We’re sitting down at the little orange table in the middle of one of our marathon painting sessions. “Mummy, zig-zags are pretty, aren’t they,” my daughter says, as she swipes her brush up and down over the paper. What results is a zig-zag of truly magnificent proportions, but one that also veers wildly off one edge of the paper on to the table.
But I can’t help but agree with her. Something about the sheer unevenness of her zig-zag is immensely appealing. I look at my own page, which, as usual, is covered in one of my carefully constructed patterns consisting of even blocks of colour. The edges might be neat but there is not the slightest big of edginess to my artwork.
I hope that as my daughter grows she manages to retain some of her desire to just see what happens, to try an alternative or to look at a splodge of paint that accidentally drips from her brush and turn it into a purple monster instead.
And I fervently hope that the same happens as she works her way through the school system and beyond. As it is, I have to restrain myself from steering her too much. Should I be doing intensive reading and writing with her now or wait? Or should I have started those formal piano lessons (she is cursed with two musicians for parents) or wait another year? And what if she doesn’t make it into the gymnasium programme at the first round? Is that our cue to bring in the tutors or should we back off and let her develop at her own pace?
It’s hard to resist the pull of convention and to step off the path. As a primary aged child I already knew I would go to university upon finishing school, because my parents told me so. But now, many years later, I find myself reluctant to tell my daughter the same thing. With hindsight it is easy to see that there are many paths to follow, and that even a chosen path will not necessarily take you where you think you need or want to be.
We live in an age of new and disappearing careers, debt, delayed parenthood, delayed or immediate gratification, celebrity, extreme poverty and extreme wealth, and just about anything else you can get your head around. And I personally live in a world where I know of many people who started out on the conventional path – university, first job, second job, marriage, kids, promotion and so on (in whichever order) but who got derailed on the way or simply jumped off to find something different.
How can I then tell my daughter that the conventional path is the one towards which she must work? And what right do I have to speak for her anyway? It’s just that it’s hard to resist the pull of what I ‘should’ be doing. When other kids her age are playing the cello or doing ballet, learning tennis or golf, or going to intensive language programmes I start to worry that I’m not doing the right thing by my daughter. Will it be my fault if she eventually languishes in a second rate job, no prospects and no drive? Is getting her to do those worksheets every day or starting with the piano lessons now the only way to give her a solid foundation on which she can continue to build, as she moves her way up and up?