I probably said that well….ah….FOUR HUNDRED TIMES. (Exaggeration not included.) Yes, one of my all-time greatest accomplishments in this life, is that I listened politely to hundreds of little girls sing: “ToMORrow! ToMORrow! I LOVE ya ToMORrow!” one by one by one by one by one – and was still a nice person at the end of the day. At least, I thought I was nice. A poll of the 400+ stage mothers who believed their little girl should be cast as “Annie”, might have read differently.
I have learned valuable lessons from mothers and fathers throughout twenty-five years of directing live theater. Actually, in all that time, only one disgruntled mother confronted me. (I suspect I’m still on her hit-list.) Otherwise, I found moms and dads to be incredibly generous, supporting the organization in any way they could. Whyyyy? The predominant reason by far was a deep-seated commitment on the part of the parents to facilitate their child’s happiness and development.
Born of my experience working with families in the performing arts and my personal experience as a stage mom myself, I have cultivated a two-part philosophy about such things. The first part boils down to this: my responsibility as parent is to help my kids chose and develop TALENTS. Notice I did not say “their” talents. That’s because I personally believe talents are skills we select to learn and master to some useful degree. We don’t really “own” them. Choose a talent, any talent, if you will – then go for it. Those we acquire can then be used to our own happiness and to the benefit of our families and the Kingdom.
On the other hand, it is also my experience that we are all born with “GIFTS”: attributes or abilities that come to us naturally. A classic example is Mozart, who was wowing everyone with his musical genius by age four. According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, this was because the composer had a head-start -- a pre-mortal disposition and aptitude:
“Being subject to law, and having their agency, all the spirits of men, while yet in the Eternal Presence, developed aptitude, talents, capacities, and abilities of every sort, kind, and degree. During the long expanse of life which then was, an infinite variety of talents and abilities came into being. As the ages rolled, no two spirits remained alike. Mozart became a musician; Einstein centered his interest in mathematics; Michelangelo turned his attention to painting….Abraham and Moses all of the prophets sought and obtained the talent of spiritualities…And so it went through all the hosts of heaven, each individual developing such talent and abilities as his soul desired.” (Teachings of the Latter-day Prophets” SLC: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1986.)
We know the Source-of-All-Good-Gifts (Moroni 10:18) shares our joy as we “discover” and develop the gifts he has given us for the express purpose of blessing others. (D&C 46:12)
Dale took me with him to London last fall and the highlight for me was Westminster Abbey. I was filled with the Spirit as we looked upon the graves and memorials of the world’s most celebrated poets, musicians, inventors, scientists, statesmen and soldiers. These are they who have played their part in the Great Plan of Happiness, I thought. And they did it by using their gifts. I feel the same way when I visit the Church Museum near Temple Square and walk through the portrait gallery of modern prophets and apostles.
However, to use our gifts, we first must DISCOVER, or discern, them. And to discover them, we often need support, usually from our families, particularly our parents. Christy Brown was an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who had control only of his left foot. Though non-verbal, his keen mind was desperate for expression. Everyone in his environment discouraged him from attempts to hold a paint brush or a pencil between the toes of his left foot. Everyone, that is, except his mother. With her encouragement, Christy went on to reveal himself as both a gifted artist and writer.
As our kiddos grew, we were always on the alert for opportunities to introduce them to a variety of interesting subjects, pursuits and people, including things we did not personally have experience with. I was determined to be sensitive to both the Spirit of God, and to the little spirits who were my children.
When they would express a curiosity or real desire, their Dad and I would, if circumstances permitted, do our best to facilitate their interest, aborting a pursuit here and there when our kiddo didn’t feel the “fire” that would identify a “gift”, or the sincere interest in really working at a particular skill (a “talent” by this definition).
Often of course, we parents feel it is important that our child stay the course even though they want to give up; some personalities in particular. For instance, mastering the piano takes years and there's going to be tears on the keyboard once in a while.
But I also admire the parents who are careful not to punish their kids into and through activities that consume their time and energy in a consistently unhappy or unproductive way; precious years that could be spent in something they really enjoy, if not have a passion for. For instance, we may expect kids to pursue a certain area due to OUR preferences or experience, or because it's a family tradition. I knew a family once who was obsessed with athletics -- every kid played every sport all year round -- which is great of course, except that one of the children did not have the opportunity to discover a real “gift” for acting until he was an adult.
There is no doubt that helping children discover their “gifts” or explore potential talents takes an open mind and an open conduit between adult, child and Heaven.
Two weeks ago, I sat in the audience of the Covey Performing Arts Center in downtown Provo. The packed house was demanding a second encore when memories, a decade old but fresh as yesterday, made me whoop like a crazy mom...
Who knew it would be a historic night in the life of my twelve-year-old when I packed up all the kids for a free, open-air concert in downtown Orlando? A variety of local acts was capped off by a new group called “Toxic Audio”. These three male and two female vocalists, all experienced Disney performers, blew the audience away with their amazing a cappella arrangements – vocals without instruments. If you closed your eyes, you’d swear you were listening to a whole band, not five human voices. Grant was on the edge of his seat, memorized, his whole countenance alight with a very promising “spark”. Afterward, I eagerly escorted him backstage to talk with the group – especially the vocal percussionist named Paul.
Paul graciously showed an interest in Grant and demonstrated a couple of sounds that Grant could practice at home. He did. And he added to his beat box repertoire with amazing speed and agility until one day, a few years later, after Grant had unleashed a torrent of thumps, hits and sizzles, Paul, always the encouraging mentor, exclaimed: “Grant buddy! You’re better than I am!” The group became our friends.
Today, Grant is the vocal percussionist for Vocal Point, BYU’s internationally acclaimed, champion, nine-man accapella ensemble. He brings himself and a lot of other people joy doing it. There is no doubt music is one of Grant's true gifts and vocal percussion is one of his most amazing talents. And I’d never even heard of it before that night in the park.
What a wonderfully noisy ride it has been! I can't even imagine what's
MUSE WITH ME about the kiddos in your life (we'll talk about grown-ups next week): What talents or gifts have you detected or encouraged them in? Remember: talents and gifts go far and broad across the spectrum of life. And they don't have to be remarkable or advanced to any degree to be of value and praiseworthy. (Translated: We all LOVE kid-sized/starter talents. If you have video or pictures, give us the link - or just tell us about it!) On April 12th I'll do a random drawing from all those who comment on this Musing for a gift certificate to a favorite ice cream parlor -- treat the kids after their next recital or game!