When my sister and I were little, we watched our mom struggle to support us...and she succeeded. That was a powerful early lesson in having very little, working hard, and moving up. My sister applied it to her dream of being a professional ballerina. I applied it early in life to academic success. As adults, she and I have internalized that lesson and benefited from it enormously.
My own children, however, haven't seen their parents struggle much. About the closest they've come is watching their dad train for Ironman triathlons, which has taught them that their dad is, well, sort of crazy. They've also never scrimped and saved to buy clothes or searched for lunch money in the sofa.
One night, we were watching The Big Bang Theory, an episode that showed Sheldon's apartment in the early years. As with many young adult's apartments, the furniture had been purchased in the lawn-and-garden section of the home improvement store. Nick said, "I'm never going to live in a crappy place like that!"
George and I laughed out loud and assured him he most certainly would live in a place like that--if he was lucky--because we had lived in a place much worse when we were in college and in the immediate years after. Sheldon's place was palatial compared to our first apartment. We explained to him that's how most people start off.
He doesn't believe us yet. But he will.
Oh, yes. He will.
It's hard for parents to teach kids the importance of starting with nothing and working hard when the parents have already achieved a modicum of success. George and I had been married for thirteen years before we had Nick. Both boys have always had a comfortable home, well furnished and spacious, with ample food on the table. Abundance is taken for granted.
Nick is slowly learning that hard work pays off. The thrill of being in a musical last spring taught him that working hard to learn his songs, dances, and single line of dialog was worth it. He even admitted that he shouldn't have complained about hours of tedium in rehearsals...it was all necessary for the end thrill. Now, he's got lines and two parts in the high-school musical and is joyfully applying himself. Academically, he's made the same commitment to hard work that I made. His last report card came up all A's.
Recently, Jack's band teacher told me that Jack wasn't playing at the same level as the other trumpet players. He didn't feel that Jack would be successful in the junior high school band, not without significant progress. This didn't surprise me because I've listened to the kid practice and it's, well, uncomfortable.
When I shared the band teacher's opinion with Jack, he said, "It's my dream to be in the 7th grade band." I explained he would have to make serious progress and work very, very hard if he wanted to make that dream come true. The next class with his private trumpet teacher went very well. "I think Jack has had a breakthrough," Jay said.
Surprisingly, Jack approached his school band teacher and told him about the dream. The teacher told him the same thing I told him: he has to work harder to achieve it.
A few nights ago, George and I listened to Jack practice and could actually identify most of the songs he played. That's a first! At dinner last night, Jack asked how he was doing, and we told him that he was playing better but needed to keep working hard.
George said, "You can't snap your fingers and be a great trumpet player."
Jack replied, "I can't snap my fingers at all." And he proceeded to demonstrate.
Idiom and autism rarely understand each other. Nevertheless, I hope Jack will stick with this dream and make it happen. Righteously practicing trumpet for 20 minutes a day is not exactly the same struggle as eating ramen noodles seven days a week or building end tables from cinder blocks, but it can't hurt.
After all, he has a dream and literally can't snap his fingers to make it happen.