Caleb and I recently watched the South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na skate her way to Olympic gold.
At the end of her routine, she knew she nailed it, and as she was leaving the ice, tears were streaming down her face. Probably a sense of relief from the immense pressure that is on her as her country pinned their hopes on this young athlete. While she was skating off of the ice, Caleb asked me, “Why is she crying?”
I explained that she probably practiced extremely hard every day of her life since she could start skating to prepare for this moment – her chance at being the best Skater in the world at the Olympics. And now that she has skated so well, she is crying from happiness.
Perhaps Caleb didn’t understand exactly how much dedication is involved in being the world’s best figure skater… but it was clear that he understood what it meant to work hard to get better at something. He has been taking piano lessons from a new teacher who is pushing him. The teacher demands excellence and expects that we as parents take time to practice with him daily. A couple of these practice sessions in the last few weeks ended up in tears because the exercises were difficult. There is so much that he’s learning all at once – rhythm, reading notes, technique, etc.
Aside: It’s possible that we’ll be judged by some as overzealous parents pushing our children to tears with our misplaced ambitions. Some may argue that 5 years-old may be too young to try and instill the values of hard work, overcoming challenges, and excellence. For those that judge us, the true horror may be that we started when he was 3 years old. (Andrew still has a year of grace period left.)
When the frustration erupts, we have taken a break from the piano bench and we sit together on the couch as he composes himself. I talk to him about trying difficult things. How learning something new is always hard. How most people quit. We often talk about all of the difficult things that he has already done. Reading, Math, Tae Kwon Do, Chess, etc. At 5, he has done his fair share of very hard things. When we talk about the special things he’s able to do and the hard work it required, he almost always perks up, and starts adding to the list. Sometimes, he wants to practice more with a renewed sense of purpose. Sometimes, we call it a night. Don’t get me wrong – I could care less if he never becomes an Olympic athlete nor a concert pianist. But, I hope he’ll make it a habit to always try very hard things. I hope he tries all the time.
And as I explained why Yu-Na was crying as she skated off the ice, it seemed like there was a part of him that could relate to her mixed emotions.
As Kim Yu-Na was receiving her medal, Caleb commented, “Hey, I’m half Korean!”
“Yes, you are.”
“And I’m half American.”
“No,” I corrected, “You’re 100% American.” And so am I. But who knew – I’m also a 100% Korean parent.