Picking out activities for our son has been an interesting experience. While the process should be similar to holding a magnifying glass up to our child, to enlarge and expand his own interests, at times it’s been more like holding up a mirror, reflecting back our own wishes and hopes as parents.
In our son’s six years, he’s tried several things: soccer, dance, art, and archery. Each was tried for different reasons. Soccer because it seemed to be “what kids do” and there was some talk about kids doing it at his school. We tried it for one season, but the schedule was inconsistent, and our son didn’t know any of the kids on the team. So, there wasn’t much of a draw for him. Then then was dance. We’ll be the first to admit it was because my wife and I are huge So You Think You Can Dance fans. We’d show him very cool clips from SYTYCD, and fawn over the performances. “Why don’t we try dance?” we asked. We did, and he was good at it (and the only boy, which garnered special attention by the teachers), but he certainly wasn’t crazy about it, and only lasted a few months.
Then there was art. It was that one true thing that we saw flowing from him naturally. He’s the type of kid who can set himself up on the floor with construction paper, pens, markers, stapler (always the stapler), and sit there for hours drawing elaborate ninja scenes or making paper houses for his My Little Ponies. We know he loves art, and so started with classes. One type was one-on-one classes with a local woman, and he did really well. One was a group lesson with a gruff guy, which was a disaster. But, he really stuck with the first one, and seemed to like it. We’re happy that he found that one thing that will likely be a staple in his life, and that we’ve helped him tap into something he loves.
Then there’s archery. That was all me. That was my mirror. We started out super casual on that one. I took him to a local archery range, with this great owner who runs kids programs and would set up balloons for my son when he started out. My son took a liking to it at first, which was great. We went on a regular basis, just him and me, and made a ritual out of it for the summer. Then the complaints started.
“Do you want to go to archery this Saturday?” I’d ask, barely containing my glee.
“Uhhh (pause), yeeeeaaahhhh,” came a very drawn-out, non-committal yes.
That was all I needed. He technically said yes, so we were going. That was how I initially approached it. But once we’d go, he’s start getting tired after 10 minutes, saying his arms were sore. So, he’s sit out, I’d shoot, and we’d call it a day. Eventually, I started to be more realistic about it. I would try in a very calculated sort of way to be nonchalant about it, almost like asking a girl out for a date in high school.
“So there’s this thing, this, archery thing this weekend. And, ya know, if you’re not doing anything, I thought we could check it out.”
“Uhhhh,” (it hurt just like a high school girl’s rejection).
“Nah, that’s cool, that’s cool. Maybe some other time.” So, I started taking this very hands-off approach, and he backed off for a while. By that time, I had really gotten into it, and had even bought a new bow for myself, so I went alone a few times.
And then, his friend was looking for lessons.
His friend’s dad was talking about how his son was talking about archery all the time, and really wanted some lessons, so I was super eager to jump in. I offered to bring him the next time we went. My son, of course, renewed his interest as well. So, one weekend, we met his friend and his dad at the range, and I played the part of teacher, getting the kid set up and showing him the basics, while my son shot by his side. It was so funny, because my son’s friend was enamored. He just loved every aspect. He watched me shoot with fascination. He was giddy to shoot. He retrieved his arrows with glee. His enthusiasm was infectious, and my son jumped right on that train. I felt pretty cool.
Then the most interesting thing happened. I wished that my son had this kid’s enthusiasm. I wished he was the one who was fascinated, hungry to learn more. That made me feel guilty. I realized that I had really been trying to shape him into a certain mold. A mold in which I could be cool, in which I could be the teacher. But, that’s just not the case, and I have to accept it. I know that I have to back off. Perhaps his friend’s passion will ignite something in him. Perhaps it’s a blessing of sorts, which will bring my son and I together around this common interest. But if it doesn’t I have to remember to just let it go, just like with dance. Let him explore the things he loves, while I carve out a little time for the things that I like. I never want him to feel beholden to some interest, just because his parents like it.