Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't be an artist

I was heavily pregnant with my first child. Todd and I were on our way home from my final OBGYN appointment. Everything looked great, we were just waiting for the little princess--the first grandchild on both sides--to make her appearance.  

I'm was in my head a lot. I'd stopped working about a month before when we moved from our condo in the Chicago suburbs back to where I grew up, the Detroit suburbs. I missed the noise and activity level (and distraction) of my kindergarten classroom back in Cicero, IL, but I knew my days were about to get much more interesting (or long) very soon. 

As an elementary school teacher for 3 years, I considered myself an expert on children. I had a degree to prove it. I knew the traits that translated to classroom success and the ones that, well, were fun to have but weren't exactly college scholarship magnets. 

As we made our way home, I turned to Todd in complete sincerity and stammered, "What if the baby wants to be an artist?"  
He didn't understand the question.  

"You know, like if she's artsy, like an actor or musician or painter? What are we going to do then?"
Still nothing. He blinked. Crickets may have chirped.

I said, "I don't know how to handle someone who's success hinges on whether or not people 'get them'. Seems like it's not a real job, you know?  I mean, being a grown up means having some kind of measurable success, right?"
Todd shrugged.  Probably the safest way to end that hormone-driven conversation.  (And evidence that he did not share my concern.)

About a week later Madeline Grace arrived.  It took about a year and a half, but I slowly felt my worries were being realized. She embraced activities like drawing, painting, singing, and dancing. These are not negative or unusual childhood behaviors, obviously. But the way she flourished at them gave me pause. 

Madeline, shortly after her first birthday.

Unquantifiable artistic talent was my biggest fear. Not illness or accident. Not being gay. Not atheism. Not tattoos or purple hair. Not an unplanned pregnancy. I know that my faith and family can weather all those things. I most feared her being misunderstood or not celebrated for her uniqueness. 

And honestly, feeling like she's not being understood has always been a meltdown trigger.  We've been hearing "You just don't understand!" from her for years, and she's not even 10 yet. 

So I started thinking back to my own school days. I wondered...that smug kid who always knew the answers in fifth grade? I could not remember his name.  The girl who could draw people in a way I'd never seen before or since?  Googled her just the other day. 

I went to junior high and high school with a girl that became a real-life opera singer.  I have several other former classmates that have done serious work in clothing design and painting and music. I remember these people. Name of my class valedictorian? No idea. And that's really saying something, because I attended school with some very talented people. 

My point is this: the arts inspire. They are memorable. And they can be blended beautifully with our everyday careers to make something ordinary into extraordinary, what we might call success. 

Fast forward almost 10 years from that car ride home from the OBGYN's office.  My job now is full-time stay-at-home mom and very part-time substitute teacher.  Not a lot of data by which to measure success there. {If I were still teaching, I might be worried about how states are working to make test scores a major factor in determining a teacher's success. But I digress...}

My husband's job as a pastor is also hard to deem as "successful"; It's more like effective or ineffective. People don't always understand why we would choose such professions, why we would willingly put ourselves in situations where we'd be criticized or unappreciated or misunderstood. I'd argue that it's really not like that, that the good almost always outweighs the bad.  Teaching and pastoring are equal parts art and skill. They are never boring.

I realized that we all possess traits and talents that others just won't understand. Its not up to the world to understand us, its our job to find our voice. 

God has given Madeline, and all of us, specific gifts.  These gifts make us who we are and will help us realize our potential.  I've always told my girls that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, and I really believe that as long as they are using their gifts and graces they'll go far.  Our careers don't have to be either/or.  They can be both/and. The joining of God-given talent and hard work are where amazing things happen. 

So I don't want Maddie to be an artist. She can be anything. I want her to use her creativity in a career that challenges and inspires her. Who knows what that might look like 10 years from now. But I may still try to steer Maddie into college instead of--no, in addition to--her improv class. 

What was the strangest thing you worried about while pregnant? What do you worry most about your child's future?
How do you measure success for your children?  For yourself?  

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