Mum’s the Word

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What the mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin. Henry Ward Beecher

“Mom – why are you discouraging me?” asked my 10-year old with frustration. Within a day after auditioning for a local play, and not yet knowing if any of us had gotten parts, I found myself saying: “You know David, there aren’t very many parts for boys your age…. so don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get a part.”

They had just tumbled out. And rather than my son finding these words comforting, he couldn’t understand why I was being so unsupportive. After all, one of our family rules is “Johnson’s support each other.”

But, but, but… I began to defend my words to myself, I’m just trying to protect him. I don’t want him to be disappointed. Oh really? Protect him, or protect me?

“Mom – why are you discouraging me?”

Here I am, day after day, continually encouraging everyone I come in contact with, especially women, to “dare to dream,” but to my child I say “don’t be disappointed if you don’t get it.”

If I’m not saying this to my friends and colleagues, but I am to my children, then it must be partly about me. To badly paraphrase Tolstoy, when it comes to family, we sometimes don’t know where we end, and others begin.

Which begs the question — did my mother say this to me?

And her mother to her, back through the generations?

More importantly, when we heard our parents utter some variation on the theme of “don’t be disappointed!” did we hear “Honey, I love you?” Or did we instead hear, “I don’t believe in you. I don’t really think you can do this?”

Happily, I can change. You can change.

Which is what I tried to do this past week.

David decided he wanted to go to an open casting call for PBS’s Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman, an Apprentice-style show featuring 10-14 year-old children. Now I knew the odds of his being chosen were small. Not only did I estimate that at least 350 kids auditioned, David just turned 10. And if I were the casting director, I would want the cast to skew older, not younger.

But, because I’m learning, I didn’t say a word.

It was SO hard.

I had to gate those words that wanted to tumble out, begging to sally forth, as if they were caged dogs eager for a run.

But I did it; and went one better.

Instead of saying, “You might be disappointed,” I said, “David, I’m happy that you are figuring out what kinds of things you like, that you took the initiative, that you went after what you wanted.”

We may not have heard words of encouragment from our parents…. but we can do things differently; the children in our lives can hear these words from us. And oh will they ever hear them, because Mum’s is the word.

So, David, — you came, you saw, you conquered (your fear, and a just a little bit of mine!)

I am so proud of you!

In the few hours after you read this blog, is there someone who is taking on something new — that is really hard for them — that you can reach out to (whether a friend, family member, or especially yourself) and say “I am so proud of you?”

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