I Want My Kids To Know It's OK If You Suck (& I'm Leading By Example)

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I've recently taken up embroidery. You know, where you stitch a bunch of flowers and a cutesy saying on some cloth in a hoop? Like a granny? I've always secretly wished/believed that stitching was an undiscovered talent of mine... turns out it's not. But that's OK. Because needlepoint has taught me that it's OK if you suck and I am embracing that fact with both arms, not just for myself but for my kids.

This is not my typical M.O.

Normally, when I don't "get" something immediately, I take it as a sign that I have no right to keep doing it, especially if it's something that I don't have to do. (If it's something I do have to do, hello, imposter syndrome! We meet again!) My first attempt wasn't a complete disaster, but it looked like just that: a first attempt. I for sure am not an untapped embroidery savant. But strangely, this time, my enjoyment of just doing it outweighed my desire for it to be perfect right away. I love everything about this new hobby — the way it looks, keeping a traditionally feminine art form alive, imagining I'm a fancy Victorian lady patiently awaiting her bonny sailor boy's return from his latest sea voyage and passing the time by creating delicate handicrafts. So I thought "OK, you suck now, but you can keep at it until you get better."

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

But then I wondered: why was my first instinct to continue for the purpose of getting better. Why couldn't I just continue something I loved doing because I loved it?

I thought about my when daughter dances, which is constantly. She pulls on a tutu after school, screams at our Alexa to play "ballet music" and twirls around our kitchen floor with intensity and joy. She's not doing this to "practice." As far as I know she has no plans to become a a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi. She dances because she loves jumping up and down in a pretty outfit. She never worries about whether or not she's good — she doesn't worry at all. She just dances be because she loves it.

I'm a 37-year-old mother of two with a job and a mortgage, and for the past 20 or so years I've felt like two 6-year-olds in a trench coat.

But as we get older, emphasis is placed on improvement and advancement in any particular area. Arithmetic becomes algebra becomes calculus. Hop on Pop gives way to Ramona the Pest and, eventually, Shakespeare. Assistant to associate to manager to senior vice president. That's not a bad thing in and of itself — who wouldn't like to get better at something? The problem becomes when the improvement becomes so important we quit even if we enjoy it. How many of us stopped playing sports because we couldn't "go pro" or stopped doing theater because we couldn't make a career of it? Why is that the only time we give ourselves permission to continue a passion is when we can commodify it? Adults often stop doing things they're not "good" at, or at least the things we don't perceive ourselves to be good enough at. And one result, other than denying ourselves the joy of doing something we love, is that our kids only ever see us as competent. Ha.

The biggest lie the world has ever fed me is that one day I'd feel like an adult. I'm a 37-year-old mother of two with a job and a mortgage, and for the past 20 or so years I've felt like two 6-year-olds in a trench coat, somehow fooling everyone around me into thinking I'm mature enough to handle an R-rated movie. Growing up, I saw adults as people to whom everything came naturally and easily. It makes sense that kids would think we've got our sh*t together, because compared to them we do! We can tie our shoes and drive a car and even use the big knife in the kitchen without chopping off our fingers. But our kids never see the work it took for us to get to our basic levels of proficiency: they only ever see the end result, which only perpetuates the idea that things we're not too good at must not be worth doing.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

But what if I let my kids see me do something just for fun — even if I kind of suck at it — not because I'm good at it or am primarily trying to get better or because I make money from it? If I do happen to get good at it through repeated efforts, that'd be nice for my kids to see, too: that hard work can pay off and it's never too late to learn. But if that doesn't happen and I keep churning out janky samplers, maybe it'll still be enough to plant the seed that my daughter never has to stop jumping up and down in a tutu whether or not she gets an acceptance letter from Julliard.

Henceforth, I am determined to not let the fact that I suck at something keep me from doing it. Won't you join me?