Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Three Peas

It was night before Thanksgiving and it was becoming increasingly clear that plans were about to change. Eila's boyfriend wasn't going to be able to make it and Eila's car had begun to discard coolant at a slow but still disconcerting rate. Luke had found out that he had to work early the next morning and needed to get back to Boston sooner than expected. Mark Kaufman had decided to join his bloodline family. My dad was busy getting flustered regarding his upcoming move from Kentucky to South Carolina. Joy and her family had just completed their move from New Jersey to North Carolina. Hadn't heard back from my brother Dave.

We had finished rehearsing with No Room for Jello at a bit after 10:00 and Iris and I were melting into the couch as the warmth of the wood stove penetrated deeply into our bodies and minds.


I looked at my phone to see a text from Luke saying, "So, what'st the plan?"

This was Luke's way of saying, "Umm... Errr... I'm not sure that we're going to be able to make it out to your place for Thanksgiving."

Cutting to the chase, I replied, "Looks like it's going to be hard for you guys and Eila to get out here tomorrow. Why don't you just hang there with Sarah's family."

Do-do-do-do. A text from Eila.

In her typical get-down-to-business/what's-your-point manner, Eila began with "Hey Dad! I'm not sure we can make it tomorrow. You guys want to come out here?"


It's Luke. "How about you guys come here and join us with Sarah's family? You could see our new house! Eila and her boyfriend could come too!"

I text Eila, "Luke and Sarah can't make it here, but we're invited to join Sarah's family. Let's do that."

To Luke: "Cool"


From Eila: "Cool"

I look at Iris who is leaning against my shoulder following the exchange, or more accurately, had been leaning against my shoulder following the exchange. She's now leaning against my shoulder, eyes closed and breathing softly.

Joining Sarah's family for holidays and celebrations is always fun. Sarah is from a big Iris Catholic family with more uncles, aunts and cousins than you can count. For them, holiday means family gathering (they even have a family theme song). They're always warm and welcoming and I find myself feeling immediately at home whenever we're together.

In many ways, Sarah's mom's siblings are quite similar to one another; in others they're completely different, each having carved out a unique role within the large cast of characters, each having a strongly pronounced, well-defined character. With all the common threads and all the distinct differences, I could sit for hours talking. It's just great!

Thanksgiving was no exception and as I talked and listened, I started thinking about my own kids (Joy, Eila and Luke), how they too are quite similar and yet as different from one another as you can get. I started wondering about this whole parenting thing. Seeing how differently your kids turn out, exactly how much influence do you have?

For as long as I can remember, Joy loved to be doted on, Eila was fiercely independent, and Luke could take it or leave it.

Joy responded to challenges with drama and emotion, Eila by digging in and getting to work, Luke by simply ignoring them, knowing that anything really important would eventually get his attention.

When Joy was six, Eila four and Luke two, Eila would help her brother and sister dress, tying shoes for all three.

Joy is the self-contained yin and yang of confidence. One night after work waiting tables at Bertucci's in Harvard Square, she and her coworkers walked over to the House of Blues where a local radio station was hosting a battle of the bands. During a break, one of Joy's co-workers walked up to the DJ hostin the show and told him, "Hey, one of the girls from work can really sing great! Can you get her up on stage to sing for us?"

Looking over at the large group of white shirts and black pants, the DJ nodded and then announced that the next person up was Joy Tuomenoksa. Being egged on by her friends and colleagues, Joy got up on the stage and sang Me and Bobby McGee a cappella.

She won the battle of the bands.

The next morning, I got up to find all sorts of House of Blues and Radio Station paraphernalia strewn about the kitchen. I asked Joy about it, she shared her experience, saying:
Dad, when I heard the DJ say my name, I was so scared! I didn't know what I'd sing or what to do. When I got on the stage, I was shaking and I couldn't calm myself. I walked up to the microphone and held it, just standing there.

I looked out at the audience and everyone was just staring at me, not saying anything. I was so scared.

(long pause...)

Dad, I owned the room!

