolled of my shoulders as I realized “I don’t have to compete! My children don’t have to compete! We just have to do the best we can.”

That run changed me as a mother. We quit cello and Hans took up the piano a few years later. And while I expect my boys to do their best in school, music and sports, I have no desire for them to be superstars. I’m much more likely to ask, “Did you have fun?” than “Did you win?”

I’ve talked to several mothers with similar experiences and I believe that God talks to mothers, He pours inspiration upon our heads even when we are being crazy and competitive cello mommies. Praying over whether our children should take guitar lessons, enroll in soccer or spend more time at home is not only reasonable, it’s wise. The Lord has a vested interest in these small people; he’s eager to provide direction when it’s needed.

Recently a friend asked, “How do you raise such nice boys?” It’s a question I usually hesitate to answer, but she pressed me–”I really want to know.”

“You’re going to think we’re weird.” I whispered, reflecting on the predominate religion in my area, “But we don’t worship sports.”

“No, no, no,” my 18 year old son broke into the conversation, “it’s more that that. It’s not just sports. We don’t worship anything besides God and family.”

And he’s right. Music, academics, soccer, basketball, a boat and the TV have all vied for preeminence in our household, but the constant has been God and family. Any activity that precludes those two priorities has been reduced or removed from the weekly calendar.

We haven’t managed it perfectly, and we’ve learned that our limits are not your limits. You’d surely think I am insane for what I’ve paid in music lessons over the years and I can’t imagine driving from Logan to Cedar City for soccer tournaments.

But somehow, with the Lord leading us by the hand, we can each find the right path for our own family.

About Michelle L.

(Blog Editor) never folds laundry and her car is a mess. She runs through the streets of Salt Lake City, UT, takes lots of photos, plays Uno with her five fabulous boys and buys way too many dresses for the little princess. Her husband is the most romantic man in the world because he does all the Costco shopping AND hauls it into the house (sorry to make you jealous girls). She writes at Scenes from the Wild.

28 thoughts on “UP CLOSE: Extracurricular Activities– Whom do you worship?

  1. Loved this post and totally agree with it. I especially loved your realization that we don’t have to compete. So refreshing!

  2. This is the constant challenge isn’t it? Asking and listening for guidance about these children. I try to ask good questions, remembering that God knows them better than I, hoping for those glimpses of eternity and potential to obviate the day to day blahs.

    Congratulations on sons who recognize the priorities for your family. That right there is a good sign.

  3. thanks for a lot of food for thought Michelle. Timely and relevant, as always.

    (but is it okay to worship chocolate and nutella? just a little bit?! how ’bout if we do it as a family?) ;-)

  4. Wonderful. I agree with you completely. And isn’t it wonderful to receive inspiration as we raise our children?
    It seems like a daily line to walk. How much do we push our children to develop talents, do well in school, or work on their weaknesses? Each child is unique. But each child is loved by our Heavenly Father and he will help us.

  5. what a wise and well taught 18 year old!! oh, that my children may say and believe the same when they leave my care. oh, that i may be as quick to back away when i begin to make my children who they should become instead of who they are divinely meant to be. thank you. thank you for this message, to me, today.

  6. Michelle, I loved this post. As a mother I have had similar moments of (sweet, spiritual) clarity regarding my children. I love the C.S. Lewis quote. Last week I had to speak in church (not my favorite) but luckily, I was given a topic that is dear to my heart: teaching our children the gospel in our homes. I shared one of my personal moments of clarity, and shared that beautiful Anna Quindlen quote about wishing she had spent more time in the moment with her children. I heard this quote for the first time at a time in my motherhood experience when I was the most physically and emotionally overwhelmed with 5 young children and a LOT of sleep deprivation. I realized that I had been lumping all of them into one amorphous entity: The Kids, instead of remembering that they were individual people–or as C.S. Lewis put it so much better, individual immortals. I knew I had to re-dedicate myself to that fact and that little epiphany or wake-up call has been such a blessing to all of us. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said here, right down to the statements about sports et al. Thank you for your words.

  7. Thank you for this. It is a subject that is at the front of my mind lately. In fact, last night during Pres. Monson’s talk at the General RS Broadcast, I wrote down this question for myself:

    How can I help those I love to become what they have the potential to be, not merely what I wish them to be?

    Thanks for being part of the answer.

  8. I am really struggling lately with all the demands placed on us. I really appreciate your post. One of the hardest things for me is when the church meetings come so often and frequent that I feel like I can hardly breathe. They start to cease to mean anything more to me than one more thing on the calendar that I have to struggle to get to or struggle to get my kids to at the cost of family time. I am trying really hard to not become bitter and biting and angry about it. Part of the struggle is the guilt–I get it coming both ways. What I want is more quiet evenings at home with my family but there is always something. How do we manage this without sending the message to our children that they can just blow off the church? How do I keep my sanity with all the myriad of demands on our time that keep coming from church? (For the record, I have nine children ranging in age from 15 to 5 months so we have seminary age, young men, young women, achievement days, cub scouts, primary, nursery and my husband is the scout master. I am NOT talking about the three hour block–just the other meetings.)

