Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vicarious Living

I often wonder about the parents of famous athletes. Did Venus and Serena Williams really love tennis at such an early age? At age 2, did Tiger Woods eagerly ask to play golf the way Emery asks for "bob-a-booboo" (Bob the Builder)? Did Wayne Gretzky ever regret learning to skate at age 2 and being thrust into the limelight? Young children have no idea what they want to do with their lives 20 years in the future. Heck, most don't know what they want to do tomorrow. And so, I've always thought badly of the parents of young athletes or artists. I assumed that the parents pushed their children into the sport or activity, either to live vicariously through them or for financial reasons.

And then, Jamie started dancing around the house. When Jamie dances, he has a style and grace that doesn't match his 4 years. He naturally holds his hands in ballet positions and pirouettes across the living room. I look at Jamie and I see the potential for a career. I also see pure joy on his face when he dances: he loves it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I took ballet for 6 years. I don't think I ever really loved it or had any desire to pursue it as a career. But, for six years I took classes, participated in recitals, and have fond memories of the experience.

And now the quandary.

I want to sign Jamie up for dance classes. I think he would really enjoy it. Maybe it would just be a fun thing for a few months or years as it was for me and my siblings. Maybe it would be the introduction to a future career. Maybe the Williams parents saw tennis as a way to keep their kids busy with something productive and Serena and Venus were just naturals. Maybe they worked hard to become good; pushed on by a father with selfish goals. Only they and their dad know the true story.

Maybe Walter Gretzky saw hockey as a way to run the energy out of his boys and Wayne just took to it. Or maybe he saw it as a way to get his sons off the farm. Again, that is between the Gretzkys.

But, the questions give me pause. Tanya Harding started skating at a young age, and we all know what happened to her. Did she just come from a dysfunctional family or was the pressure placed on a young child to succeed too great?

While I don't think I would overtly push Jamie to do something he doesn't want to, I can see the potential for unintended pressure to be placed. "Oh you're so good at that" can be translated in a kid's mind to "I have to stay with this to make mom proud."

On the other hand, maybe some kids have natural gifts and they will pursue them with or without parental support. Dorthy Hamill couldn't get her mom to wake up one morning at 4:30 and take her to skate practice. She began walking the 10 miles to the rink. She was 12.

I have asked Jamie if he is interested in dance and he seems to be. At first he told me, "boys can't do ballet." I showed him a video of Baryshnikov. He seemed quite excited about the idea after that. If he takes lessons, I will have to monitor my enthusiasm and see if it matches his own. If not, a few weeks of lessons never hurt anyone. And, hopefully, no matter where he goes, he will always dance for his mom in the living room.

1 comment:

  1. When Jamie was here a few weeks ago, he watched Dancing with the Stars with me. He was totally enthralled with it. He told me that he wanted to take ballet lessons. Even if it never becomes a career, I think a few lessons early on can give a child a base from which they can learn that they can move their body, have grace and be fit. When your brother took ballet lessons, he was the only boy in the entire school. He hated it for that reason. But I think he liked the lessons themselves. I never had to push him out the door when it was time to go.