An exception to every rule

Laura K. Silver is a trustee of the Jewish Light who writes a blog for the paper’s website (stljewishlight.com/laura). Laura is married and the mother of two middle school age children.

By Laura K. Silver

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have a “thing.”  I have hobbies, yes, but a thing, not really.  I love to cook and I’m good at it.  Some people might even say I’m really good at it, but am I Julia Child or Ina Garten?  I’m not.  I enjoy playing tennis and I’m a decent player, but I have no delusions of being Serena Williams and I’m okay with that.

So it makes me wonder why, nowadays, it is the expectation that our kids be exceptional at something?

When I was growing up, there were a handful of kids who were truly outstanding.  I knew one kid in high school who spent part of the year playing at Nick Bollettieri’s Academy in Florida. His last name is not Agassi or Sampras and you wouldn’t recognize him.  He, like most other kids at Bollettieri, never became famous and his career path has not been in tennis.  There were other kids who did gymnastics a few days a week.  They were the exception, not the rule.  I didn’t know anyone who spent evenings practicing soccer on the field in October, much less February.

These days, though, it seems that if you don’t concentrate in something by age eight, you’re not part of the norm.  Talk to any parent and inevitably someone will ask, “So what are your kids up to?” and, like lemmings, we answer.

When I’m faced with this question, I have an easy time answering for my son.  He fits the mold—his “things” are soccer and piano. He plays select soccer and has since he was eight and has competed in piano since he began lessons at age five.  Never mind that my son also knows pretty much everything there is to know about the NBA, or that he likes to cook, or that he is one of the top players in the world at some video game I can’t name, I have a solid pat answer when it comes to him. 

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For my daughter, I stumble for an adequate answer, and so does she, because at 14, she has not yet declared a “major.”  By bucking the trend, however, this kid without a concentration has opened my eyes to my own behavior and others around me.

Initially, I fell into the trap of trying to have her follow the trend.  She plays recreational softball. 

 “Do you want pitching lessons?” I asked.  

“No,” she told me, “I just like to play.” 

She likes to sing.

“What about singing lessons?”     

“Not that interested.”

“Or joining St. Louis Children’s Choir?”  

“No,” she told me.

The thing I’ve learned, after watching her for several years, is that a child without a major has time to do other things, and this freedom can allow a kid to become a force in her own right.  My daughter will spend hours, even all day, cooking for the homeless or making special cards for friends.  Ever a humanitarian, she will figure out how to relocate a snake or bug rather than kill it.  Over the course of a few weeks, she will teach herself to make towel animals or pick locks (I may never need a locksmith again,) or over the course of a few months, teach herself how to use sign language, just to name a few of her accomplishments to date.

Unlike most adults, my daughter has decided that it’s important for a kid to be a kid—to take this time in her life to explore what interests her and stop when it doesn’t, and to give herself the freedom to change her mind.  

And in today’s world and the climate that we live in, where we are professionalizing children’s sports and superimposing adult values on children, it is this grounded outlook that makes her truly exceptional.