  9. I love the line, “…we don’t worship sports.”
    And your 18 year old is oh so wise in that he says you only worship God and family.

    I felt so guilty when my sons were growing up that I didn’t have the energy to take them from sport to activity to sport. Now looking back I think it was more of a blessing. We had lots and lots of time together every afternoon in our home. I didn’t realize at the time how special all those moments were.

  10. This is a beautiful post.

    The years of mothering have given me lots of opportunities to just let go of my expectations and preconceived notions and just embrace my sons as they are right now.

    Ana, who posted a comment above, that sounds like an intensely busy life…9 kids in all those different Church activities. I don’t have any definitive answers. Our ward here in the South lumps Cub Scouts, activity days, and young men/women into the same time block on a weeknight. This greatly simplifies things. But, as far as youth activities, I really do think that one shouldn’t feel compelled to have your kids go to all of them. Some stakes have tons of things going on each month, and maybe that works for some families, but I don’t think they are essential. I don’t have a child in seminary yet. I will in 2 years, and I am seriously considering doing a home study program just so he doesn’t have to wake up at 5:30 A.M. each morning. Nurtureshock, a book that has been recommended in many comments on Segullah already, goes into the seriousness of our kids/teens not getting enough sleep. Lastly, my husband and I do not feel compelled to attend every ward activity or extra thing. Yes, we attend the 3 hour block, but there have been plenty of times when we’ve said that we need a quiet night at home instead of running to one more thing. Best wishes to you, Ana.

  11. Michelle, you’re a wise mama. My reluctant cello conscript is also my least verbally expressive, and finally took a hammer to his cello one day. I wish I’d been smart enough to have a chat with Heavenly Father about him sooner!! :)

  12. Wonderful post. It is wonderful when we find that space between doing what is right and receiving personal inspiration as to exactly how to do what is right.

  13. This is fantastically wise Michelle. Although my children are still small, I can see how easy it would be to suddenly find yourself the “crazy cello mommy!” Thanks so much for your insights. I think you’ve hit the answers spot on. Personal revelation for you, your children, and your family. And with God and family as your focus, surely you will be blessed in all else you endeavor to do. Your post brought this verse from 2 Nephi 32 to mind:

    “But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will dconsecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”

  14. I see the immense, eternal nobility of my sons and am staggered. So many times I look at them and wonder what Heavenly Father was thinking entrusting them to me, because I am so far from enough for them.

    I love them though. More than I can express or contain. And they know that. And I know that Heavenly Father guides me in what to do for, with and in response to them and their needs. “If God is with us…” is my focus, reminder and promise.

    Thank you for the post!

  15. I’ve been thinking so much about this very topic lately, Michelle. My 11 year old and I had a nightmare of a practice session on Friday and the next day I had this same epiphany…that I am not really helping to excavate the real Sophie. I’m not searching for the things that make her joyous, that are true to her best self. She’s a good musician, but maybe it’s not her bliss. We’ve had some talks this weekend and we’re on a new journey.

    And I’m learning the same lesson about myself. I need to stop focusing on the areas in which I’m weak and allow my strengths to blossom. Maybe that’s why I was willing to listen to the Spirit about Sophie.

    And I do have a cellist, so if you want to borrow him for a quartet some time, I’m all for that! I think he’d love your boys.

  16. I believe that God talks to mothers, He pours inspiration upon our heads

    I keep trying to remind myself to “look up” rather than “look sideways.”

    When I do that, it makes all the difference in the world and gives me glimpses of not just what my children mean to God, but what *I* mean to Him. What *we* mean to Him as women. How much He NEEDS us in this nurturing role we have been entrusted with to help make our homes a haven…and to be an influence in the lives of others of God’s children whom we might be inspired or entrusted to help.

  17. Michelle,

    I love this. You are an inspiration as a mother. I’ve always felt blessed that my husband never watches sports. He loves frisbee and plays with kids as often as possible. But most important is discovering each child’s needs.

    I have the opposite problem in that I don’t push my kids enough. But so far it is working out ok. I need to keep the prayers going to get more inspiraton on where to push them!

    My number one priority is teaching them the gospel, but feel I can do better.Parenting is hard work, but certainly the best. I love my kids! What blessings!

  18. Michelle,
    This, as always, is such a beautiful post. I find it very inspiring. My children are getting to the age where they need to be involved in extra-curriculars, and I’m having such a hard time figuring everything out. I grew up in a home where we either did too much or too little…

    But your post reminds me, it’s about following the Spirit. Heavenly Father wants our families to be happy.

