Friday, December 23, 2016
December 23-25, 2016: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: My Sons
[Each of the last few years, I’ve made a number of holiday wishes to the AmericanStudies Elves, things I’d love to see happen in the coming year. As you might have always known, the Elves are really all of us—so let’s work to make these and other great things happen in 2017! I’d love to hear your wishes, and causes or individuals or projects I can support as well, in comments!]
Three 2017 wishes for and through my two favorite AmericanStudiers and best reasons for hope:
1) Consistent Creativity: My older son is one of the most creative people I know. He’s also obsessed with maps and mazes and charts, so I can see a future as an architect or engineer for sure. But while some of his creativity finds its expression in those particular forms, a great deal of the time he’s just adding his creative perspective to his everyday world: creating acrostic poems on the required pamphlet for his 4th grade insect project; adding decorative pictures and details to his Christmas list; turning his and his brother’s love for football and favorite restaurants into a newspaper; sharing puns and wordplay he’s thought up during long drives; writing his own songs to play on the violin; and so much more. Too often, we as a society treat creativity as an add-on, a neat talent but not a vital skill to teach and cultivate and celebrate (hence arts programs in our schools being the first to be cut). But my son reminds me daily of the centrality of creativity to a life well lived, and I wish him and all of us still more consistent creativity in the year to come).
2) Athletic Commitment: It’s going to seem, here, like I’m defining my older son as the creative one and my younger son (they’re one grade apart) as the athletic one in some categorical or contrasting way. It’s definitely nowhere near that simple: my younger son is both whip-smart and sensitive (and a great budding violinist in his own right), and my older son loves watching and playing sports as well. But by 10 and 9 years old they certainly each have their distinct identities, and part of my younger son’s is the fundamental joy he finds in being on a field, being part of a team, giving his all in every moment to work toward that individual and collective success. I’ve always scoffed a bit at the idea of “grinders” in sports, especially at the level of professional athletics where everyone is blessed with natural talent; but in my son I’ve seen how someone can combine natural gifts (far more than I ever had at any sport) with a relentless dedication and drive, and most importantly how much fun that can produce. That seems like a lesson we can all learn and apply, well beyond the world of sports, in 2017.
3) Empathy for All: My boys have that vital and difficult perspective, really, really genuinely. I’d like to take credit for how entirely unable they are to understand any and all forms of bigotry, prejudice, bullying, or hierarchical thinking. But while we certainly talk a lot about such things, the truth is that I learn as much from those talks as they do, and always come away inspired and rejuvenated by how naturally they come to and share this empathetic perspective on the world and their fellow humans. There are a lot of reasons why my sons give me hope, for 2017 and for the world, but in many ways they can be boiled down to how easily, how much, and how powerfully they model empathy. May they continue to do so, and may we all learn before it’s too late.
Happy holidays to all! Special end of year series starts Monday,
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Wishes or causes you’d share?