Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Playing his own game (in Russian)

Two events of today are creating absolute confusion about what a parent really means to a child.  How much do we really play a role in who our child becomes?

Normally, I tell myself that I'm a major variable in who they become.  It's why I want to be a better person.  It's why I try to teach kindness and giving, and do my best to instill manners and respect. 

But then William, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, came to speak to my college class today.  And as I listened to him talking, I thought:  HE is the type of person I want my children to become.  Valuing education, deep spirituality, generous and kind, believes that you control your own life path by your choices and actions.  But his father was killed in the attacks when he was 7, and his mother was lost to him until he was grown. 

So how did those traits come into his spirit?  Is it that they were already formed when he was 7?  Was  he parented by the extremes of his circumstances? 

And then, I talked to Tatyana.  She is a native Russian speaker, who moved here when she was 12.  She has a son Jack's age.  She talked to him a bit in Russian, and then said to me:  "It is very difficult to not have an accent in Russian.  But he has NO accent.  He's definitely going to be bilingual." 

Before parenting Jack, I wouldn't have cared in the least if my child could speak Russian without an accent.  It wasn't even on my radar.  It wasn't on my short-list of goals for my children...or even my very-very-very long list.  I just didn't care.

But hearing that, I felt this burst of emotion - almost a punch in the stomach.  So many things.  For one, absolute joy for him.  This is happening!  This language he discovered and fell in love with is actually happening in his life. 

Every month when we look at the budget, we wonder about the sanity of paying for Russian lessons.  But he keeps asking and loving it, so we just make space and keep writing the checks. Hearing what she said, I'm not sure if I will feel that apprehension again. 

And a sense of wonder.  How did this happen?  I mean, really...HOW did this happen?  Why this language? Why this child?  I don't believe in past lives...more of an Emersonian spiritual path.  But what path is language-learning sending Jack down?

Surprisingly to me, there was also a strange sense of loss.  He is opening up this side of himself that I will never enter with him.  I will never know how well he speaks it; someone else will have to tell me.  While that might have concerned me before meeting Jack (how can I nurture something I don't understand?), I'm seeing that perhaps that's the way parenting works best.  He gets to be his own person, completely, because I can't possibly get involved in it. 

Pay for Russian lessons, send him to immersion camp, take him to Russia?  I can do those things to support him, but he has to move through that passion on his own.

I'm not a sculptor of my children, like I might have expected.  I can't create their wirings, talents, interests.  I'm like a golf caddy, walking behind where they're supposed to go. Providing the resources and encouragement and support...but ultimately, they have to play their own game.