I said nothing at the time.

At a children’s birthday party, one mother announced her four-year-old son had asked for trumpet lessons. Several parents complimented the boy’s interest in music.

“No!” she responded. “I’m not listening to hours of trumpet practice! I told him he could learn the violin or piano.”

I felt terrible for the curious boy who was intrigued by a trumpet. The sound? The shine? The keys? Only he knew. Somehow he saw himself through that instrument, but when he asked for help from the most likely person, his mother threw a pie in his face.

She taught him his dreams had to be her dreams.

No matter their age, children know about their lives, their purpose. They feel the nudge pushing them a certain way. The dream might seem odd at the time. It isn’t.

When Maggie was in third grade, she wanted to learn to ice skate.

In North Carolina? I thought to myself. We weren’t even in the mountainous part of the state that got subzero temperatures. Where would I ever find a frozen surface?

Still, I realized something invisible tapped her shoulder. I considered her life as a Chinese adoptee. As a toddler, the one Chinese person she saw on television was Michelle Kwan. Maggie faithfully watched her compete in the Winter Olympics, imitating her movements across our carpet. Her Famous Americans report in first grade was on the champion figure skater. One Christmas I gave her a snow globe of Kwan.

Unlikely as it first seemed, the ice skating dream had been a long time coming. Every child wants to be like someone, and Maggie identified with the only Asian face she saw in a sea of white ones.

So I asked around, discovering an indoor court at the fairgrounds was frozen for several months each winter. Cliff and I signed her up for private lessons, not sure our athletically reluctant daughter understood what she was bargaining for.

Maggie took this seriously because it was her decision, not ours. She was intrinsically motivated to succeed, earning four badges from the Ice Skating Institute for mastering a series of skills. No one else could do that for her. Alone on the ice, she won, not ribbons or trophies, but personal success.

Awards end up in cardboard boxes.

Self-confidence lives forever.

And I saw hers in action on a particular Sunday afternoon when the arena was open to the public. A small girl wobbled along by herself in the crowd and fell. Indifferent people whizzed by the sprawled beginner who could not get her footing. But Maggie saw. Zipping along with more speed than usual, she wove through the crowd until she knelt beside the child and helped her reach the rail.

There was our daughter–all skating courage. For Maggie, it was never about costumes or competition. None of that interested her. But confident skating allowed her to test herself in another way, a generous way.

That’s when I understood her dream. Ice was her way of taking an inevitable first journey on her own.

Children need to feel brave.

That’s the point of parenting–helping children test their strength in ways we might not choose. We’re simply required to believe. I hadn’t bargained for the countless cold hours I’d spend sitting in a dimly lighted rink, but I did it. Because the dream inspired her heart, it inspired mine.

Parents need to think of their child’s dreams as a boat for crossing precious early waters. Refuse to be like the mother at that birthday party who thoughtlessly sank her son’s ambition.

Instead, hand over a paddle.

Or trumpet. Or ice skates.

Then stand back.

This isn’t about you.



8 thoughts on “What Your Children Wish You Knew

  1. As a kid, I always wanted to learn to play the piano, but my parents thought I was more a clarinet guy. I didn't like the clarinet, but I suffered through five years of various school bands till I went to high school. I still wanted to learn to play the piano. No support – after all I had quit the clarinet. I saw it differently. This is a wonderful reminder to parents that we ought to be facilitators of dreams, not agents of nightmare and regret. Great post Karen.


  2. The finer gifts parents bequeath selflessly are without number. The others are mostly gifts for the parents themselves.

    I've added this from a reader who had trouble getting the system to publish the comment. (Pesky technology!)


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