Ever walk into the kitchen and find a disastrous mess of valuable ingredients mixed into an inedible goop? Ever walk into another room and find a pre-school Picasso scribbling on the walls? Ever thought your head would explode from the cacophony being banged out on the piano or pots and pans? Or, have you ever had to replace a table lamp from the clumsy footwork of a budding ballerina? Maybe your children are trying to tell you something.
It's hard to stop and examine the motivation behind their actions. We often see our kids as being naughty or acting out for attention. Those assumptions may be far from the truth. They might just be giving us a glimpse into their still-hidden talents and passions.
My children, almost without fail, have shown their talents early on in fiascos that required a lot of tweeking and cleaning up after. I sat and mourned my parenting, wringing my hands in a "where did I go wrong" sort of melancholy. I didn't understand why they felt they weren't getting enough attention. The reality was they were showing me what brilliance they had inside that could no longer be contained in their imaginations. It had to find its way out of them and onto the walls and floors.
It is important not to jump to hasty conclusions. When we catch our kids coloring on themselves with permanent marker, it does not necessarily indicate a future tattoo artist. And when they are rolling around in the goopy kitchen mess, it probably doesn't foreshadow a mud wrestler. Take a deep breath. Relax.
It's also important not to panic that your offspring aren't necessary following the paths you might choose for them. You may wish your child to be a doctor and he may spend his time banging the hammer on the household appliances. Both physicians and mechanics are noble professions requiring keen diagnostic skills and articulate use of hand eye coordination. They both pay the bills and support families. The question is, will he be happy doing what he loves?
Exposing your children to a lot of different activities is good. Just don't think you can spelling bee or piano recital them into the mold you have set. Let them try out new things and then follow their lead.
So, what are some signs of the gifts that might just make your child a joyful living a couple of decades down the road?
Don't lock up the flour and eggs the first time you come into your child's kitchen disaster. Watch your little chef create and then explain to them the chemistry behind cooking. Show him how different ingredients behave, teach him the basics, then have him cook one dinner a week. Give him a few choice ingredients and see what he comes up with. Don't always tell him that everything tastes amazing. Give him honest feedback and suggestions. If you're no whiz in the kitchen, consider a class or tutor for him. But, do make him clean up his messes. That's just the way life is.
When you walk into a room and find your child has created an uncommissioned mural, don't lose your cool. Have your budding impressionist clean it up, but first take a picture of it for posterity, like my friend Amelia's mom did. Once she has washed it off, make certain that she has an endless supply of paper and mediums. You can check with your local newspaper office and inquire about roll ends. Once a roll of newsprint gets low, they replace it and often have rolls of it lying around for the taking. Keep crayons, markers, finger paints and temperas around. Encourage her brilliance.
Anyone who has given birth has probably dealt with a toddler with missing locks of hair or bangs trimmed up to the hairline. As frustrating as it is, your little hairdressers and barbers are expressing a personal sense of style. Discourage them from working on themselves until they have some future training, but keep them supplied in cheap thrift shop and yard sale dolls with hair that is screaming for their blossoming expertise.
The tool guy
All that banging and hammering and sawing with table knives? Yea, that's a future mechanic, carpenter or engineer. Does your child like to take things apart and see how they work? Again, visit yard sales and thrift shops and supply him with broken appliances. Supervise because electrocution or cuts on sharp parts could severely curtail his future employment opportunities. If he likes to build, go to the local hardware store and ask for wood scraps. Buy him a small tool set and let him go to town.
The cloth cutter
You pick up a sheet or other linen and one of the kids has cut a hole out of the middle that curiously matches a new doll or stuffed animal outfit. You may have a new designer on your hands. This is a very easy and inexpensive one to encourage. Toss all unusable clothing her way, along with a basic sewing kit (thread, needles, scissors, tape measure) and gradually add in patterns, dressmakers chalk and seam ripper. Let her go at it with fierceness! It doesn't matter if you don't sew and can't assist. Trust her to learn on her own.
Do you ever have a kid who is always there when you're under the weather? Your physician wannabee waits on you hand and foot and wants to know all the morbid details of your illness? She reads medical books? She talks about body parts by their correct names? She rubs your shoulders when you're upset? She wants to see the vomit? As distasteful as this may seem, you may have a healer on your hands. A future surgeon, physician, nurse or massage therapist. Start out with a plastic medical kit, but teach her that all exams must be properly supervised and chaperoned. Later, as she gets older, invest in a microscope, anatomy charts and models and books about famous medical pioneers for inspiration.
Maybe one of your kids is a born negotiator. These mini-attorneys can be so frustrating. They believe everything is up for discussion. They seldom accept a "no" on the first time out. They know how to dicker for allowance increases. They rarely lose their cool, because they know there is wiggle room for every issue. Yep, you've got yourself an attorney. Because you do, you will have to come to the harsh reality that you are now dealing with someone who will need answers, reasons and lots of explanations. Go with it. Don't lose your cool. Learn to be the opposing counsel. But remain the parent.
Here's the thing. These may be phases that your children will outgrow. On the other hand, they may continue blossoming into their teens and hold fast to their interests. Either way, our job as parents is to encourage and follow their lead, not make the mold unbreakable. I think we sometimes grossly underestimate the brilliance that lies within little minds. Pay attention as they play. Are they speaking a different language? Are they creating other worlds? As the parents, we need to watch, follow and encourage. Then wait patiently for that day when they are successful enough in their careers that they can afford the professional care for us we have earned by enduring them.