Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's OK to just be OK

I've missed you all! Our computer is still dead, but I can get some library time every now and then to get online, so I'm going to try to take advantage of it to get caught up on your posts and add some of my own when I can.

I admit, I used to sneer at the state slogan "Oklahoma is OK." Way to embrace mediocrity, right? Perhaps I wasn't the only derisive one out there--it was changed to "Native America." But, like many of us, I pursued perfectionism. I still slip into it some, but I am learning to let go of the pressure. I want my children to know that it really is OK to just be OK at things, and not be perfect. (Be honest now--do you know anyone who has achieved perfection? I don't, certainly not me.)

Lately I have run into several parents who have heightened my awareness of this whole issue. Ariana started taking tumbling classes as her birthday present. She loves it! It is the first time she has enjoyed a class on her own so much. At the second class, she was practicing cartwheels, handstands, forward and backward somersaults and flips, the splits, backbends and many other things that I could never do in this world. Of course, the cartwheel wobbled and didn't land anywhere close to vertical. The flips and much of the rest consisted of the teacher positioning her and walking her body through each part. Nothing screamed future Olympian, yet Ariana beamed with pleasure as she tried each one.

Another little girl was clearly far ahead of the rest of the class. She was really good! Yet, as I listened to the girl's mother, I began to feel sorry for her. The girl was about 5 years old, and as she executed a very good--but not exactly perfect--cartwheel, the mother sighed in exasperation and said that she had been videotaping her daughter and showing her that her knees weren't always perfectly straight, but her daughter still made mistakes sometimes. She went on to say that she was so relieved that they had an opening in the Saturday class, because after a full day of kindergarten her daughter had not been doing well with two classes in the evenings, but she had dance or other classes every night and Saturday was the only time they could fit this in.

I was kind of glad that the mom wasn't looking at me, because I am sure my face reflected my judgmental horror. I wanted to ask, "Does she ever have any free time? Does she ever get to do anything just because she wants to? She is FIVE YEARS OLD!" I could imagine the poor little girl coming home after a day full of school and extracurricular classes that rivaled any adult's day at work, hopefully eating and then trying to do homework (and don't even get me started at some of the stories I've heard recently about the homework load for K5!), practice dance and tumbling (with videotapes to point out every flaw!), and what else? Falling asleep in the tub before catching a few hours of sleep?!

OK, I realize that I've been very hard on the mom, who, it is to be hoped, merely wants to provide her daughter with access to several enjoyable and beneficial activities. I've also used more exclamations than strictly necessary. Yet I truly was aghast at the way this girl's day was crammed so full of activity, and wondered when or if relationships or relaxation had any place at all.

The next few days I had several similar encounters, and while the mom I described may be a bit over the top, she isn't alone. For several years I taught superkids like the little girl at one of the top private schools in the area. They were worried about their college schedules in fifth grade, already planning to sacrifice electives that they enjoyed for the ones that they needed to get ahead. I had a first grader who burst into tears when he forgot an accent mark. These kids had learned well that they needed to excel--in everything, all the time. They were very bright and amazingly successful, for the most part. Yet I believe the price was way too high.

Ariana is smart. She loves academics, just like Carlos and I. Homeschooling has caused me to seriously evaluate our goals for her. In the beginning, I was sure that unschooling wouldn't fit well for us. However, I decided to let this year be sort of an experiment, knowing that we could always change things that weren't working. While not perhaps strictly unschooling, we've been following Ariana's lead. I spent a lot of time inwardly gritting my teeth or biting my lips when she chose to play with Joel and Elena, or spend time cooking or do other things that seemed important to her. Even though I know that she is constantly learning, things like worksheets and standardized written work are just comfortable to me, you know? Yet, as I looked over the objectives for this state year by year, I realized that not only is she not falling behind, she is actually at least one year above grade level in all subjects, and further ahead than that in reading. If I were pushing, she would probably be further ahead, but to what purpose?

As I see her personality and confidence blossom, her sparkling enthusiasm in everything that she studies (she is obsessed with venomous animals at the moment, especially pit vipers) and the delight she has in spending time with all of us, I can't believe that we are missing out on anything important.

Sure, structure is good and all that. And sure, we should try to do well at the things we do. I also recognize that many kids are driven and motivated to succeed on their own, without parental pushing and prodding. But, what if, instead of focusing on achieving success in activities or even academics, we focused on successful relationships? What if we put the effort into enjoyment? Would we even know how? (Children are good teachers of this, if we let them teach us).

I think I've shared before my favorite quote by Jamie Buckingham, "Nothing is as important as wasting time with God." It really is OK if we are just OK at the activities in each day. We don't have to excel at everything we do. Sometimes, the best (or only) way to stay sane is to give ourselves permission to waste some time and enjoy those we love.


Blessed Mama said...

While I find this hard to put into practice, I completely agree!

dulce de leche said...

I find it hard to put into practice, too! That is one of the main reasons that I blog--to remind myself of the things that I want. I have always admired your family so much for the way that you guys spend so much time enjoying each other. You have so much fun. That is one of the things that I love about your blog and BusyMomma's--you guys inspire me to delight in my family like that.

Ms. Burrows said...

Absolutely. I'm still trying to convince my oldest DD this. I'm not really good at anything, so I've had a lifetime to practice mediocrity. It's something I'm perfect at. :-P