Olympic Hopefuls & Dashed Dreams.

From the jaw-dropping opening ceremonies to the incredible Michael Phelps, from the hilarious Bela Karyoli to the behind-the-scenes Beijing trivia, for the last ten days, our entire family has been addicted the 2008 Olympic games. But all of the drama and the glory and the showmanship has especially resonated with my six year-old daughter, whose occupational goals have varied over the years from movie star to rock star to television star to Broadway singing sensation, to her latest – you guessed it – Olympic gymnast.


In the past, my response to her spotlight-craving aspirations have been nothing but supportive. After all, she’s spunky, she’s cute, she’s not entirely tone deaf, and she’s got a great sense of style – which seems to be pretty much all you need to qualify for rock or movie-stardom these days. But a gymnast…well, a gymnast she’s not. It’s not that she’s uncoordinated, per se – she can hit a softball off a pitch better than a lot of boys her age – but when it comes to maneuvering her body, let’s just say that I wouldn’t describe her as lithe and graceful. This is a kid whose legs are covered in mystery bruises because she falls down or walks into things so often that it’s impossible to pinpoint the source of each individual hematoma. I love her to death, but living with Harper is like living with Lucille Ball, or Cameron Diaz in one of those movies where she’s always tripping over things. (Running down the hall) Mommy, you won’t believe what happ- bam! And there she is, splayed out on the floor like an area rug. And as if her klutziness wasn’t bad enough, she’s also entirely inflexible. Her straddles get about as wide as a slice of pie cut by an anorexic, and she can barely touch her toes, let alone do a split. So when she first voiced her Olympic aspirations the other morning, I didn’t quite know what to say.


My children do not suffer from any lack of self-confidence. From the day they were born, my husband and I have clapped and cheered for every accomplishment, no matter how insignificant, and we’ve always encouraged their interests and told them how great they are at whatever it is they’re into at any given time. So it’s not unusual in my house to hear my daughter say, apropos of nothing, I am sooooo good at latch hooking. Or for my son to announce that he’s really, really, good at fighting with light sabers. To which I always, always, wholeheartedly agree.


But I also recognize that there is such a thing as being over-confident. My husband and I call it the American Idol Syndrome. These people who can barely even hold a tune audition for American Idol, and then they’re totally, utterly, genuinely stunned when the judges tell them that they’re awful. And you look at them there, all teary and in denial, whining about how those judges don’t know anything, I AM a great singer, and I WILL be famous, and you just know that that kid’s parents clapped and cheered and told him all his life that he’s the best singer in the world, and now here he is, making a fool of himself on national television, all because his mom and dad never had the heart to level with him.



I can relate! I have two girls who are clearly talented in different areas and they both want to do the same thing...For example, I've wondered how to encourage my youngest daughter to try out for anything with singing (it is her gifting for sure) while gently discouraging my oldest daughter from those same try outs. She is very good a volleyball player and plays a mean saxaphone...but neither of those are as fun as being front stage singing songs from High School Musical....oh well, I guess we must continue to love them, support them when they excel and support them when someone else tells them they'd be better off doing something else...However, I will step in before Simon gets to them!


Boy oh boy, do I sure wish my mom had discovered (at any point, really) that there is, indeed, something between praise and dream crushing! You want to play piano? You play brilliantly - Carnegie Hall, here we come! You want to be a gymnast? Sweetie, you're simply too tall and wouldn't be any good at it. Violin? Fantastic - just master vibrato and you'll be playing in the symphony in no time. Veterinarian? You know they have to kill animals, right?

I had to figure out for myself that there is an in between, and truth be told, I am still struggling with it to this day. Wild success or devastating failure has generally dotted my life (or at least my perception of it); I am coming to terms with the fact that there is something in between. Kudos to you for figuring this out now and realizing how valuable it is for your daughter to learn the shades of grey on her own - before she's 30-something!