Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"You're a natural"

Recently, when a wily veteran of asking people do to things asked me to do something, she said "you're a natural". It worked. I said yes. It made me think about myself some and my kids more. My friend's tactic worked because I actually agree with her; she was asking me to lead a discussion group of my peers. Whether I'd go so far as to say I'm a "natural" at that, it's certainly in my wheelhouse now given my personal and professional experiences. If she'd been asking me to, say, file a tax form or play a flute solo, I'd have had firm arguments about my fit with the assignment.

Anyway, it started me thinking about activities at which I and others would label either of my kids a "natural". It's no simple coincidence that I threw The Natural movie poster (great movie, btw) into this post. I do think my Charlie has natural baseball hitting ability, and Teddy has thrown strong and straight since he was about 16 months old. But beyond that, what abilities will carry them into vocations and avocations?

It's probably too early to tell. Nonetheless, I can think of a few. They're both hams of the first order. Someday they'll find the gene for that, and a blood test of everybody from my dad's side of the family will show swollen ham genes. On a practical level, the fact that they're hams mean that they're both comfortable with people in a lot of different settings.

Charlie remembers people and notices them when we're out and about. From school or a summer camp or really any group of kids he participates in, he ends up knowing people and reconnecting with them. At a recent musical downtown, a seventh grader in the lobby said "Hi Charles". After greeting her, he told us about how she'd been a fifth-grader when he was in Kindergarten. This trait, by the way, probably descends from me. I - the perpetual new kid - probably developed it as a survival strategy: "that person was friendly to me once, and I know nobody else in this school".

Charlie also can focus intensely when he wants to. When he's reading a book he likes, good luck getting his attention. When he was 3 or 4, he'd entertain himself for hours playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. He has a car trance that (when I don't fear it) I envy. He just sits back there silent but awake while the miles stretch away on road trips.

Charlie's memory also enthralls even as it frightens. "Dad, remember last season when the Pirates beat the Reds 4-3 in that game where Matt Capps almost blew the save with two outs in the ninth?" Uh, no.

With Teddy, I wonder if frowning can be characterized as a talent. It's beyond a frown with him, though; it's the full double-eyebrow stinkeye. At three, it really is hard to spot talents that aren't physical. His mood does change extremely quickly and seemingly capriciously. When that means he's going from happy to blood boiling angry in a moment's time, this pattern presents challenges. When he snaps himself out of a funk into Sunny Jim with an equal lack of warning, it looks like a very useful ability to get over things quickly.

I look forward to their natural abilities manifesting themselves as they develop. With any luck, someone will tell them how good they are at something one day, and they'll think "You know, that's right. I am a natural."


Anne H. said...

Fascinating — I loved reading this. Charlie knew a fifth grader from when he was in kindergarten? That's amazing! Another thing about Charlie is that he's affectionate and rather the sensualist.

I think Teddy's tantrums may spring from being quite a sensitive little guy and getting frustrated easily. I predict those will continue to fade as he gets more personal power and autonomy. Both of them have long attention spans, as you said of Charlie, and are very attuned to their surroundings — great traits to have.

Lauren Jackson said...

What a great thing to spend some time deliberately trying to work out who your boys are. I remember that yearly coop parent meeting when we focused on personality traits of our kids. It always felt so productive. And we can be the ones to tell them what their strengths are, too. It may not mean as much coming from a parent as from a pure stranger, but it's still valuable.

Thanks for this post, a reminder for me as a parent and a wonderful set of insights into my nephews. (Trevor and Charlie have a lot in common, btw, as do Colin and Teddy. Is it birth order? Trevor didn't get any ham genes, though!)

Azure said...

Great post.

Even if my kids are naturals, I do try to emphasize the effort part more than the talent part. If my daughter does well on her spelling test, I try to say "Great job! All that practicing paid off!" rather than "Great job! You're good at spelling!"

We all can improve by putting in the effort whether or not we are naturals at the start.

JFo said...

Very good point, Azure. I think I've read this advice in a couple of places, but I most remember it from the results of experiments done with school children described in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's Nurtureshock. Kids who are praised for working hard on a test, choose harder tests the next time around; kids who are praised for how smart they are choose easier tests in the second round in order to preserve their "smart" status.