When I was 8 years old, I started taking piano lessons from the same woman that had instructed my sister, 4 years my senior. I’ve mentioned before that my sister is a very gifted musician. At 12 years old, she demonstrated noticeable and noteworthy talent. It was obviously a gift – music would always be a part of her future. For me, it was more a skill to be learned. I was an adequate student – no better or worse than the typical 8 year old. But my well intentioned teacher could not help but compare me to my older sister and held her standard of approval for my efforts much too high. I will never forget the afternoon that she looked at me with exasperation, placed her fingers over her eyes and said, “Do you actually manage to get good grades in school?”
I will also never forget the resolute look on my Mother’s face when she told me that I never had to go back to piano lessons again. She was my champion, you see – a mother who understood the fragility of my budding self esteem and didn’t want me in any situations that would make me feel less valuable because I wasn’t like my sister.
And she REALLY was my champion. When my love for horses became so overwhelming, I nearly cried myself to sleep with longing, my mother shrugged her shoulders, made a few phone calls, and signed me up for horse-back riding lessons. When I wanted to play the Oboe in middle school, she found me an instrument and an instructor. When I started high school, and wanted to give up band so that I had more time for theater, journalism and swim team, she supported me in every endeavor. When A’s were made, she cheered. When that ever present B in Math repeated itself every single term, she shrugged. “You did your best,” she’d say, because she knew that I had done my best.
The greatest gift my mother ever gave to my self esteem was the assurance that she loved me just the way I was – I was good enough. I never felt any pressure to be as musical, as smart, as anything as any of my siblings. What I was good at was good enough. Comparisons between my sister and I were inevitably made – we went to the same high school, had many of the same teachers, looked a good deal alike. I very frequently heard the line, “Well, I know who YOUR sister is…”
(You want to know my standard reply? “Yes, she is my sister… but I’m NOT as nerdy as she is…” He he… kidding. A little…)
I know without a doubt that the reason I was able to consider this a compliment, rather than an indication of my sister’s ever present “shadow”, is because of the efforts my parents made to value and support my individuality.
And so, God willing, it shall be with my own children. They are so very different. They are smart in different ways, excel in different areas, and have such different interests. I hope that I can be their champion – that I can encourage and support all the different paths they may choose to take. It often seems, in this day and age, with all the challenges young people face, self esteem is hard to come by. I’m determined to make my home a place where my kids feel celebrated; a place where they know they can be their very best self, and it will always be good enough. If they want to hike, sing, dance, act, play, swim, run, ride, snorkel, yodel… I’m in.