Eila on the other hand always new what she wanted and went for it, until she decided that she wanted something else. After high school, she went to Emerson in Boston. Within a few weeks, she decided that "college is boring."

She dropped out after the first semester, got a job at Urban Outfitter and decided that she loved fashion. She found a design school in Florence Italy, registered for the following year, learned Italian and off she went.

She went from Florence to Union Square West, studying at Parson's School of Design and after the first semester decided that fashion design wasn't for her. So, she moved back to Cambridge, got a job waiting tables at Border Cafe and now (just a few years later), she's the general manager.

On the third hand, Luke makes Steven Wright appear overly emotional. He takes things as they come, never getting flustered nor upset. He's mister laid back. He loves to argue and wrestle with ideas. Things come quite easily to him. As a freshman in high school just having learned to play chess, he beat the president of the high school chess club. He picked up the the guitar in seventh grade and by eight grade he was playing in bands with high school seniors.

And yet, Luke's never been possessed by his skills; he's not driven, but simply takes things as they come.

When my kids were young, I subscribed to the notion that your job as a parent was to mold and develop strong, independent adults with good morals and character, as though there were some well-defined template for adulthood. Do well in school. Balance academics and extracurricular activities. Go to church. Put family first. Be respectful. Be safe. Don't break any rules. Make sure your kids are hitting their developmental benchmarks and staying out of trouble.

It never even occurred to me how silly the whole thing was.

As I look back on it now, it would have been way better to view myself not as the sculpter, but as the sculpter's assistant. This may be generational, and it might be that parents today already understand this, but I think the role of the parent is not to mold and develop, but instead, to simply facilitate. To facilitate discovery and learning. To facilitate strengthening and growth. to facilitate passion.

Sure, there are areas where it's important to be directive and controlling, but I believe they're far fewer than we think, than I thought. Was it Michelangelo that described sculpting as simply helping the sculpture emerge from the granite?

In fact, perhaps our best role with anyone (kids, friends, parents) is to simply help them become the best them they can be.

Happy Wednesday,


  1. Love it Dad! After reading this, I realize how much like me Logan is. Love you and Iris!

  2. When I first read this post, Tef, I felt a puff of relief. I think I've been putting some pressure on myself lately to be a 'good' parent, especially in light of the pitched battles we've been having with our 8-year-old, so it felt good to drop some of that weight.

    Then a couple days later, after a particularly protracted battle, I started protesting internally. "What do you mean, just facilitate? This kid will run headlong into walls and wreck himself completely if I let him carry on like this!"

    I just re-read your post now, and I see "facilitate discovery and learning... strengthening & growth... passion". Hmmm. I don't think I've done much of that lately...Time to put on the thinking cap again. Thanks for the great material.

  3. Sree, Thank you!

    I must say that it's so often easier to see the answers when you're finally outside the fray.

    I've come to realize that every once in a while, running headlong into a wall is the best teacher. You usually learn that walls are pretty unforgiving, but now and then you learn that you can run right through them.

  4. Hi Sree and Mark,

    Thanks for this fun conversation. It reminds me about something that comes up a lot when I am in the playroom: instead of stopping my little friend from putting his hands in the poop, stopping him from banging his hand against the chair, pushing for an answer when he is not responding to my questions, I first try to understand his or her motivation and then align it with my motivation.

    So Sree, if your son would run headlong into walls (I don't know the specific areas you are thinking off) there would be still a basic motivation that your son is driven by. Understanding his and your motivations, you can discover a way to facilitate growth.

    Mark told me many times that I should write about this kind of things I seem to quite naturally do, so let start one right now. I will post it this Friday. Thanks guys!

  5. Iris: I'll never turn down a way to get better at finding win-win solutions with other people, so I look forward to your post.

    As for my son Roshan, he currently seems to be in a "I don't have to do what you say" mode. Which is actually very cute and fascinating, and even endearing, to see this little man trying to figure out his place in the world and the extent of his powers. And it's equally illuminating to spot the point at which my composure breaks or I have to shoot him down.


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