Writing Life

What’s In A Goal?

On Sunday, my older daughter scored her first hockey goal. So let me start this post by shouting out:

Way to go, M!

She started playing last spring, enjoying every game even though she was on a losing team. This fall is her first experience on a team that is more balanced, providing an opportunity both to learn and to play, and she’s enthusiastic about it. I knew it was just a matter of time, and I’m so glad I was there to see that puck fly into the net.

The lesson here, for me, is that proficiency is about what you do, not what others say to you about it. The puck didn’t have to be on a best-seller’s list or a prize winner. It was a matter of practice coming to fruition, of enjoyable exertion taking its natural course.

My younger daughter chose sewing for a school project this week. She laboured mightily over the history of the sewing machine, creating a table with all the major events from 1755 to the present. Then she left the computer for a hands-on experience. I was lying on the couch reading while she worked her sewing machine, which sat on the dining table. She was muttering “the thread has a mind of its own,” and I had no idea what she was up to. At the end of the evening, she’d made a cushion cover out of gauzy earth coloured fabric, with her initial in purple felt sewn on the front.

She scored a goal, too. And it was also without any fanfare, best-seller lists, or prizes except for the satisfaction of gazing upon her own creation.

My kids have something I didn’t when I was young: the freedom to explore, try, fall, get up, make mistakes, try something else. I was barred from exploring and punished for all the rest. But it’s only a more extreme version of what most people have experienced.

A toddler explores with a natural sense of wonder, reaching out and pulling back according to an internal rhythm. This process takes the child from being a non-verbal and immobile bundle of sucking and pooping into a walking, talking, creating person. Somewhere along the line, most people get shamed and castigated into suppressing that natural rhythm at the expense of wonder. Instead, we’re taught to look to an authority beyond ourselves to set the goal and mark its achievement: a boss, a prize, a list.

It’s a form of idolatry really, making a god out of those things, when we really know that the divine is in the wonder and the reach.

Every instinct in that direction was beaten out of me, and yet the instinct is still there. It has struggled to the front with every book, working against everything I was taught while working for everything I know. It’s been like running a marathon with a brick chained to each foot. I’d like to lose that first part of the equation. Dump the bricks. Run barefoot. It is every person’s right to be creative without fear. Every toddler knows it. If we all did, how different would the world be?

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7 thoughts on “What’s In A Goal?”

  1. What a wonderful post! You know this is very close to the heart of my own philosophy – let curiosity and the desire to create be your guiding principle. Trying to control the external world and its response to you is an impossible Sisyphean tast. But attending to one’s own enjoyment is absolutely achievable.

  2. Lilian, this post resonated with me to a degree it is difficult to express. We had the same sort of childhood – perhaps that is why we are so passionately focused on thoughtful creative explorations now. It warms my heart that your girls are having the childhood you describe here, and that their mother has become (against all odds and experience) the fine creative compassionate person that she is. You, my friend, are a star.

  3. Your daughters are so lucky that you encourage “creative exploration.” I love to see children following their natural instincts to try things without the pressure of having to be perfect at them.

    I need to remember to do more of that myself, too 🙂

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