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32/52 – Truth

August 11, 2013

32/52 - Truth

Bella has always possessed a little bit of mad creative genius.

Her profile that was distributed to prospective adoptive parents included a line about how she liked to repurpose trash to make art. By the time she became our daughter she had long since grown out of fancy crafts and had moved on to making potions. Her earliest weeks with us were spent combining various touches and splashes of dried herbs to concoct an array of magic potions.

This child has always been artistic, but has been afraid to grow and challenge herself. She’s figured out her niche, her favourite medium, and she’s perfected it. She draws dragons on repeat.

Sometimes I forget that she’s no longer the girl who started to complete a portfolio to attend the local arts school and let her fear of rejection engulf her dreams. It’s not supposed to be my disappointment that she missed a life changing opportunity. It’s not supposed to matter to me that she quit before she ever tasted her successes.

I forget that three years have passed and she’s managed to have grown in some pretty significant ways – as both an artist and as a human being.

Sometimes I’ll flip through her sketchbook and discover work that make me pause. I’ll see a pencil sketch and wonder if it’s hers. I’ll thumb over drawings that make me realize how much of her talent remains untapped. But more often than not I’m overly critical in my head and wonder when she’s going to push herself, challenge herself, tap into something that’s so brilliant and discover her own personal artistic genius.

Every parent wants to think their child is brilliant. And maybe the truth is that mine is not.

Or, maybe she is. And the truth is that I can’t see anything but ordinary in her so I’ve never been able to support her long enough to help her find her own wings. Maybe who she is is good enough and I should be simply satisfied with that fact.

But I’m scared to fully embrace her as is. I’m scared for her future and the juncture where her future intersects with mine.

Bella loves art. She loves making costumes. She’s made what she’s wearing in the picture above. And as awesome as it is, it’s not perfect. It’s not moulded to her body well. It’s not necessarily constructed with care. Details aren’t relevant in her mind.

Despite all of those strengths of passion, creativity and imagination, I’m not sure she has what it takes to succeed as an artist. She’s so personally invested in each of her creations that she lacks the resilience and tenacity and perseverance to deal with any negative blow.

My 18-year-old is in her final year of high school and our job as parents is to prepare her to launch.

It’s scary when you’re trying to be supportive of your child, when you want them to follow their dreams, only you know that dreams don’t put food on the table and a roof over their head. Dreams that could mean incurring huge amounts of debt without the future earning potential to ever repay that debt.

And selfishly, I don’t want to be supporting this child well into her thirties. I want her to be financially capable paying for own life within the means which she is able to earn.

She’s thinking about pursuing fashion and costume design. And every inch of my parental body is screaming ‘NO!’ and stuffing down my throat the countless roadblocks I want to utter.

She doesn’t quite yet understand what brutal job market she’ll be faced with after graduation. She knows nothing about contract work and the lack of benefits. She’s never thought about how she might have to wait tables,stock shelves – or horror of all horrors work in a fast food joint – full-time to make ends meet before her career takes off. These are all abstract concepts in her mind.

We’ve told her more truths about adulthood than our parents told us. Yet she’s still woefully unprepared.

The thing about being the type of parents we want to be is that we need to let our kids fail. Although I can see a disaster barreling towards us, it’s not up to me to prevent it from happening. I have the power to stop it, but its not a power I want to unnecessarily wield. Bella needs to make her own mistakes. She can’t learn from mine.

What I want more than anything is to learn that I’ve been mistaken all along. That the truth when revealed is that I lost my faith in my child. And that’s she’s believed in herself more than I ever have.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. mamaandmummy permalink
    September 17, 2013 12:51 am

    Good luck, Bella! No matter how much you’ve prepared them the launching has to be incredibly nerve-wracking is a parent. It sounds like that girl has got some skillz, if she can just hone them!

  2. October 8, 2013 10:27 pm

    Wow. This is powerful. And it really hits close to my heart. My daughter seems to have a lot in common with Bella. She too doesn’t care enough for details … she’s just madly off creating the next project, usually without having finished the first. We adore her creativity, but worry that she seems to lack the patience required to really take it to far. And also? Dragons, dragons, dragons!

    • October 12, 2013 7:49 am

      I’m a little afraid to tell you this. But the obsession started with dragons. She draws, paints, sketches them on repeat (and they’re quite incredible). Only a few years it broadened to manga, and now she does random other people, and fashion sketches.

