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Friday, October 19, 2007

The Case for Mediocrity

I'd say chances are pretty good that none of my children will ever be the absolute best at anything. I'm not raising Michael Jordan, Luciano Pavarotti, Marc Jacobs or Bill Gates, as far as I know. It's highly unlikely that anyone I know will ever be the best at anything, or even the best at something in my small town. And I probably wouldn't be friends with them if they were.

I want my children to know that "best" doesn't need to be on the radar. I want them to do what they want to do and be good enough. It's easy for many of us to be paralyzed by an inability to be the best. I wonder sometimes how my life would have been different if I had sought out "good enough" sooner. I might have majored in dance in college, without worrying that I was too fat or not good enough. I might have applied for more jobs I thought I wouldn't get. I might have been more creative.

Creativity is hard to achieve. When people say, "I'm very creative," what does that mean? What gives someone the confidence to believe that about themselves? And how can I give my children that confidence? At one time, I was a math nerd. I still find myself wanting to quantify things that can't be quantified. Can creativity be defined by how much you get paid for it? If so, I'm not creative. Blogging and cooking are about the only things I do that could be considered creative and I'm definitely not getting paid (although I will accept donations. Buy me this. Please!) Can it be defined by sheer volume? If that's the case, I'm totally creative. I cook and blog plenty. Do other people have to compliment my writing or my cooking? It helps, so don't be shy. Or is it as simple as believing that I'm creative?

My husband is a tennis player. He loves to play and he plays a lot. I hope this doesn't hurt his feelings, but he's no Roger Federer. He's not even Marat Safin. But he takes his game seriously. When we go out of town, he tries to find time to hit with a pro. When he has a free afternoon, he closes the office early and hits with a friend or takes a lesson. Nothing puts him in a better mood; when given the chance to play, his little face lights up like Crepes Suzette. He thinks of himself as a tennis player, so he is one.

If you're confident, you can appreciate others who are better without letting it change the way you feel about yourself. My husband loves to watch professional tennis and I'm pretty sure it doesn't make him feel like he shouldn't bother playing. As much as he likes to win, he also likes playing with people who are better than he is. One of the things I'm most proud of in my children is their ability to acknowledge greatness and still be proud of their own work. They'll come home from school telling me what a great artist some kid is and show me the art they did themselves with pride. My son O. has played soccer for five years. During that time, he has scored exactly one goal. In part, it's because he usually plays defense, but it's also because he isn't the most aggressive or skilled person on the field, plain and simple. But he loves the game and he's part of a team, coached by a great guy who understands the value of teamwork. I'm learning from my children. I'm learning to do things that I enjoy, without comparing myself to other people. I think it's working.

The other day at Yoga, I realized that I enjoy it much more now that it's not as easy for me as it once was. One of the other ladies in class, C., told us a great story. She sometimes brings her ex-boyfriend to class with her, which I find odd, but only because I'm so psycho that I managed to alienate all my exes completely. In fact, I'm pretty sure most of them won't even claim me as an ex. Lucky for me, my husband is man enough to tough it out. Anyhow, after C. brought him to class for the first time, he called one of their mutual friends to gloat, "I beat C. at Yoga." We were all cracking up, which is a great start to a class. I have to laugh at myself when I fall over trying to do some ridiculous pose. I look forward to Yoga so much more now than when I could do it all; learning that a minute shift will change the feeling of a pose is such a great feeling. And I like working at something that will never be finished, because I'll never be late.

It's not that I don't believe in being competitive. I do, but only to the extent that it makes you better, if you want to be better. I think the joke nemesis is a great way to demonstrate this to children. My dad is good at a lot of things, but playing tennis and selling real estate are his two primary skills. For each of those , he had a joke nemesis, someone who was as good as or a little bit better than he was. In tennis, it was his friend Clinch. From a young age, we knew that Clinch was the man to beat but, win or lose, Dad never went nuts about it*. In real estate, it was Whit and, as far as I know, still is. We knew Dad wanted to beat Clinch and Whit, but we also knew that they were his friends and nice guys. Ergo, friendly competition is good, hating yourself or the other guy is not. My husband and I are working on choosing our joke nemeses, but I can't really do that in Yoga, so I may need to choose a nemesis in another arena.

Although I compliment my children regularly, I don't tell them they're the best. Eventually, probably sooner rather than later, they'd realize it just wasn't true. I'll ask them how they feel after a soccer game or if they enjoyed making a particular piece of art. And of course I tell them I love their work; I love everything they do**, because I'm their mother. I want them to find the things they love to do and do them. They can do their best, or not. I want them to do things to the extent that they want to do them, no more. And I don't ever want them to shy away from trying something new. In the words of a brilliant and misunderstood man:

Shyness is nice, and
Shyness can stop you
From doing all the things in life
You'd like to

So, if there's something you'd like to try
If there's something you'd like to try
Ask me, I won't say "no." How could I?

Yes, kids, your mediocre parents use Morrissey to communicate with you. Good luck!

Namasté, y'all!


*The only time he ever went nuts over sports, that I remember, was the year that his beloved Citadel Bulldogs beat the Gamecocks at football. If you're not from here, you can never understand what this meant to a former cadet. It was awesome.

**That's not strictly true. I so totally didn't love it when O. and his friend tracked dog poop into my brand new car. I should have taken the $75 I paid to have it cleaned out of his college fund. Did I mention that I was pregnant at the time? I should have tacked on $25 for pain and suffering.

I also didn't love it when one of my children (name omitted to protect the gross) pooped in my car while wearing boxers. The poop fell out of the boxers and the child in question tried to clean it up. That time, I wasn't pregnant, so I went to the do it yourself car wash and went nuts. I used about twenty dollars worth of quarters on various cleaners and air fresheners. The car still smelled of poo. I called my husband and told him the car was totalled and we would need a new one. I checked one more time and found a dry, flattened turd in my Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits CD case. I chucked that and all was good. Instead of buying a new car, I bought a new CD. I couldn't get that mad, really, because it was kind of my fault. I was inside talking to my aunt, keys in hand, and I used the clicker to set off the horn; I literally scared the crap out of him. I apologized profusely.

Love my kids, hate poop.

1 comment:

EK said...

Omg I am so related to you. I wrote this. In my mind. Over a few years. Without the kids factor, but still. So glad that my parenting theories have been put to the test and seem to be working out.