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Anything is possible if you just believe...or is it?Posted Friday, September 14, 2012, at 4:08 PM
During our opening session at co-op yesterday, one of the moms told an inspirational story of a Paralympic athlete Matt Stutzman, born with no arms. Not only did he win the gold, competing against other athletes with arms, but he holds a world record for the longest accurate shot even among non-disabled archers. The point of this story was clear: if he can overcome his disadvantage, then the rest of us can do anything if we set our minds to it.
That got me thinking, because lately I've been wrestling with the issue of making comparisons between my children. My youngest son, Timothy, is reading so much better than two of his sisters did at his age. In his reader, there are still pencil marks from where I had divided the chapters into small chunks for his sisters because learning to read was a real struggle for them. Timothy breezes through a whole chapter each day. On one hand I don't want to compare his progress to that of his big sisters. I don't want them to say, "I must be a horrible reader--I might as well give up." On the other hand, I don't want to be one of those people who are so gung ho about making everyone feel good about themselves that they wipe out any sense of accomplishment for those who are really excelling.
Another example is Jay, my oldest. He loves music and wants to be a professional musician, but can't carry a tune in the proverbial bucket. Coming from a musical family myself, I've had to come to terms with the fact that my own kids do not have perfect pitch and that we'll never be able to sing "Handel's Messiah" together as my family did when I was a kid. He has taught himself to play the guitar well, but a career in music is hard to attain even for those with gorgeous voices. Should I encourage him in his dreams when there are so many other things he'd be great at?
Up until this year, our family has enjoyed watched America's Got Talent. (Since they made Howard Stern a judge we aren't watching it anymore, but that's another subject.) I've always cringed when the audience laughs and makes fun at contestants who are clueless about how terrible they are. I bet those contestants had well-meaning family members and friends who told them, "You are so great--you should be a professional." How cruel it is to let people believe they are good at something when they aren't! I keep hearing people say that "you can do anything if you just believe in yourself" but is that always true? For every child that wanted to be a superstar and did, there are many more that wanted to and couldn't. Not every child is going to grow up to be the President or win the Olympics. Wouldn't it be better to encourage them to reach for realistic goals instead of telling them they can reach the stars and setting them up for failure?
But then people like Matt Stutzman throw all of my logic right out the window. He joins a parade of others with impossible stories. The runner with no legs. The preacher who stuttered as a child. The deaf composer. Who am I to tell my child "You can't" when so many who shouldn't have been able to did?
Maybe kids need to believe they can do anything in order to have the courage to try. Maybe we need to help them understand that the road isn't going to be easy, especially if they are disadvantaged in some way. Maybe as parents we need to say, "Is that what you really want? Because if it is, you are going to have to work hard for it. It might come easy for some people, but it's not going to be easy for you. However, if you want it bad enough, you can overcome the obstacles and do it anyway. And if you don't quite reach the stars, at least you will know you've reached higher than you would have if you had not reached at all."
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