  3. Candle-ends permalink
    January 24, 2014 5:10 pm

    I’ve been reading a lot of two-mom blogs lately, as my wife and I start trying for a kidlet ourselves. You’re at a very different stage in your parenting journey, obviously, and I doubt I’ll have much to add in general. But as a fairly young person with a sweetie who very recently in fact did go to school for costume, I wanted to weigh in on this one, with a basic message of Stay Calm and Parent On.

    For the record: If Bella goes into fashion and costume design as a major, her college will almost certainly insist that she take some sewing classes. You don’t have to be good at sewing to be a good designer (though it can help), but a good design program will likely give her opportunities to learn draping and sewing skills. Heck, even the actors (who are heading into an even more brutal job market) are usually required to take a sort of Sewing and Carpentry 101 so that they are exposed to some backup skills that are always in demand in the theatre world.

    Draping/sewing for theatre is a very viable career move, with less competition for (on average) better pay. A few designers become rich and famous, while many remain poor and obscure. Being a draper or a cutter, or a shop manager, is unlikely to make anyone rich but is very likely to pay the bills. And she can totally start college intending to be a designer (my sweetie didn’t, being more into the sewing aspect from the get-go, but some of her classmates did) and easily make her way into being a draper or whatever instead. Or if your daughter might be interested in teaching, an MFA is a terminal degree in design. Seven years of college (the graduate portion being a free ride with a decent stipend and several university-funded trips to Europe), and my sweetie become qualified to be a professor of costuming and walked away with no debt. She is happy with her choice of schools/major.

    Now, my sweetie chose not to be a professor or a draper or a designer, because that didn’t wind up working out with a lot of other life choices we both made (like living in the back of beyond in a beautiful rural place that is the home of our hearts and close to our families), but the option was there. And neither of us are living off of our parents.

    I, meanwhile, did not go to college, and am happy with that decision. I farm (including growing a lot of our own food) and do some warehouse work to make ends meet, which seems likely to fall into your category of shit jobs that you’re afraid Bella might fall into. Mine is a nice warehouse that stocks products I believe in and that treats me well, and isn’t shy about telling me what a great job I do. My supervisors are always supportive when I have to call in on short notice because I need to go to the fertility clinic with my wife, and I see my coworkers likewise getting support and sympathy when they need to prioritize family over work in other ways. I personally like spending the day doing routine, physical work, though that isn’t something my mother would have predicted about me when I was eighteen; I feel it leaves me feeling more balanced and ready for creative work on my own projects at the end of the day than a more “creative” job ever could. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that between “successful designer fulfilling artistic dreams” and “getting treated like shit at a low-level job”, there is a whole world of other places to fall. There are a thousand ways to succeed. Bella will most likely find her way in time. It has never been helpful for me or my wife when our parents have been afraid for us. Oh, I can relate to the fears – I feel some version of many of them myself as I watch my adored baby sister starting to look at colleges. But I strive not to make Baby Sis carry my fears about her future. Whenever our parents been able to trust us to define and find our own “success”, it has been a gift.

    I wish all of you luck on the journey ahead.

    • January 26, 2014 7:18 am

      Wow! These are two really thoughtful and insightful comments. Thank you.

      I agree more that she should pursue something she loves and is passionate about. But she needs to want to be a costume designer MORE than anything else in her world/life. For her, that’s the key to success. Because she just can’t push through her learning disability otherwise.

      For example, we wanted her to get a taste of fashion/costuming so she took a course at high school. It was only offered online.

      At first she was really excited, she did love the material, and then she was overwhelmed by the technology. She didn’t ask for help. And when she was offered help, she refused it. About 1/2 way through the semester, she hadn’t done a single assignment. After a long and difficult conversation, she asked for help, figured stuff out, and advocated with the teacher to change the deliverables so she could still pass the class.

      Things went well for a few weeks, and then we noticed that she hadn’t seemed to do any work on it. We checked in once a week and she assured us she was on top of the discussion and assignments. Just last week we discovered that was untrue.

      Not only had she been purposefully deceitful, but now she had 2 months of work to catch up on in 4 days. She just couldn’t commit and push through to get the work done so she opted to fail the class.

      We believe our kids need to fail, and need to fail on their own terms. I think that the online learning environment is so abstract that she won’t truly feel that failure until it has ramifications on her college applications. More concerningly, was that she didn’t try, challenge or push herself to work it through.

