Not an audition

Another holiday-related post, apparently…

Every December my mom’s side of our family gathers around my aunt’s piano to sing carols.  When my cousins and I were young, the gathering was Christmas Eve; my mom, her sisters, and each of their families.  Now these families are stretched thinner at the holidays, with several spouses’ worth of sharing to be done.  So we do this, early in the month; we sing together.

It’s one of my favorite days of the year and there’s only one little thing I wish we could do away with.  Every year, without fail, at least one person has to declare somewhere in the course of the singing that they “can’t.”  Can’t sing.

I’m used to it, and I get it.  I really do.  There are so many things I wish I could do.  And furthermore, I’m not an accomplished singer.  Fortunately, this is not an audition for a professional choir.  But early in our lives, so often, the lines between what is an audition and what is not get blurred.  And because we’re young, and the young learn languages quickly and trustingly whether they serve or not, we start saying things like “can’t” and “not good at.”  We  learn to live our lives by these words.

To some extent, it helps us choose from among the many many pursuits available to us.  But also, it drives us back.  It says to us “you – with the lousy voice, with the weak jump shot, with the low IQ – stay home.”

I’d venture to say it’s impossible to keep this force entirely at bay.  It’s in the fabric of a culture resting on the tenets of competition.  For good or ill. Whether we think of our individual selves as competitive or not.  (To hope they’ll go to college, to hope they’ll be chosen for jobs; these are all wins…)

What we can do is be careful with the language of “can’t” and of “not good enough.”  We can hear ourselves saying “I’m not an artist,” “I’ve never been good with numbers,” “I can’t cook.”  And once we hear it, and hear how much a part of our own realities it is, we can begin to say different things. Because what we say to children, about them, is certainly potent, but not nearly as potent as what they hear us say to ourselves. So much more, they do as we do, not as we say.  The good news is that they keep listening, beyond their toddling years, even into their teens, even when they’re rolling their eyes. It’s always worth it to say new things when we realize that old ones are out of synch with what we want to convey, with the kind of experience of being alive and participating that we want to make possible.

One Response

  1. How very very true! Children will do as we do and copy all of our actions, feelings and esteem! I think if you truly want a child to be happy, then you must first be happy with yourself!

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