Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Win One for The Mommy"

When I was about 25, I attended one of my mom's college reunions with her. Beyond this being a sad, sad commentary on the state of my twenties (Problem #1: I spent most of that decade dating a guy in his forties who just wanted to stay home and watch Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and learn AutoCAD), there was a moment at the reunion that opened my eyes to the layering of hopes across generations.

At the reunion, a former classmate of my mom's recounted her favorite memory of my mom during those college years in The Big City. As Jocelyn's Mom stood on a corner one day at a bus stop, Former Classmate happened by and caught a glimpse of Mom passing the time in a Twyla Tharpian reverie, doing heel stretches and arm swings and deep lunges there on the sidewalk. Taking a modern dance class at college that semester, my mom was getting to taste an opportunity her childhood hadn't provided. Every time she bent her elbow to ninety degrees of grace and movement there at the bus stop, she was reaching, albeit in angular fashion, beyond her upbringing.

There is no amazing finish to this anecdote, wherein she teamed up with Martha Graham and stunned the critics. Rather, after a semester of modern dance, my mom dropped out of the class during the second term. As she remembers now, "I had much other more serious stuff to do"--like trying that new invention of bread and tomato sauce that the teens of the '50s were calling pizza pie.

Is it any wonder, then, that my childhood was aimed towards fulfilling her stunted interest in dance? My after-school hours for nine years were largely devoted to twice-weekly ballet and modern dance lessons, with the occasional jazz and tap thrown in. At the time, all I knew was that I liked it. Years later, at my mom's reunion, hearing about how dance had entered her college life as a quick amuse bouche, I started to realize that I had been dancing for her, too.

That's what we do when we raise kids, ja? We refract their achievements so that we're bathed in that light, too.

Indeed, I can admit that I am a refractive, reactive parent. Many of my decisions about my kids are guided by my own childhood--namely what it lacked. Certainly, I want them to taste the experiences I enjoyed, such as playing music, jumping off a diving board, and eating dirt. But I also want their lives to compensate for what I didn't do (play soccer) or have (a straight boyfriend).

This doesn't mean I need for them to take calculus because I wimped out into the alernate honors math section in high school, a class called, somehow sneeringly, "College Algebra." The wisdom of that decision has been born out over time. I didn't need to take calc. They don't need calc. Calc makes less sense than Ashton Kutcher constantly sending out life updates on Twitter to masses of strangers. Of course, if my kids do take calculus and shine at it, I will co-opt their genius, claiming that I always was good at math (for an English major who gets bewildered by sales tax).

But here's an example of how I do put my hopes on my kids: I grew up in Montana, an hour away from Red Lodge, which is an awesome downhill ski area. I do not downhill ski. Once, when I was ten, my mom pulled my sister and me from school for a day to take us to Red Lodge, noting that if we were growing up in Montana, we should have a chance at understanding some of the words coming out of our peers' mouths, like "bunny hill," "carving," and "In the name of Sony Bono, get the St. Bernard and the brandy; I have a torn ACL."

So we had that one lesson. Seems it takes more than the one lesson. Today, in all my complex well-roundedness, I can't downhill. By extension, you might rightly surmise that I don't snowboard (I'm not closing the book on the possibility of this one yet, though; I may have a Shreddy Betty persona lurking inside me somewhere, especially since I look cute in braids, in a way that would make all the 18-year-olds on the hill come up to me and slur, "Hey, Old Lady, nice braids. Can I help you up?").

Guess what? I really want my kids to downhill ski and snowboard. I'm just that simple. Me no can do. Me would like to do. Ergo, they should do. Then I can pretend that I, too, on some level, do.

This weekend was lovely in that way, as it provided some new vistas for my kids, things I have never done but would have liked (still would like) to do. For one, I don't know how to knit (with yarn, that is; I'm actually great at weaving together a web of lies and deception that would leave Alexis Carrington begging for mercy. Just to, you know, toss out the most uncalled-for 1980's reference possible). Fortuitously, my kids say they would like to knit. Mommy can live out this dream through them! Wrapped in a heap of scarves! That look like they were knitted by a 6-year-old! Because they were!

The sticking point (in addition to irrelevant '80s references, I excel at unclever puns, by the way) about knitting at their ages is the needles. Small hands plus short patience make the needles really frustrating. We had, however, seen "finger knitting" being done by youngish kids. So this weekend, after Groom watched a bunch of YouTube videos explaining finger knitting, the kids have become passionate knitters:


Niblet declared, "This is my favooowite thing I've ever done in my whole life." When I challenged this idea, asking if finger knitting outranked visiting Legoland, he would only answer, "I could finger knit while I'm at Legoland next time, like, on the rides, and then it would be everything good all at once."


Girl stuffed the ball of yarn in her pocket and announced, "I'm so good at this, I'm going to do it while I pace."



Even more gloriously, Girl had the chance this weekend to do something else I've never done. Duluth has a small airport at the end of Park Point, which is the world's largest sandbar (next time you don't have sand rubbing you raw in your privates, you can thank us for tucking it all away into one secure location). This airport was offering free rides in wee planes over Lake Superior. Because Girl is nothing if not the embodiment of confident pragmatism, she and her best friend gave us a casual wave and hopped in, taking only a moment to strap on seat belts and headsets:






And isn't this what kids do, ultimately, as they grow up? They take the opportunities, they take our dreams, they take our hopes, and they fly off with them?

Those of us on the ground are left gasping in awe and joy at their magnificence. Ultimately, it is a singular pleasure to be a part of the audience.

23 comments:

Pam said...

