If I Only Had a Luge

The winter Olympics are approaching. Hooray! Something to watch on TV besides reality shows. I’m a product of the TV of the 80s. Fraggle Rock, Growing Pains, and MacGyver. Now, that’s TV. And the Olympics were always occasion for a good hot cup of cocoa, and wide-eyed dreams. Who knows, my eager ten year old self would think, unaware that even then I was too old and past my prime, that could be me one day.

In his interview with Deborah Solomon in this week’s New York Times Magazine, Vancouver-based author Douglas Coupland, speculates about his path in life. He says: “My question about luging is, How do you get into the luge community to begin with? Is it one day like, ‘Mom, Dad, I really want to luge.’ And your parents are like: ‘O.K., I’ll quit my job. We’ll move to an Alpine community.’” And he concludes: “I could have been an Olympian if only my parents had bought me a luge.”

Ah. I should have known. Of course it’s our parents’ fault! Well, once we’re on the subject, if only my parents had nurtured my innate desires and abilities, I would definitely have been an Olympic swimmer. Or an actress. Or, perhaps, a concert pianist. Though yes, they bought me a piano, gave me swim lessons, and attended my school plays, they did not, negligent folk that they are, uproot our family and move to Vail. So as not to appear ungrateful, to their credit, I will concede that they did buy me a Golden Retriever, and, now, as a mother living in close quarters with messy kids, there is no way in the world I would ever consider living with a dog.

How much responsibility do parents have, especially in today’s highly specialized and competitive world, to notice and nudge their children towards a specific path in life? How do you nurture the innate talents of each child? Can you do that while attempting to also convey a system of shared values? And while providing them with the space and freedom to have a healthy childhood?

My husband, his brothers, and their wives (including me) are all in Jewish education. My mother, her sister, and her brother, her brother-in-law, her niece, nephew-in-law, daughter, son-in-law, and his mother, are all doctors. Is this good or bad? Or neutral? What does it mean? Maybe it is good to help carve your children’s career paths. Too much choice is overwhelming, and can leave you stranded, frozen, unable to choose. But how do we know if we are nurturing innate passions, or less-than-gently pushing our kids towards our own desires? And this begs the broader question: how much can parents be blamed, or credited, for the choices of their children?

Questions to ponder while watching young, lithe creatures, who have dedicated their childhoods to achieving one specific dream, fly through the air. Whose parents bought them a luge.

–Maya Bernstein