      While I’m sure she will continue to design and make costumes for herself, I’m not sure when it’s for someone else and she has to meet someone else’s expectations that she’ll be able to push through.

      She’s in a fashion-based co-op this upcoming semester and that will be the true test of her will.

      For clarification, I think people should work where ever and at whatever makes them happy. I think people should be able to learn a solid living and live within their means – whatever those means are. When I say ‘shit job’ (and I don’t think I used those words…but I could have) I really am referring to jobs that don’t pay much above minimum wage and make people the working poor. We live in a major urban centre, and the cost of living is much higher here. While you could live on those earnings in a rural community, and struggle in a suburban community, I think in an urban community you’d totally have your head under water with one full-time minimum wage paying job.

      • Candle-ends permalink
        January 26, 2014 3:57 pm

        Heh, I’m glad you thought the comments were insightful – hopefully you can find something useful in them. I’ve really been enjoying the candor of your writing, with all the ups and downs of family life.

        I’m sorry if I came off anywhere as critical of you – obviously you know far more than I ever could about the exact challenges that Bella is going to be facing, and I wasn’t trying to say all your worries are unfounded or anything like that! (And no, I don’t believe you did actually use the exact words “shit job” – I also apologize if my own casual use of that rather loaded term came off as putting words in your mouth.)

        The rural/suburban/urban thing… Eh. I mean, yes, absolutely the cost of living does vary from one place to another. But I’m not sure if it has to matter as much as one might think. We did live in a much more suburban area while my wife was at school, and allowing for inflation, our cost of living has stayed remarkably even. Our rent is cheaper here, but on the other hand we finally needed to get our first car.

        Everywhere I’ve lived, there have been many people struggling. I know that my wife and I have had a lot of privilege and a lot of luck on our side in navigating our low income – I don’t want to be dismissive of the very real struggles that the working poor do face. But I have also seen many people in higher income tiers who don’t seem to be able to imagine anyone really surviving, much less being happy and fulfilled, at a different standard of living. It can result in some really damaging expectations, where things that they might desire for their children are conflated with being things their children “need” – sometimes blatantly, usually in more subtle ways. (I’m thinking of my in-laws in particular here, and quite a few of my friends’ parents – I think it’s a pretty common problem for my generation, which is pretty much the generation that came of age and entered the workforce in the middle of economic collapse.) I’m not saying you, personally, are doing or will do that. I just don’t think it can hurt for any parent of a young adult to sit long and hard with any assumptions about what they might want/hope/expect for their children vs. what those children will really, truly need as adults.

        Of course, all that is easy for me to say now, while standing so close to the child perspective of that particular dynamic. I’m sure I will struggle with it a great deal more when it’s my turn to be parenting teenagers.

        Anyway, this is all getting very far afield from what I actually felt qualified to respond about, which was the insider view of what going to college for fashion design might look like! Again, I wish the best of luck to your whole family on the journeys ahead of you.

  4. Candle-ends permalink
    January 24, 2014 5:25 pm

    Oh, and I also wanted to add: Bella’s costume in the pic is indeed awesome and is damn good for an eighteen year old! I’ve seen undergrads in costuming who couldn’t do that. And “constructed with care” matters for movies, where they might need a close-up shot. Designers need to be able to draw – that’s vastly more important than their tech skills (though as I said above, she’d have chances to learn tech). Theatre wants good-enough sewing. Theatre wants fast sewing. From what I’ve seen on the sidelines (both with my wife’s classmates and later with the kids she was teaching as a grad student herself), the kids who come in needing to get every stitch perfect struggle much more than the kids who can accept good-enough and keep moving and keep learning.

    Just sayin’. I come from a perfectionist family myself, and know how easy it is to get sucked into focusing on the “not perfect” and lose sight of the “but good enough, and also? AWESOME!”

    • January 26, 2014 7:21 am

      I think you make a good point, and I have been biting my tongue.

      I will say that she got a sewing machine for Christmas and her capabilities have dramatically improved! I think, in part, it’s up to us as parents to nurture and help her acquire these skills.

      She got so frustrated trying to make a bobbin. Spent two hours on it, and even searched the internet. Once I told her to read the instruction manual, problem solved.

      So yes, I’m being critical and not celebratory. You’re entirely correct. All of which is driven by my fear and changing expectations that our children are going to be dependent for a lot longer than I had hoped.

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