Monday, February 25, 2013

Do you have any talents, mum?

My six-year-old and I were walking along the breakwater: thousands of great bluestones tumbled against the path to hold back the sea. Of course, my daughter would not walk on the boring old path; instead, she bounded across the irregularly shaped sharp-edged boulders. Ten feet below her, the sea surged and sent up occasional jets of spray. Boulders rocked under her feet as she quickly judged which way to jump next, and I tried not to think about what would happen if she slipped.

As Little Miss Mountain Goat leapt along, she maintained a stream of chatter. She asked me why I wasn’t any good at jumping across the rocks, and I admitted that I’ve always had a very poor sense of balance. I didn’t mention my second reason, that too many people had looked at me strangely or, worse, kindly, when we’d walked along a long wall together earlier that week, and that I didn’t feel like exposing myself anymore!

‘I’m very talented at climbing and leaping,’ she said, ‘and also the monkey bars. Those are my main talents.’ ‘You do have very good balance,’ I said. She mentioned some other things she is good at, and wondered whether there was a difference between a talent and a skill. She noted what her sisters are good at and then, just as a couple of older mums walked past with their teenagers, she yelled, ‘Do you have any talents, mum?’

The women paused in their conversation, stopped walking, and turned. ‘I’d like to hear the answer to that!’ said one. So much for being unobtrusive, I thought, as I yelled ‘Reading, writing, and cooking!’ to my daughter, the women, and the sea. The women laughed and kept on walking, and I thought to myself, I’m also good keeping up with the washing, finding children’s gems in op shops, and performing boring tasks unobtrusively year in year out.

Our conversation moved on, but I continued to mull over the exchange. I was fascinated that my daughter needed to ask me what I was good at – but then, she’s only six and has only recently begun articulating the differences between us. Perhaps she’s wondering whether all mums have the same set of skills and abilities, or whether different mums are good at different things; perhaps she simply remembered that I am a separate person to her and was seeking more information on who that person is. Either way, her question was one of many steps as she develops a strong and independent self.

I also wondered what else I’m good at. I was relieved that I could immediately think of a few things but it has taken me a long while to get to this stage. And I wondered how long it will take me to develop a strong and independent sense of self, too. I often look at my kids in amazement; all three are so sure of who they are. I don’t remember being like that. For as long as I can remember I have been full of doubts and confusion, not really knowing what I am good at and who I want to be.

But I’m nearly forty, and I have great faith in that age. All the women I really admire – dynamic, powerful, and grounded – are older than me, and I’m looking forward to being older too. I hope that through learning from my kids, doing more outside the house, and working through the old emotions, I might develop a stronger sense of self and become dynamic, powerful and grounded too. And I’ll keep walking with my kids, and watching them bound along; sometimes, I’ll even get up on the wall and follow them.

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