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When Lizzie’s 6th grade band teacher told me she was a
“natural “ on the alto sax, I dreamed of her soloing at the next concert, and
auditioning for the statewide band, and taking a year off after high school to
tour Europe with equally talented musicians. When her middle school track coach raved about her discus-throwing
abilities, I imagined the Olympics. When
her 10th grade culinary teacher said she had real promise in the kitchen, I
envisioned the extraordinary restaurant she would open (becoming the youngest
chef to win the James Beard Award, of course) or the cliché-busting bakery she
would start. It would be called The Smart Cookie, and people would line up to
buy bakers’ dozen boxes of hazelnut coconut bars and malted milk cappuccino
crumbles, and the brand would go national and then international and she’d be a
regular on Rachael Ray until she got her own show on OWN.
OK, so you get the idea. I can—I do—get carried away
imagining various amazing futures for my full-of-potential daughter. This is good. And bad.
It’s good because it shows how much I admire her talents,
which are so very different from my own. And it’s good because it keeps me excited and hopeful during times when
things are not going that well. By
“things” I mean our roller-coaster relationship. Or Lizzie’s super casual attitude toward homework resulting in one of
those letter grades on a report card that would be admirable as a bra size but
not so admirable as an evaluation of mastery of geometry. And my enthusiasm and dreamy investment in
the possibilities of her future also means I am alert to and excited about
opportunities that might fuel that future: lessons offered by a jazz musician,
training with a former NCAA record-holder, an internship at an artisanal
And then there’s the flip side.
It’s a burden to have potential.
It's the overeager mother side. The "jump into your life and take over" side. The "I’m more invested in your future than you are" side because ... oh right: You’re a teenager, and you’re thinking about your boyfriend and how cool it is to be driving and that ridiculous cat-chasing-laser-pointer YouTube video everyone’s talking about. You’re not thinking about creating the Smart Cookie brand or winning gold in Rio in 2016. That’s me. Those are my dreams.
It’s not like I don’t have dreams of my own. In fact, I am actively pursuing dreams of my own. I am not trying to live through my daughter. Really, I am not. But I can’t help getting excited when I see her potential. I can’t help swelling with pride when someone else takes note of her potential. I have to learn to enjoy those moments without inserting myself into them, without taking up too much space in my daughter’s full-of-promise life. I have to leave her room, vast and endless acres of room, to dream her own dreams.
And now, a word from the teenage daughter:
I don’t usually read my mom’s posts before I write my own, but this time I did. And I’m kind of
glad. I’m glad because she’s admitting
that she can get overexcited about stuff in my life. I mean more excited than me, which feels
weird. But it’s cool to know that she
cares as much as she does. I just wish
she’d keep it to herself sometimes, if you know what I mean.
Also, when I read her post and the good and the bad of
potential, I realized that I feel exactly the same way but for different
reasons. The “good” goes like this. I love it when people say I’m great! Ha ha. Seriously, who wouldn’t get a big boost of self-esteem if a teacher or a
coach praises you and thinks you’ll go far? Who wouldn’t feel proud? Parents are always telling you how great you
are (except when you screw up), so you expect that. When other people say something, you really
So that’s the good. Here’s the “bad.” It’s a burden
to have potential. It piles on
expectations. So, like what my mom wrote
about with my track coach in middle school, he thought I was amazing. (And I
was district champ all three years in middle school.) He piled on these hopes that I would be the
one to break this 30-year school record for disc. And I mean piled on. In our last meet in 8th grade, he
was so intense that it pretty much freaked me out. I didn’t break the record.
Or my culinary teacher. I think more because of his praise than because of my own true interest,
I took culinary arts classes at the local community college. I got a job on the line in the kitchen of a
local restaurant. And you know
what? I didn’t like the classes and I
didn’t like working in the kitchen. I’m
glad I found that out. But I’m just
saying that it was this idea that someone thought I had “potential” that pushed
me in that direction.
Now I’m interning at a charity that helps feed the homeless
in my town. My two bosses say I have
great “potential” in social work or psychology. Maybe I do. I don’t know. But right now I want this experience to be interesting
and useful and fun—and not a burden.