This winter, we took our boys to a performance of “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” by the local philharmonic. It was a frigid day, but the radiators were steaming, and sun streamed warmly through the stained glass windows. The hall was packed with little lads and lassies in their Sunday best alongside parents with opera glasses and smart phones. We found our way to the front row of the balcony above the percussion section, right above the gong, as per the boys’ request. We dangled our arms over the edge of the balcony and listened expectantly as the air filled with the glorious cacophony of tuning instruments.
Before the orchestra plunged into their featured piece, a dozen grade-school-aged students from a local music school trooped across the stage for a performance of Vivaldi. Several of the youngsters couldn’t have been much older than my six-year old, and as I watched their bows sweep confidently across the violin strings, I felt a mixture of anxiety and fear creep over me. It was a familiar emotion, with its roots in insecurities buried deep in my past.
Why can’t my children do that? I found myself asking.
Am I doing something wrong that they aren’t already so skilled at something?
The questions lingered until a few weeks later, when we took the boys to the local college hockey rink for their first experience on ice skates. A youth team was there for an impromptu skating practice, and while my son wobbled his way around the ice, falling with a thud, clambering to his feet, then trying again, kids only a year or two older than he swooshed by. So there it was again on full display: that same fear of my kids being passed by those more skillful or talented.
But this time, a beautiful, patient thought presented itself, and I marveled at its simplicity:
Wouldn’t it be more fruitful if I raised, not the virtuoso performers, but the children in the front row of the balcony, those sitting in awe at the beauty of a symphony orchestra, its dozens of disparate parts mingling in the splendid dance only a symphony can perform?
Maybe being the appreciator of the beautiful is a more valuable skill to nurture than being the one on the stage. And, if in some way, the cultivation of a taste for beauty and wonder means they my children could bypass a life lived under the agonizing fear of Not Being Good Enough, even better. I’ve come too late and too infrequently to the realization that I’m not loved by my Abba for what I can do. My kids are not important only if they achieve, excel, or receive ovations or medals for their passions.
I cannot control the reception my children’s God-given callings receive out there in the wide world. But I can raise them to be appreciators of beauty, loveliness, and skill. Then, maybe they will be the ones in the front row, clapping their hearts out, whistling, standing and cheering at all the beauty the world holds for them.