Monday, 28 October 2013

The vicarious ambition of a mother

The other day, I noticed my daughter singing her school harvest festival song with a vibrato. As I paused and caught her eye, she played along and exaggerated the effect. Lucky Ikea don’t do crystal glasses, I thought as she came to the end of her cadence: ‘The broad beans are sleeping in their blankety be-a-e-a-eds!’

Later that day my mind returned to our family soprano and this time, as I ran the hoover around the house while everyone else was out at their respective learning or learn-ed institutions, I had her centre stage, holding her audience with talent and tragedy as Tristan’s Isolde. Yes, an opera singer would fit nicely as a career option alongside concert pianist – no need to narrow down my virtuoso just yet. In fact, it would even have its own points to recommend it alongside consultant oncologist, internationally acclaimed political journalist, renowned architect, or royal horticulturalist. 

It’s difficult as a parent not to project our own ambition onto our children. When I was a child, my mother instigated the weekly piano lesson for my sister and me. It wasn’t to do with her having recognised a glimmer of musical talent, rather she was living her own missed ambition through her children. ‘I wish I’d learnt the piano,’ she sighed as she chivvied us to practise that day. I suppose we were meant to be grateful for the chance to learn, something that rather passed me by at a tender age. However now I’m over the hill and learning opportunities are few and far between, I am extremely grateful for my superficial knowledge of the language of music and the ability to hammer out Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata Les Dawson style. Although, regrettably, the lessons didn’t lead to a career in classical music and my recital may not be music to the ears of the listener, sitting at the piano and searching for the notes gives me time and space to escape from life for a few minutes; it’s a wonderful therapy and I’m thankful for my mother’s projected ambition. I expect if I suggested my daughter join the choir in light of her natural vibrato, I would be met with some resistance, but would it be wrong to insist in the knowledge that one day she’d (possibly) thank me?

As I lay prostrate, with the hover sucking cobwebs from crevices under the bed, I began to feel quite uplifted with the thought of all the wonderful possibilities open to my children in life. Why, now I’d listed the myriad opportunities I began to wonder (for the umpteenth time) what went wrong with my own career. At what point did I veer off the path and into the woods and find myself as lost as Hansel and Gretel, only to discover the places on university courses and jobs of worth had been snapped up by my contemporaries? I’d be damned if I’d let such ennui affect the next generation.

A friend told me recently how her teenage daughter asked her if when she was at school, she'd made a list of her ambitions in life, the things she wanted to achieve. Her reply had been no, she'd never thought to do such a thing, to which her daughter's response had been 'So what have you achieved in life, mum?'It can be a painful question, one I'm now lucky enough to be able to plan for.

While I’ve seen the light at this late stage in life, have put my lazy days behind me and developed a work ethic which has no real home, I feel it my duty to enforce a rounded programme of learning upon my little progeny. 

Some would say I’m a pushy mother but truth be said, I want nothing more than happiness for my two children. While there are many contributing factors to living a happy life, a fulfilled career is just one element. The more strings to your bow, the more likely it is there are enough to catch you should one or maybe two strings snap. To strive for a balance of happy family, friends, relationships, a good philosophical attitude, a fulfilling career, relative wealth, not to forget good health – is probably what most of us aspire to. Perhaps the best we can do for our children is to provide opportunity, and encourage a glimmer of aptitude in the hope they may embrace a living doing something they enjoy.

Lest as in my case, a career doesn’t amount to much and health is compromised, it’s a comfort to know with my children in mind that all is not lost. As long as some of those strings are strong enough, a happy life is well within our reach.

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