Friday, March 6, 2015

Of Dreams and Snapped Fingers

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 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.


  1. it is a huge gift to our kids for parents to set back and let kids fail or succeed based on their own effort. loved this post

  2. I've told my newly engaged son that I'm glad they won't have too much to start with. A couple that has to work together will value what they have at every level.

  3. My grandson is learning this a bit at 17. Last summer he worked for a landscaping company and then he bought a car. Sending him gas money now and then is greatly appreciated. His entire college tuition has been saved for him by his parents but since he's planning on going into the medical profession, there will be sacrifices along the way. The long, long way.

    1. Gifts of cash from grandparents are always appreciated! George and I ate on the $100 a month his grandmother sent him while we were in college after marrying.

  4. Interesting post. My daughter is dating a very nice guy but he's a "trust fund baby". My daughter is a very hard working gal and successful in her career. It took many years (she's only 28) to get to where she is but she worked for all she has. She is having a hard time dealing with someone who has no ambition to do anything. He has some lofty goals but unwilling to put the time in working his way up to the top. I liked what Warren Buffett did for all his children and grandchildren. He paid for college and that's it. He wants them to learn to make their own money. After hearing about all these trust fund babies doing nothing with their lives, I wondering if it's a curse instead of a blessing.

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    1. I pity trust fund babies. I knew a few when I was in high school, and they were just lost, purposeless, adrift. A little hardship helps one focus!

  6. Something they all have to learn. And better sooner than later. My son is coming up for his French Bacc finals in a couple of months and his results will determine which universities he gets into. So I have just printed this quote out for him ....
    "The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win. Everyone wants to win, but not everyone wants to prepare to win. Preparing to win is where the determination that you will win, is made. Once the game or test or project is underway, it is too late to prepare to win. The actual game, test or project is just the end of a long process of getting ready, in which the outcome was really determined. So if you want to win, you must want to prepare to win. Once you prepare to win, winning is almost anti climatic."
    -- Edward W. Smith

    1. Best of luck to your son on his exams. That is an excellent quote!

  7. What a great thought provoking post. I too watched my mom struggle as a single mom and then re-marry and still struggle with seven kids and one income. My children watched their Dad and I both work and still have to be cautious with money. We all learned so much from that.

    I think you can be comfortable or well off and still provide your children with the feeling that hard work yields results. There are lessons to be learned along the way that are taught just by example or necessity. Frugality and hard work don't have to be learned with struggle.

    Commitment and hard work can be learned as your sons are. Being part of a sports team or scouts can teach that as well. My son camped one weekend with his scout troop; on Tuesday he didn't want to go the scout meeting. "We have to clean up all the camping stuff and put it all away." "It's going to be boring." I hauled his butt right up to that church after a lengthy discussion about follow through and responsibility.

    And sometimes they just need their eyes opened about money. My daughter commented at the beginning of sophmore year that her student loans were going to be close to $25,000 by the time she graduated from college. My reply was that her Dad and I will have paid more than $45,000 for her degree. I never heard another word.

    1. Bravo for dragging your son's butt to church for the clean-up!


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!