Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Purpose, with a capital P

For Christmas, I bought Viva a mother-daughter journal for us to share.  It has writing prompts to help start discussions and also blank pages to write whatever’s on our minds.  I write on the left side, she writes on the right. When I’m done, I leave it beside her bed for her to read; she responds in a couple of days and leaves it on my pillow.

I enjoy it because it allows her to broach subjects she might not otherwise know how to bring up, and once I respond, it opens the door to a deeper conversation. And the things she brings up are not what you might expect. I won’t go into them here, because the journal is just for us and I don’t want to violate her privacy. However, one of the pages that sparked a lot of thought for me was (and I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t have the book in front of me):

What did your mother talk to you about when you were my age?  What do you wish she had talked to you about? 

My mother was pretty much an open book and talked to us about everything. She was very frank about sex and about our changing bodies and all that. She talked with us about racism and prejudice. She talked with us about her relationship and marriage with my dad, which ended when I was less than a year old. She probably gave us more than enough information on that last subject.  But one thing she didn’t talk to me about, and I wish she had, was about how to figure out what to do when I grew up.

I think mainly that is because she didn’t know herself.  And let’s be clear:  I don’t blame her for that at all.

Looking back on it now, I remember that lots of people in my family and circle of acquaintances would tell me things they thought I should be. This was all very well-intentioned, naturally, but it had the effect of really confusing me. I was a very bright kid but pretty impressionable, malleable and eager to please. I had talents in several areas, which made it all the more difficult to settle on one thing. So I went in one direction, and then another, and tried half-assedly to figure out what color my parachute was, and ignored my facility for language arts and for anything artsy, and started college pre-med, then switched mid-stream to social sciences, and then toyed with going to law school.

I know that we each have our own path, and we are all going to make mis-steps, but if I can accomplish anything at all through this mysterious, messy, painful and wonderful amusement park ride that is parenthood, I would very much like to help Viva find her purpose. I would like to help her find what she most loves to do, and do whatever I can do, within the bounds of the law and of sanity and not-helicoptering, to help her be the best she can be at it.

So I have been ruminating lately on how best to help my kids be what they want to be – Viva has often said she wants to be a videogame designer, although lately she has become interested in acting (which is a whole ‘nother kettle of worms – how do I support her in this without being Scary Stage Mom, since she is specifically interested in television? But that is a post for a different day).

(Aside:  Ceeya wants to be a teacher—that is, today.  After all, she is 4 and most likely that will change.  At her age I wanted to be a dogcatcher. I thought it would be the most awesome job ever because I would get to play with puppies all day. Then I saw Lady and the Tramp and saw the flaw in that assumption.)

BUT! Very timely that I was thinking about this very topic and came across this article, sensationally headlined “I Don’t Want My Kids to be Happy” in “popular articles” on HuffPo (clicking on the link, you find that the actual headline is quite tame: “The Pursuit of Happiness). I particularly like this excerpt:

A life committed to a goal, even it means you struggle and fail and ask, "What the hell am I doing?" -- that's a life to celebrate. It's a journey that may require you to sacrifice your own happiness or well-being, as any parent on the wrong end of a sleepless night will tell you, but the rewards far outweigh whatever small moments of happiness you may miss.

As I am still on this journey myself at the ripe old age of 44, I am hoping that my, ahem, rather intense recent research on this subject will benefit my children at some point as they are figuring out their goals and such like. As their father has spent the past nearly three years since being laid off patiently and steadily building his own small business, I want them to see us struggle and make adjustments and learn that there will be setbacks but that they shouldn’t give up. I’m hoping to let them see us succeed.

Failing that, we can always find work as circus performers. I think.


Bridget said...

What a fabulous thing that journal is! What a treasure for you both.

It would be nice if there was an adult version. I'd love to ship it back and forth to my mum. She has secrets she needs to spill. ;-)

Lisa Blah Blah said...

(relying belatedly) My mom is an over-sharer. I am scared of what she might reveal in any journal we might share!