I have so many things I want for my boys. I want them to be happy. I want them to have friends. I want them to find love. I want them to be grateful and appreciate the small things. I want them to have skills and feel successful at something. I want them to feel confident that they can tackle that hard stuff life throws out at them. I want them to keep going and not give up. I want them to love learning.
I believe a lot of these things will come more easily to a child that is interested in things. I want my boys to be interested in things and know that they can learn so much cool stuff about all those things and then pick a few to really dive into and eventually find something that makes their heart beat crazy fast and keeps them awake at night and makes them devote crazy hours to it and talk way too much about it and love it even when it is hard and get so knowledgable or “good” at it that they call it their passion and they are so confident with it that they feel proud and excited and happy and know they have something to share with the world and then people want to talk to them because they can feel this excitement and so they make friends and find love and feel happy and feel so grateful for all the small things that helped them create this passion and life and love. Whew.
I think all people are born with things they are naturally good at or interested in, but sometimes they need help figuring out what those talents or interests are. Right now I am in “find out” mode with my boys. I will be for all of their life, I suppose. However, these young years are a little bit more diverse. When I see that my boys are interested in something I try to get them obsessed with it. I want them to see books, play games, make crafts, watch youtube clips, notice it in the real world, and dream it. With little toddlers it is something new everyday. However, a few of the interests are more deeply rooted. Those ones we really bite into. We tell stories about it and create play dough scenes with it and make math problems out of it and spell words on the refrigerator about it. I call it project “Interest to passion to love to happy.” (not really but I like having a cool project name for parts of my parenting experiments) Whatever they like, whoever they are is exciting, and I want to help them cultivate and develop it.
Obviously there is a high probability that the interests my boys have today will be completely different in a few months and almost definitely in ten, fifteen, twenty years. I hope the process stays the same for them, though.
I think getting them interested in a lot now will help them to feel the world is exciting and full of knowledge. It doesn’t need to be, “Ok, three year old…let’s practice reading and numbers.” It can be, “Ok, three year old…you LOVE ponies…let’s read this book about all the different kind of horses and ponies and the jobs that go along with them and talk about all the colors we see and make a drawing of a pony with a barn in the back and talk about the architecture of the barn and the math that goes into making a perfect pony stable and get popsicle sticks and make our own pony barn and use the numbers to make it perfect and then read about barn and the other animals that live in stables and the food they need and who takes care of them and spell ‘hay’ on the fridge and talk about the letter ‘h’ and how it makes the same sound as the word ‘horse’ and….” All of the sudden reading, letters, math, numbers, jobs, building, and so many other things became interesting to your child. So many NEW conversations can be had just while driving around your town because of her love for ponies. And a few years later maybe she is still interested in one or two of those things and becomes passionate about it. And bam! The world is alive for her and she see stars in places where other people just see horse poop. That is what I want for my boys. Horse poop stars.
There is an amazing podcast on grit that you can listen to here. The author of the book being interviewed about says this:
DUCKWORTH: That’s right. I want to redefine genius, if you will. I think most people use the word “genius” the way my dad means the word “genius,” — you know, somebody who has an intellectual gift which is far greater than what most people have in a given area, in music or in mathematics, in running or in dancing. And by that natural ability, they’re going to far excel the rest of us, almost by destiny. I think that is what most people use the word genius for. And then they all have their handy list of geniuses that they think of, like Mozart or Einstein. I want to define genius as greatness that isn’t necessarily effortless, but, in fact, greatness that is earned however you do earn it. And so I want to define genius as something that you accomplish yourself as opposed to something that’s given to you.
This hits home to me. I want my boys to be great because they worked for it. I think sometimes people think “passion” can only be for those really creative or genius type, not something the regular Joe can find very easily. I believe if you are interested in a lot of things and find out how to grow those interests while you are young you will find the world more exciting and be passionate enough to work hard and find your own “genius.”
DUCKWORTH: I completely agree, and I think that is why interest must come first. I think there are a lot of overeager, probably very well-intentioned parents out there who are kind of like chaining their kids to the piano bench in hopes that seventh hour of practice today is going to put them on course for Juilliard or Harvard. And I think they’re seriously getting things out of order. I interviewed Rowdy Gaines, the 1984 gold medalist in the 100-meter-freestyle representing the United States, and he estimates that in the years up to the Olympics where he won that gold medal, he swam equivalently around the world, right? Roughly 20,000 miles. And so I asked him, “Do you love practice?” And he said, “are you asking me if I love getting up at 4 in the morning, jumping into a cold pool, and swimming laps looking at a black line on the bottom, at the very edge of my physical ability where my lungs are screaming for oxygen and my arms feel like they’re about to fall off? No, I don’t, but I love the whole thing. You know, I have a passion for the whole sport.” And so that passion really does have to come first.
The book Tiger Mom says that American parents have it wrong when they allow their children to quit so early on. Nobody likes what they aren’t good at. She says a lot of Chinese parents push their children hard so they get really good at it, and that is where the like starts to come. I agree that I do not like what I am not good at. Nobody can be truly passionate about something without being good or knowledgable about it. However, you can’t be good or knowledgable about it without lots of hard work. If they are interested in something, but it gets hard to practice or read or continue I do not want them to always give up. I want them to push past the “hard” and love the “whole sport” as Rowdy Gaines said. But what if your child controlled the whole process, so that he never felt like you were pushing him? He found the book and loved the page with the bulldozer and wanted to learn more about big machines and you read him all the books and played with all the bulldozers and taught him all the different parts and why they are important and helped him do his math homework by reminding him about those awesome engines you learned about the other day and how engineers need math to make those and he becomes interested in the engines particularly and you get more books about engines and big machines and engineers and watch youtube clips of engines being made and make up math problems together about them and build them with little tiny pieces of leggos and then he decides he wants to be an engineer but man it is a lot of math classes and homework and time and studying but he loves those engines and machines and he has to be part of building them so much so that he loves the “whole sport” just too dang much to give up. So, maybe Tiger Mom just needed to know about horse poop stars.
My boys are still small. An older, more experience mom may read this and roll her eyes and say, “Honey, just you wait. It doesn’t work like that.” Well, I guess I will learn that on my own. For now, I am going to get my boys so excited and so interested. I will report back in twenty years and see if operation “interest to passion to love to happy” (or maybe I will just call it “Horse Poop Stars”) works out.