He Could Be A Climber!
We concluded my son’s annaprasanam, the ceremony marking the day he is given solid food for the first time, with a little game: We placed him on his tummy on the floor, put a few things in front of him and waited until he reached for one. The idea of the game is that what he reaches out to first is indicative of what he might become when he grows up. Usually, there is a book, a bat, a musical instrument and some gold. The choices for my son were the following: a tennis ball (coated with the red soil of the French Open), a tennis raquet, a hard copy of Rafael Nadal’s autobiography, a gold chain, and a stuffed dog.
His choices were loaded, and how.
When he reached for the book, everyone rejoiced. For the elders, it was a sign that he would follow a scholarly path. For my husband and me, it was bittersweet; though the book was on the subject of tennis, we would have been happier if he had reached for something more obvious, like the raquet or the ball. It’s not a huge stretch to say we may have had the baby because we wanted to make him a tennis champion. Was picking the Rafa book the sign we were hoping for? Is our son a tennis star in making?
That is how early it starts — the expectations, the push, the disappointment over thwarted dreams, the waiting game. The poor fellow was 5 months old and couldn’t even really reach. He just kind of leaned in a direction. Maybe he was actually looking at the book, maybe it was the person sitting there, maybe it was the wall — who knows? We are so desperate to know him that we read the future in every little thing he does.
The first time my son dangled from a pole, we thought, “Such a strong hold — he could be a climber!” The first kick made him a footballer. He imitated the act of playing the violin when he saw someone playing it on TV, and my mother promptly busted out a dusty instrument from the attic and spent hours tuning it. But he is a child after all. Soon, he was bored of hanging from the pole. He mostly uses the football to play fetch with the dogs and as for music, well, let’s just say he has moved on. The future remains a mystery.
Given this, the eagerness of our responses may be a little silly, but it isn’t completely ridiculous. It comes from our hope that our son won’t have to look futilely for what it is he wants to do with his life, that he will find something that interests him and live by it, maybe even make a career out of it. We hope to be able to support him with the resources and encouragement to achieve this.
But our dreams go further. We tend to think of passion as something organic, unique to an individual, but what if my son’s spark actually comes from us? Loaded choices may simply be the way interests and passions evolve.
“So many babbler!” my son says excitedly, pointing toward a group of noisy birds. They are one of seven types he can identify. He knows this because we have told him. We like birds and we know all the species found in our neighborhood. We don’t tell him that he has to remember the names and we are not disappointed when it takes him a while to think of them. But it would make us happy if he continues to watch birds and learn about them. As long as bird watching remains part of our outings, he probably will.
This continued exposure, this nudging toward a pastime we enjoy, too, feels harmless, when it comes to babblers. But there are other passions that raise more questions.
My husband and I clearly love LOVE tennis. Will we even wait to see interest from my son before we start gently nudging him in that direction? I’m not sure. But let’s say my son starts playing and enjoys it — becoming very good would require discipline, hard work, and sacrifice. To demand that level of effort and sacrifice from him in order to pursue what is essentially our dream feels coercive. How do we tell if it’s his dream, too? And what if he has all the passion in the world but doesn’t have the aptitude or the physicality? We could be responsible for the frustration of a failed ideal.
It isn’t so morally fraught when it comes to academics. We expect our children to achieve decent grades, get a good education. We don’t let them drop out of school if they struggle with their classes; instead we throw more resources at the problem — additional classes, one-on-one coaching – until they master them. This is seen as a responsibility, not coercion, because education prepares kids to succeed in the adult world.
Clearly, then, there is a difference between expectations and dreams, between demanding and nudging, between preparation and passion. But it’s not always easy to discern, particularly at this age, when our child is an unknown. We’ll need to give him space to become. There is a whole universe of things he will experience and learn from, including (but not be limited to) all of the things we love — birds, sports, music – and we don’t know what will stick. Maybe he doesn’t find a passion among ours. Maybe he doesn’t find a passion at all. But as long as he finds things that interest and engage him, and he keeps learning along the way, then our hopes, if not our dreams, will be met.
Until then, we all shall wait, my husband and I, with our expanded choice of raquets (tennis, table tennis, badminton …), and my mother, with her violins, and the dogs, with their balls.
For now, it is the dogs he reaches out to.