A recent Boston Magazine article belched … “In Praise of Mediocre Kids” … and asked … “Why can’t we just accept that?”…
Which calls to mind two odd sorts … English humorist Maximillian Beerbohm … and English misuser Yogi Berra.
Sir Beerbohm said … “Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best.”
To wit, Mister Yogi might’ve added … “Include me out”.
I loathe mediocrity. It just goes against my grain … and the commandments of my clan. It’s the worst insult of all.
This particular silliness was brought about by the author’s French horn agony. The son asked his parents to bankroll his interest in the instrument … and quickly displayed unlimited nonchalance for it all.
In other words, the kid crapped out.
And so the cranky parents over-examined the moment … asking themselves some very heavy-duty questions … and searching for some lousy excuses.
“Why are we pushing our kids to excel at just about everything?”
“Is this endless quest for success contributing to … growing anxiety in ways that will affect them for years to come?”
Those seem like good questions. But sometimes parents over-think the moment. Mainly because they lose their own balance and aren’t … are you ready for this? … nonchalant enough.
Yup. They were too, too serious.
So they questioned their own motives … not the son’s. They questioned why other parents hired private coaches and expensive tutors … all in an effort to have their kids succeed. And they were pretty bruised when junior showed little talent … and too much indifference. Why?
They shouldn’t have bothered with the heavy questions. Or even cared about their neighbor’s kids. Their son only wanted to test-drive the French horn … that was all.
He didn’t agree to gorge on that horn … or commit to some symphonic feast. He asked for a sip … a bite … a nibble. Not a full-out banquet.
That’s what kids do. All the time. And it’s our job to help them sample lots of stuff … like different adventures and foods and sports … and instruments. Even a French horn.
Oh! And the quid pro quo here was wrong, too
Just because the boy wanted a whack at the French horn didn’t mean he was determined to become a virtuoso. That was their assumption. The kid only wanted to try it on … see how it felt.
They wondered why other parents were so obsessed with success … and willing to stretch their wallets … and their kids! … to achieve. And they made a good case because … lots of parents lose their minds over this stuff … and do that “vicarious” thing with their kids.
So … they hugged this idea that it’s a-ok to be mediocre. Just okay. Forgettable. Ordinary.
I’ll bet this was their first kid … because they didn’t understand that whole scene. The crazy parent scene. So they settled for mediocrity … as a defense. As an option.
But mediocrity is never a defense. Or an option. Not ever.
Then they served up some gummy logic.
They rued the bucks that might be spent for this French horn fling … the instrument rental and perhaps some tutoring. But that’s the process when kids get involved in anything. Things cost … some more than others.
Dads don’t rue the green fees for their once-in-a-while golf game … and moms don’t bitch about the gym membership they don’t use often enough. Why can’t kids be just as nonchalant? Why does a kid have to have hyper-passion all the time?
Let’s be consistent here … life’s a big taste-test. A buffet. And that’s okay. That boy’s passion should be the passion of trying things out. Being curious. Even daring at times.
Kids wanna find out who they are … what they like … and what they do well. That’s what growing up is all about. Some are great at stuff they don’t love … and stink at things they’re passionate about. That’s the holy quest … to find the right fit … like we do when we search for lovers … or business partners … or teammates … or friends to add to the band.
Kids don’t know what they’re good or what they love … so they wanna try it all. And they imagine they might be great with the skates … or the bat … or the camera … or the piano … or horseback riding … or dancing … or the singing stuff. Or the French horn. Or whatever.
Adults seem to forget their own growing-up years … and all of the hobbies, sports, and passions they picked up … and put down. Until … until they found the one or two that stayed with them for a long while … perhaps for all of their lives.
Childhood is the “Smorgasbord Time”. The “Maybe-Maybe-Not Age”. It’s not a persevering moment. That’s for later in life. Real life.
Of course, you can’t give in to every kid-wish. Kids wish all day long. But tuned-in moms and dads can make some good decisions … after some good conversations with the next Elton John or the future Peyton Manning.
By the way … the results might stun you. It did me.
My would-be champion swimmer-son ran away from competition after his very first season. He had it all … the right body, the right spirit, the right determination to win. But … he hated it.
His older brother … who swam like a log … would go on to become a sought-after swim teacher … a summer gig that made him rich by the standards of the moment. Go figure.
The retired swimmer-son? He became a fantastic caddy … for a sport he never played. But he made lots of sweaty loot … and … won a caddy scholarship to college! Four years’ worth. Go figure some more.
My own grandson has dabbled in everything … drawing, guitar, piano, football, lacrosse, computers, and baseball. As he’s gotten older, his interests have narrowed … as he discovers what he loves … and what he’s good at. So for now … it lots of baseball and loads of curious history stuff. He’s got real passion both. And there’ll be more, I’m sure.
About those vicarious parents … you know the ones who want their kid to be the next Babe Ruth … or the next Celine Dion?
If that’s you … cool it. Check your own impulses. If you’ve got unresolved stuff … things left-over from your own childhood … well … go and try it all over again. It’s not just for kids, you know. Older folks can learn new stuff, too.
Just don’t live through your kids. That ain’t fair. At all. They’ve got all they can handle as it is … they don’t need your junk, too.
One more thing …
Model for your kids. Show ‘em your passions. Let ‘em know what you love … and how you came to love it. Then leave it alone. Just do your thing. They’ll watch. And maybe … well … you never know.
And last … worry about what matters.
Teach your kids to hold the door … and shake hands like they mean it. Show ‘em how to stick up for others … and to protect those who need protecting. Help ‘em see the good in everyone. And grow their hearts fat.
Coach them to respect adults … and to call ‘em Mister or Missus. Prepare them to always side with the truth … and to be humble and unfull of themselves.
Show them how to win with quiet class … and fail with dignity. Instill in them the importance of effort and commitment … once they’ve signed on to important stuff.
Explain the difference between succeeding and excelling … and show ‘em it, too. Expect more of yourself than you do of your child.
Smile … and whisper simple encouragement … “Make ‘em remember you” … and … “Be a star”.
Then be who you want your kids to be.