On Endgame as an Approach to Childhood

Brain, Child . . . the Magazine for Thinking Mothers

I’m not sure where I first heard of this publication, but I look at its title now and I think: yup, this is a magazine for me! I think Jennifer Grant, a friend, neighbor, and author, may have linked to an article once upon a time. I often find terrific, thought-provoking articles at Brain, Child.

I enjoyed this article for a few reasons. First of all, it’s quite funny. Dry funny. Sarcastic funny. For example:

I am a conscientious parent. To prove it, I’m setting my kids firmly on the path to mediocrity. I want them to strive for the goal of fair-to-middling in a wide range of activities. I want them to be spectacularly average.

Beyond funny, though, the article made me think. It made me think about all the stuff outside of academics that my kids have been involved in. We always used to call these things extracurriculars. That is, outside of the curricular. In our school district, these programs are called co-curricular. Interesting. There may be a clue there.

Here are some of the things my kids have done:

  • Kinder-musik
  • gymnastics classes
  • ballet classes
  • pee-wee soccer
  • league soccer
  • league basketball
  • league baseball
  • league softball
  • art classes
  • drama classes
  • magic classes
  • guitar lessons
  • piano lessons
  • travel basketball
  • cello (elementary school orchestra)
  • flute (elementary school band)
  • flute (middle school band)
  • alto saxophone (elementary school band)
  • alto saxophone (middle school band)
  • alto saxophone (middle school jazz band)
  • alto saxophone (high school concert band)
  • middle school team basketball
  • high school musical stage crew
  • high school Freshman, JV, and Varsity Volleyball

Now, keep in mind I only have three children. And I imagine I may even have forgotten a few. So, you might ask, as a mother did in the article: Jennifer, what’s your endgame with all these activities? Where are your children headed with all these teams and lessons and involvement?

And I might say: Well I’m glad you asked. My daughter is heading toward a career on the stage in New York. She will pursue an internship with a theatre company during college. Her experience on her high school musical’s stage crew is laying the groundwork for an effective internship application 4 years from now.

Or I might say: Isn’t it obvious? My son plans to play alto sax for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra after he completes his doctoral work in music at Juilliard. His experience in his middle and high school bands are foundational to his undergraduate college applications.

Now, if I said these things to you, I might be telling the truth, but the fact is I’m not. Why did my daughter join the stage crew for her high school musical? Well, her friend joined. And she had fun. She learned how to use power tools. That is totally cool.

And my sons? The oldest has played saxophone for 8 years. He plays the sax my husband played in high school, which is kind of fun from a nostalgia and family heritage standpoint. My youngest has played for 3 years so far and will likely continue on into high school. Neither of them are the stars of the show when their bands perform. They both enjoy it, which is wonderful.

So, if a career on the stage or in Symphony Hall are not our endgame, then what in the world are we doing with all of these classes and activities and lessons and programs? Good question, I say.

We do these things, these co-curriculars to help develop whole children. We do them because they are interesting to our children and we want them to find things in life to do that they find interesting. We do them because music and sports and drama are wonderful and are part of being human. We want our children to be fully human to have human experiences. We do them because these activities are places to connect with others, ways to make friends, ways to learn to respect adults and to work in a group. The author, Hilary Meyerson, has this to say:

And suddenly I had an answer for the mother who wanted to know the point of all those violin lessons. This is what I want for my kids. I want them to take time away from the responsibilities of daily living, to do something that they really enjoy, without worrying if they will be the best at it, or will receive recognition or kudos for it.

Indeed. Kudos, Hilary. And thank you.

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