When I was little, I wanted to play the piano like Stevie Wonder and speak French and travel to far away places like California and Hawaii and Harlem. Alas, these things happened only in my mind. My parents, after all, were factory workers—bound to blue collar paychecks, limited vacation days, and a work schedule that stretched from sun up to can’t see. Lack of time, money and sleep meant I could be a world-traveling, French speaking, piano playing wonder child only in my dreams.
Of course, I hold no ill will toward my parents for this. But I promised myself that things would be different for my girls—that they’d grow up having known the excitement of exploring a new land, learning about new cultures, and, above all else, having their wishes indulged.
It’s not that I spoil them, mind you. There’s a big difference between caving to every little whim and coaxing and encouraging their love of something new. Like, if Lila gets in her mind that she should take ballet lessons because her best bud Maggie is dancing and gets to wear fancy tutus, well, no, there will be no ballet lessons. Ditto if Mari begs for a cell phone because all of her friends have them. But when Mari became borderline obsessed with the marching band that performed during the halftimes in her big brother’s football game, and I noticed how she seemed to really dig the warm notes in Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, her father and I rushed out and rented a trumpet and signed up our daughter for lessons. And when she and her little sister started showing a genuine interest in helping me whip up fancy meals and started Googling science projects they could hook up in the backyard on their own, I obliged them with summer classes at a kids’ cooking camp and a hand’s-on, get-dirty science program, both of which encouraged my daughters to trust their instincts, be independent, and really fall in love with learning. And my girls are still talking about their summer vacation to Paris, a trip we saved up for two years after Mari, Lila, and their brother, Mazi, made clear that they had the Eiffel Tower in their sights.
Of course, none of this stuff—the trumpet lessons, the cooking classes, the science camps, the trips to faraway places—came cheap, believe me. But each has opened my kids’ eyes to the possibilities—made clear to them, even at the tender ages of 9, 12, and 18—that the world is so much bigger than our tiny sliver of Georgia, and that there is tremendous value in being indulgent if it means you’ll find refuge in knowledge, pursue your passions, and experience the beauty of trying something new.
And I’m so happy my kids are enjoying the journey.