When my sister and I were in elementary and high school, my dad attended every parent-teacher interview we had. ALL of them. We were both good students, and there was no reason for him to take up a slot when there was nothing that the teachers needed to discuss, but that didn’t dissuade my dad. Nope. He wanted interviews with every single one of them.
Any given teacher, any given semester: “You’re getting A’s in this course. I don’t need to see your parents”
Me (and my sister), every course, every semester: “Yeah, I don’t think you understand. You can give my dad an interview time, or he’ll just hang around in the doorway, staring at you until you invite him in. Either way, he’s coming to see you.”
Not just that, though. My parents came to every recital, performance, exhibition, fair, tournament, and speech that my sister and I were part of. They loved wandering the gallery to see my sister’s work up on the walls. They gleefully sat in thousands of folding chairs to listen to choir concerts and school musicals and piano and dance recitals. The applauded our efforts in science fairs and invention fairs. They were superduper supportive of everything we every did. When I was 30 and decided I wanted to learn to tap dance, they showed up to my first dance recital in half a lifetime. When my gentleman associate decided, in his 40s, to go back to school, my parents were in the auditorium at his graduation bursting with pride for him, too. My son played hockey for 12 years, and they attended tournaments and games in frozen arenas all over Ontario. When Child was an army cadet, my parents showed up for every ceremonial review for 7 years, and for summer training graduation parade 4 summers in a row. They attended Scottish fairs to see him with his Highland Pipes and Drums band(s). It’s an understatement to say that we are supported in everything that any of their progeny decided to do, with gusto. It didn’t wane when my parents got older and didn’t *have* to go.
Their pervasive presence could have felt embarrassing, but it wasn’t. Everyone knew my parents. Friends I’ve had since pre-school still ask about my parents, and call them Mr. and Mrs. T. Their support of my things also meant support of many of their things, too.
I read an article once about how a woman didn’t watch her son play hockey. She dropped him off, she picked him up, but she didn’t enter the arena. Not for practices, for home games, for away games. Her point was that her presence did not make her kid a better player. In fact, her kid didn’t even know she was there (or not). I asked my husband (a graduate of minor hockey all the way to Jr. C, and including more than a decade of beer league and shinny as a grown ass man), if you hear the people in the stands when you’re on the ice. He said that mostly, no, you don’t.
So why sit on frozen bleachers in unheated arenas in the dead of winter if your kid isn’t paying attention to you? The woman in the article abdicated responsibility for attending beyond delivering her child to the appointed arena at the appointed time. That felt harsh to me. Unfathomable. How could you not want to watch what your kid brought to the ice. And that’s the crux of it, I think. You don’t attend to be seen, you attend so you can see your kid. You can see what their brain and their creativity and their tenacity and their muscles and their coordination and their skill and their dedication have grown.
When my $dayJob first announced that they would be participating in the Bring In Your Parents, it was pitched as an opportunity to help your parents understand what it is you do, and thank them for their support in getting you there. I mentioned offhandedly that my parents would DEFINITELY be in – they ate this stuff up. They came to everything. My colleagues were bemused by this. It seemed like many didn’t have the hardcore fanatic cheer squad that we have. And even if they did as kids, that faded as adults.
I’ve been thinking about that. Especially in light of the Everyone Gets A Trophy world that we live in now.
Tonight, my sister-in-law gave us a last minute heads-up that my nephew was playing hockey nearby. My gentleman associate asked if I wanted to go. Heck yeah I do! So we went. My inlaws, freshly returned from a month long trip, were also there. My F-I-L LOVES being in the arena. You can hear him cheering and chirping at the refs above the din of the general arena noise. I thought about what brought us all there, and what brought my parents to everything they have attended over the years. It’s because we’re fans. We go because we’re excited to see what our kids have achieved. How their skills are developing. We go because we love watching them take flight in trajectories of their own choosing.