Oh yes Jocelyn, it is a singular pleasure to be part of the audience.My daughter is much more outgoing than I am, and I watch her soar with it.Great post!

Becky Cazares said...

Ahhh youth. The only soaring I did as a kid just happens to be downhill skiing! We chucked the ski poles as obtrusive and just tucked in the elbows and flew. Took calculus, too, but the only thrill there (and the only memory) was in being one of only two girls in a class of 12! Anyway, love the pic of Niblet knitting. Priceless!

citizen of the world said...

They do indeed grow up. It's both exhilerating and terrifyling to watch.

kmkat said...

I can teach you to knit ;-)

yinyang said...

I live less than a three hour's drive from places like Copper and Breckenridge. I have never, ever been skiing.

My younger sister taught me how to finger knit. Much easier than needle work, that's for sure.

Girl paces? I pace, too. Pacing is what awesome people do.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

My younger daughter jumps horses and has been to Tahiti and Moorea twice, just for starters. In one way or another, each of my children has grown past me and developed abilities that I can only dream of.

I really believe that is how it is supposed to be, each generation surpassing the one before. Otherwise, what would be the point in all that breeding? (Um. Besides the pleasure of the breeding part, that is.)

Now I have to look up finger knitting as I am only familiar with the kind that uses needles. I always learn so much when I come here.

Fragrant Liar said...

I'm impressed by the finger knitting, especially that you can do it while you pace. OPnly I'm not sure why you would pace when you're a kidlet. Do tell. ;)

My girls (all four of them) definitely have done some things I never did or would. Not all of it is marvelous, but they're totally fascinating to watch.

And now I, too, must learn to fingerknit.

lime said...

yes, it's the experiences i lacked far more than the things i lacked that i've wanted my kids to have (within the scope of their intersts because i would force then to do an activity they had zero interest in, just facilitate exploration of what catches curiosity). i see we are of like mind once again.

oh, and when they are perched on the edge of the nest, ready for take off, such a strange thing that is.

flutter said...

I volunteer to be your personal knitting guru. You and me, kid. I won't even poke you in the eye with a needle

monica said...

Ah yes, those kids sets us back in awe again and again.. :o)
Next time you're in S√łnderborg make sure to look me up..

Jazz said...

Honestly, I've never seen the point of standing on two sticks and throwing myself off a frigid mountain. Throwing myself out of a plane at 10,000 feet on the other hand is way cool!

Chantal said...

"Those of us on the ground are left gasping in awe and joy at their magnificence."

Yes we are.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Well said. I love that your mother danced--and that you are helping your kids to soar.

Voyager said...

Wonderful post Jocelyn. And don't give up on the snowboarding dream. My husband took it up at 44, and once even got greeted by "hey dude" in a lift line.
V.

That Chick Over There said...

You=Good mom.

The end.

chelle said...

Knitting rocks ... they are doing awesome with the finger knitting!

I love that we all get a second chance and live through our kids :P

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"Those of us on the ground are left gasping in awe and joy at their magnificence. Ultimately, it is a singular pleasure to be a part of the audience."

So many incredible lines in your piece, I couldn't figure out which one to highlight. Frankly, the Alexis Carrington line still has me giggling.

Yes, it take more than one time to enjoy downhill skiing. If I hadn't been signed up for four lessons, and my mother reminding me how much a sacrifice it has been to pre-pay for them, I might never have made it past the warming hut the second time.

Most lovely post.

Maddy said...

I certainly think you're right that there is many a parent who dipped out or shone at something in particular that they either foist on their own children or protect them from. Human nature I suppose. I always enjoyed reading and a wide variety of crafts = not a chance around here.

However, I also think that these days there is so much more choice along with the theory of exposing our children to as much as possible in the vague hope of hitting the lode stone, and it's cheaper, and there's more choice....anyway, I begin to ramble.
Cheers

cathy said...

I am limitlessly blessed in this area. As a member of the PTA in a greek school I get to help decide what extracurricular activities are offered to the kids...

I love drawing so we have an art class and 17 kids fulfilling that dream. I never did get the hang of judo but never mind we have 18 kids learning Tae Kwan Doh though I'm not even sure how to spell it.
I was never very good at sports hence the basketball team and of course not having starred in Saturday Night Fever I had to recommend dance classes. And last but not least, because I would love to be a computer whizz, we have lessons for PC too.
Yes I know no music but I've got that covered, my eldest is learning guitar and piano. I wonder when they will accept my youngest for helicopter flying lessons?

Your right on the button as usual Jocelyn. LOL.

Dory said...

I've never heard of fingerknitting before. I'm gonna go check that out for the kiddos!

Kylie w Warszawie said...

Gosh that darn skiing. I grew up in Houston. There is no snow. Or mountains. I know how to swim like a fish.

Every winter here, we have one week off of school. Every winter, that one week constitutes "Ski week". We sit at home and do nothing.

I wish I could ski too. If only to have something to do on ski week.

ArtSparker said...

Lovely confession, and your kids are beautiful.

Karen MEG said...

Your kids have got talent, and your girlie is quite, quite brave!

You're so right, as far as parenting, although I wonder for myself whether I'm in the slacker department. Not that I always resented being "overprogrammed" before it was in vogue, but all I remember about my childhood were the multitude of lessons after school and on weekends, and very little free play. I think I turned out all right, but I fear that I don't push my kids hard enough, or am a little lenient and let them give things up a bit soon when they find them a bit challenging, all in the name of letting them have a more carefree childhood.

Okay, psych 101 lesson over.

Excellent post as usual Jocelyn.