This is the first in a series of (3) posts from contributor Jennifer Thomas, though some of you may remember that she wrote Louis XIV Lives Inside My Head and Finding Inspiration In Others' Stories. May you enjoy Jennifer's insights and cleverness as much as I do.
Recently my husband made it possible for my second son, Will, to meet a personal hero. Will has the heart and mind of an explorer, with a love of the sea mixed in, so for him Robert Ballard (the Titanic discovering oceanographer) is the real deal. As the keynote speaker at an event, Ballard spoke of how he got started, what he is doing now, and how he is making dreams come true for a new generation of explorers. He was optimistic, encouraging, enthusiastic and utterly charming. Will was entranced.
As we listened, I quickly realized that the beloved child on my left was glowing to the point of radiating heat. So my mind started to do what is typical for a parental mind living in my zip code. It thought: “How can I get him on a semester at sea?” “What summer programs at MIT would expand his science skills?” “I need to get online and order a microscope, and a telescope and an maybe even an endoscope. Any scope that could help him become.” In short, I felt urgency to immerse him in the stuff of opportunity, to deliver possibilities. The possibilities necessary for him to dream.
After the evening was over, we came home to our house. It is small, with some shabby corners and certainly doesn’t look super state of the art. There isn’t a basement lab, and for our family delivering an MIT program would carry significant opportunity costs. Can dreamers be raised here? Can Will become without being immersed? As I started to panic, I remembered Ballard telling us he was from Kansas where, (as he pointed out) all oceanographers obviously come from. So clearly immersion was not his path. Prairies are notoriously dry.
But I stewed and I thought and I wrestled anyway as Will told people about meeting Ballard and began to talk enthusiastically about his future path. Until I looked back at my path, and my husband’s, and the path of just about every single person that I respect, and I arrived at a comforting, albeit smarmy observation. First, I am so grateful that I can give my children experiences like those with Robert Ballard. Obviously.
But second and less obvious is the gratitude that they come home from these experiences to a quiet small place where resources must be thoughtfully allocated. I think it might be the best possible world. To be able to give children brief tastes of the feast without sitting them before a banquet daily. It is great to see possibility, but it is good to have something to shoot for and want. It is good to be a little hungry.
Living in the luxury of endless possibility gives children the illusion that the hard work is done for them. And let’s be honest. If you want to change the world, it will involve hard work, and nobody can do it for you. You have to learn to do it yourself.
Robert Ballard was an absolute gem, he invited Will to come down and tour his facility in Rhode Island, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen and then continue to encourage Will to see the wide world around him. I can help him dream. But perhaps the better gift is to help him understand that in the end, he has to make his own possibilities. He really does want to change the world, he’s hungry. But if I help him too much, that is one feast of possibility I might end up taking away from him.
Are you allowing your children to be hungry?
Jennifer Thomas received Bachelors degrees in Italian and Art History and pursued graduate studies in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. When finally faced with the need to support herself, she turned to major-gift fundraising and worked with an educational non-profit in NYC and MGH in Boston. Occasionally she still creates and conducts travel study tours to Italy for both family and friends. Jennifer is the mother of four boys, including 5 year-old twins, and lives outside of Boston, MA.