    Thanks for the post.
    :)

  19. Ana, I would seriously consider talking to the bishop about why they cant have all the activities on the same night. It makes a huge difference. Talk to other parents with kids in those age ranges and ask them if they feel the same way.
    Also, figure out if carpooling, kids walking/riding bikes, or simply asking for charity rides would ease the burden. You have a 5 month old baby!!!!
    If you do decide that all the meetings are killing your family life I would do something like take a week off every once in a while. I have only 4 kids and I treasure our quiet nights at home too. I think you can explain to the kids that sometimes individual circumstances mean that you have to adjust. When people are sick they stay home from church, for instance. If you go on vacation you have to skip cub scouts. So if Mom is overwhelmed or the family is overwhelmed you need to stay home.
    You might have to be careful to not let it become a habit, lol. My son quit going to cub scouts because of soccer because I felt that was more important. It was tough to go back because it felt like it was a big waste of his time because they don’t actually accomplish anything. At this point we’ve decided to wait until he is 11 and start fresh then.

  20. Growing up as one of five girls while Dad was the bishop, I’m sure my mom wished there weren’t so many church youth activities. But for me, they were a lifeline out of the parentally tense environment that was a good place to be. But then, the stake I grew up in was very careful in their scheduling. They even have a policy of “family friendly Sunday” where there are NO meetings–stake or ward–on Fast Sundays (no Bishopric, correlation, BYC, High Council, nothing). And while, as the wife of a current bishop and mother of my own five kids on the other side of the country from where I grew up, I can totally relate to the hunger for a quiet evening at home with the family, I think the danger jks mentioned of not attending meetings is very real. It is much harder to start going again once we have stopped.

    In our prayerful evaluation of what activities stay and what goes, I very firmly believe that we will be blessed when we sustain our leaders with our attendance at meetings and activities and not just with our hands in Sacrament Meeting. It isn’t always easy, but only some rare times is it actually impossible. It also teaches our children that participation in the Lord’s Kingdom trumps piano, cheerleading, soccer and book club. Despite my love of sleep and my aversion to awaking before the sun, I am grateful to have attended early morning seminary and I will happily send my own children beginning in two years. Once again, there are blessings in following our inspired leaders and the scriptures promise us some very heady blessings from early rising, blessings that I am sure trump anything current science on the biorhythms of teenagers can offer.

    But all that said, I also think it is vital for us to counsel with our leaders (not whine, complain or boycott) about the difficulties we are facing and how consolidation, correlation and judicious scheduling can help our families.

  21. Well, I’m really glad that the Five Browns parents felt that their extracurricular activities mattered enough to buy five pianos…

    http://www.the5browns.com/

    They made a huge splash when they came to our town, far from Utah.

    An example of how we all get uniquely different answers to such parenting questions.

  22. Absolutely Naismith– I’ve read a lot about the 5 Browns and listened to their amazing performances. But I think the important element there was that the kids really wanted to perform. All of the Browns have expressed that it wasn’t their parents pushing them but allowing them to pursue their true desires.

    As I said, my answer is not your answer.

  23. This subject is a special one for me as well. I grew up playing the viola and my older sister played the cello. Neither of my parents were musical but were nevertheless both very supportive of our involvement. As the two of us excelled at our chosen instruments and navigated the school orchestra programs my mother spent nearly as many hours as we did in support of our orchestras and ensembles. She volunteered for EVERY fundraiser, chaperoned for EVERY tour, attended EVERY concert and paid for EVERY private lesson. Her involvement was made more astonishing by the fact that there were 7 of us children all with our own complex tapestries of needs and demands. I may not have appreciated the significance of these efforts at the time (so many parents would not or could not commit so fully)but as I look back on it I realize it was her way of supporting me and my personal interests. The experiences and memories that were cultivated during those years of my life, side by side with my mother and my dear sister, will remain with me forever and stand out as an example of selfless parenting and support.

    Now, I have my own 6 children each with vastly different interests. I have attempted to teach my oldest daughter violin lessons only to realize it is just not her cup of tea- maybe just for now or maybe ever- either way, why fight it? I want to follow the example of my mother and let them each seek out and discover their own talents and activities. I want them to be passionate about the things they choose to decorate their lives with, the way I always have been. I feel like having the opportunity to arrive at that place of passion and ambition can be a gift. A little nudging is, of course, necessary at times but they are each individual little spirits who will ultimately follow their hearts. I just hope I can be as loyal a wing man as my amazing mother was for me.

    Thanks Michelle, for making me think about this today. You took me to my happy place. :-)

  24. I knew from the moment I met you and your boys this summer that you did not worship sports…we don’t either. It is so refreshing to hear a mother proclaim this, and then to have her son affirm her proclamation, just simply refreshing.

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