Turning I Can’t into I CAN!

My 7 year old loves space… and art. She’s a very unique kid.

Like many kids her age, she loves to draw and is discovering the awesome world of Star Wars, but her love of art & space started years ago. I don’t even know what sparked it.

Sometimes I feel we are driven by something deeper than our environment or genes. We simply feel passionate about one thing or another for reasons we can’t really explain.

Growing up, I had big dreams. The biggest was to perform in a Broadway musical. Yes, I probably was a little like Rachel Berry in high school. Hopefully less annoying, but I know I definitely had my moments; I wasn’t perfect, I was a teenager with dreams, dammit! 

The problem with my big dream? My mother didn’t support my dreams. She didn’t think I was good enough. I heard the words “You can’t…” way more often than “You can do it!

The only people I had pushing me were external forces. And even then, these forces weren’t necessarily pushing me. They just happened to believe in me, and respected my passion & dreams, which helped fuel them, pushing me toward success. My choir teacher was incredible. One afternoon in her office, when I was struggling with the big question you face as a high school student… what’s next? What should I be when I grow up? My choir teacher answered without a beat, telling me that she has witnessed how driven I am and that she sees me excelling at anything I put my mind to, in any job position – whether that was a Mom, teacher, a Broadway star, whathaveyou.

Maybe a teacher’s job is to guide them in whatever direction their passion allows. Whether she turned around and told a below-average student the same, I’ll never know. What I do know is that the above statement helped me through some pretty tough times. My choir teacher probably doesn’t even remember telling me that, but I will never forget it.

I grew up with a controlling mother and a father who was struggling in a marriage he wanted to escape… doing his best to maintain some level of balance. As the oldest of 4 kids, I was the first pancake and therefore, not perfect — even though my mother expected perfection from me. She pushed me in math, telling me that I was so good at math. Maybe if she told me that enough, I would’ve became a math teacher? I don’t know. I barely kept my head above water in my advanced math classes, but, it was the only thing my mother thought I could do, so I had to excel, yes?

Nope.

I like math, don’t get me wrong, but it certainly isn’t my passion.

Any passion I had for things outside of my mother’s comfort-zone were either ignored or pushed down, only the negative was seen in me (and sadly, still is). I’d receive awards or perform in a concert or musical, and afterward she’d list what she thought I screwed up instead of simply telling me how amazing I was. And dammit, I know I didn’t suck as bad as she made me feel. Thankfully, the innate passion I felt for performing got me through. I learned to ignore her remarks, found ways to get her out of my head, and in the meantime, made some incredible friends in choir — one of my best friends to this day I met my senior, her junior year in our select ensemble choir of 18 girls. I don’t know if I would’ve met her without that class. I also found my way to a summer community theatre troupe… where I met the hubs in the musical Gypsy nearly 17 years ago. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The history lesson I’m learning today is one of my biggest fears as a parent: turning into my mother. I don’t want my kids to hear only negativity coming from me. Yet, when my youngest struggles to find the motivation to do her homework, I hear my mother’s frustrated voice escape out of my mouth so fast I can practically see the words fall out, making me want to grab and stomp all over them.

It gives me chills like nothing else… which is a good motivator to walk away and breathe.

My youngest has been a little behind since we took a week off to grieve for the loss of my niece. We’re still playing catch up, which is frustrating for all of us. But, my daughter’s 1st grade teacher believes in her, and is flexible. She gave Natalie a special assignment — since she’s reading at around a 7th grade level, she found a space book with an enrichment packet, but this has overwhelmed Natalie. I try to tell her “You can do this!” but she doesn’t hear it. She, like my mother, is only seeing the negative, the work involved, and tells me she “can’t” and wants to do something else. We go back and forth — I pull my hair out, feeling I’m raising my mother, until… low & behold, she discovers she CAN do it. I tell her she can do anything!

My daughter dreams of becoming an astronaut… while that dream may be an even a tougher dream to realize than me performing on a Broadway stage, I refuse to conform. And although Natalie has many of my mother’s perfectionist & controlling traits, she is also realist, always questioning what is real & what is fantasy. I refuse to allow her to give up, I help her to understand that mistakes are ok, and how we learn… but most of all, I encourage her to dream, and to dream BIG.

As Natalie gets older, her dreams will develop, and the hubs & I will do our best to support them. I refuse to become my mother, ignoring her dreams, or worse, telling her she can’t do one thing or another. There are many areas of science she could get into. Maybe her love of drawing will lead her to become an architect, or run an art studio. Maybe she will do something else entirely. Whatever my daughters decide to do with their lives, I know they will excel at… like my choir teacher told me, I will tell both of my children. It’s a statement that got me through some very dark days.

I may not have ended up on a Broadway stage, but I still fulfill my passion for music, performing when I can, usually with the hubs in our living room to the shores of Lake Michigan to church. I also have surprised myself, uncovering my passion for writing, discovering just how therapeutic writing can be… now I get paid to write.

I can do anything. So can you. Let your passion be your guide.

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