As a parent, I instinctually want to give my children more than I had, whether it comes from instinct or from some unnecessary societal ‘keeping up with the Jones’ pressure. I’ve certainly fit into this model seamlessly – by the time my son was five years old, I’d ushered him through baseball, guitar and swimming lessons. When sports wasn’t his thing but Legos were, we drove across state lines for Lego Club meetings, found Lego art exhibits and went to Legoland for vacation. When he liked dinosaurs and space, I procured membership to the Museum of Natural History and the Liberty Science Center. I never wanted my kids to feel they weren’t supported. I see my role as their trampoline, cheerleader, and safety net in one.
My daughter, a quintessential all-American girl, loves to sing, dance, and perform. She has indulged in ballet, gymnastics, drama, musical theater, piano lessons – and she’s only six years old. I tell her she can do anything she can imagine and I want to make sure she knows it and gets to try.
Most recently my high school freshman son got a lead role in the play and as I’ve entered his rigorous rehearsal schedule into my calendar, I’m wondering if I have to arrange headshots and potentially a theater internship. I ask him if he needs volunteers to help with the show, as I imagine how I would have done if I had grown up with such parental support and guidance as well as world-class academic opportunities.
Is it too much? We’re enrolling our children into life clubs before they can decide if they want to be a part of them. My parents didn’t do any of this multi-children, multi-activity coordination. When I wanted dance lessons, my mother looked at me, snickered and said, “Oh yeah, and you’re a ballerina?” When I suggested I would like piano lessons my mother laughed and said, “So now you’re a musician.” When I asked for a word processor, though, I got one.
My cousin, on the contrary, had parents who immigrated from the Soviet Union at a younger age than mine and they evolved into more of an all-American parental unit. My cousin had ballroom dancing, skiing, and ice skating lessons, as well as playdates to fill up the little squares on her calendar.
My parents continually reminded me how they brought me to this country, so I can do anything I wanted in this land of opportunity, and I’ve spent my life with the burden of trying to make my accomplishments worthy of their sacrifice. I wonder if my children will feel the same invisible pressure inflicted by me. In theory, it’s possible to not use every second being productive and still come out perfectly happy – it’s just a foreign concept to me.
Occasionally I wonder if my overcompensating is equal to the same mentality as being the last one to leave the party. It’s the perpetual feeling that I don’t want to miss out (or in this instance, that I don’t want my kids to miss out). I’m constantly feeling there is so much to try and do and it’s my responsibility to fill our days to the brim as much as I can. For God’s sake, if I didn’t schedule the fun, there is no time for it!
My husband moves to an entirely different internal rhythm. Where I live my life by the motto, “So much to do, so little time,” he lives his life by the motto, “Be here now.” While I feel sand slipping through my hands, he feels a firm grasp on time (ironically, always late), not at all panicked that he is running out of it.
I hope our children take a piece of us both, but mostly, when they reflect on their childhood, I want them to perceive it as laden with opportunities and support, and less of their parents vicariously living through them.