It’s good to help develop resiliency and self management skills by letting kids try on different hobbies and extra curriculars. It’s good as adults to advocate and participate in life-long learning. Why is it so much easier to attend and cheer kids on, but not colleagues, peers, friends, and family? I just sat at my nephew’s hockey game. Why have I never sat at a friend’s slow-pitch game? Why does it feel weird to say “Hey friends, My Gentleman Associate and I have been taking ballroom dancing lessons – want to come see a showcase of what we’ve been doing?” My GA would be horrified to have to dance in front of anyone – even years ago when we were actively learning. And it’s not like our friends and family (beyond my parents) wouldn’t have shown up for something like that.
I feel like we stop inviting people into our accomplishments as we grow older because it’s easy to feel disappointed when someone looks at something you’re really proud of and it doesn’t seem like big deal to them. During one of our moves, I was packing up a few trophies I had won in highschool – Best Student Director at the Sears Drama Festival, and a Cardinal Newman Players award. They were two small trophies with the comedy/tragedy masks instead of a gold athlete. My gentleman associate, who had all kinds of trophies and medals from hockey tournaments, was over the trophy-as-accomplishment part of his life. He left all his awards behind. So I felt silly clinging to these two awards a decade after I got them. But after they were gone, I felt (and still feel) a little resentful that I felt… I don’t know what…about these trophies, so I gave them up because my GA had given up his. While his no longer meant anything to him, mine did to me, and now I regret the decision to get rid of them.
I think we all have the moments when we look at the daily grind of our lives and wonder what we’ve accomplished. I have a particularly ferocious strain of Imposter Syndrome that shows up periodically. We learn to hide our light under the proverbial bushel. It helps if we can look back at the touchstones of Things We’ve Done to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. Sometimes, those touchstones are in the form of a drama award from a lifetime ago, but sometimes they are about the need to be witnessed by others. As a kid it’s harder to appreciate those tangible touchstones, but it’s easy to have an adult tell you stories about yourself. As you become an adult, as you move from your parents’ home to your first home-away-from-home, you purge the touchstones that you don’t want to box up and move. And to compound that, it can feel harder to request an audience. It feels embarrassing to say “Come support me. Come be as proud of me as I am!” Because how big does your ego have to be to want (NEED!) others to stroke it all the time? And what if they aren’t as impressed with you as you are? Then your embarrassment maybe mutates to shame, and no one wants that. No, indeed.
So yeah, for kids, it’s easy to show up. You know their schedules, you distribute it to others who will be interested in showing up. And you show up for the joy of being there. For adults, we’re OK calling ourselves fans of elite performers – strangers who are athletes, musicians, artists, actors. But we water that down to just being well-wishers of our peers, our siblings, our friends. Someone tells us that they did a thing – too late to witness it – and we say “Nicely done”. And don’t get me wrong – that’s good too. But I want to live in a world where I can go to a friend’s slow-pitch game and cheer wildly, and it won’t embarrass them. I want to go see a friend at Open Mike night or get all dressed up and go to a gallery where their artwork is displayed for the world to see. Or just be intensely present for whatever skills and hobbies my friends are learning and sharing with the world (however big or small that world happens to be).
So how is this Advent related, you ask?
Two of my favourite Christmas songs are the Little Drummer Boy (various artists, but specifically For King and Country and Dandy Warhols – underpants dance notwithstanding) and The Friendly Beasts. This latter one I knew first (like, 40 years ago) as a book by Tomie dePaola (my absolute favourite author/illustrator). In The Little Drummer Boy, the narrator speaks of not having a gift to bring the Christ Child, so he gives him the only thing he has – a song. He played his best for Him. He shared his gift. In the Friendly Beasts, the narrators are animals who speak of the humble gifts they gave the Child – donkey carried Mary to Bethlehem, the cow gave her manger, the sheep gave his wool, the doves cooed. There are two other books that I also love, similar to the Friendly Beasts: When it Snowed that Night (Norma Farber) and We Were There: A Nativity Story (Eve Bunting)
In these stories, they are proud of the gifts they have to give. It’s not lost on me that the human (drummer boy) starts feeling ashamed of not having something to give, but the animals know their gifts, and share them. Would that we are all as good at knowing what our gifts are and being proud to give them to the world.
And so, friends, during Advent, may I find more ways to cheer those who share their talents with the world. May I take good inventory and feel the value of my own gifts, skills, and talents.