when you plant possibilities

Last month we went to Lincoln to watch my brother run a marathon. It was inspiring and exciting and breathtaking and energizing to watch so many people push themselves so far.  We cheered at various places along the race, my brother ended strong and beat his goal, and then we piled in the van to head home. As we made our way towards the highway, Drew mumbled from the back seat, "I might run a marathon some day."

And a thought was born in me. 

It has long been noted as a societal trend that when a person commits suicide, others in their family are more likely to consider suicide as an option. (In a recent article in the NY Times, it stated that more people now die of suicide than car accidents.) While that issue is complex, and I'm not trying to oversimplify, there is the undeniable reality that when someone you know has done something, it becomes more of a viable option for you.

A friend loses weight? Maybe I could do it. 

Couple you know pays off their mortgage? Huh, I should ask about that. 

Brother-in-law got his Masters while working full time? Oh, that can be done, I guess. 

And on the flip side, the negative things become possibilities, too. 

A lot of people in my neighborhood end up in jail? Probably the direction my life will go. 

Friends that I really respect are getting a divorce, and suddenly my marriage seems less secure.

Cancer strikes someone I love, and I wonder about my own health and future. 

In all those situations, a possibility was planted, for good or bad, and options sprang from that seed. 

So what does this mean for me and my kids?

I think there is an opportunity that we have to open up the world for our children. I'm not talking about opening the world as in "You can be anything you want to be when you grow up." (That's one of my pet peeves when parents say that- it's not true. What if your kid wants to be the Queen of England or the lead singer of the Beatles or win a Pulitzer prize? So much of life is out of their control, and I think we waste a lot of time trying to convince our kids that they are the only factor in their destiny.) Instead, we can open up the world by exposing them to worlds of possibility. 

Here's some ideas...

1) Point out the exceptional things about people that they already know. Maybe your siblings have hobbies or your neighbor goes hunting or your friends have an enormous garden. Look at those things, talk about them, interact with people who are DOING THINGS. It doesn't have to be huge, crazy things- it's new and different and something they might be interested in.  The more concrete it can be (actually helping water that garden or looking at pictures of a trip to Africa or video footage of a space launch that they saw) the more it will settle in. Talk to your kids all the time, tell them about things you read in the paper or you saw on the news or you thought of in the shower. Kids love ideas, and ideas bring possibilities. 

2) Read them good stories. When kids are young (or for some of us who never quite grow up) characters in books are powerful. Read them stories about people who do hard things or new things or exceptional things. Read biographies about presidents and peace makers and innovators and anything else that sparks their interest. Books open up worlds far away and can be a great tool to expose your kids to possibilities. 

3) Take them places you might not usually go. Seriously. I know this seems obvious, but let's face it, if my brother wasn't running that marathon, we would not have loaded up and driven an hour and followed the race all day. But we could have. There are experiences happening all around you, right where you live, that you may not really care about. But try one thing, try one new thing just to give your kids the opportunity.  I'm talking about parades or races or Renaissance fairs or berry picking or the farmer's market or science museum or free jazz concert in the park or anything else. When the Olympic trials comes to town, take them. Even if it's just to walk around and stand outside and then show them on the news that we were standing right outside that building where the Olympics was happening! It might seem inconsequential, but it's a small tap, a little dig of the chisel that is opening up their world to possibility. 

I am NOT saying busy parents make happy kids; what I am saying is that a wide variety of experiences can open their eyes to possibility. I don't want my kids to grow up as a copy of me; I want them to grow up as the best version of them. 

4) Do things you love. A few weeks back I was reading Drew's writing assignment, a new page in his graphic novel that he was writing this spring. He casually mentioned, "Yeah, I'm going to finish the coloring and check it a little more. Some day I might try to get it published."  Publish a book? Where did he get that crazy idea? Oh, right. 

There is nothing quite so inspiring as watching someone live a passionate life. I am NOT claiming that I embody that in any sense, but I do see that as I have pursued my interests, he's watching. He's taking note. He's thinking about the book process, counting the cost, weighing it in his mind. And right there, in the back of his head, is a little seed of possibility that maybe he could write a book. 

If you do things you love, it will inspire your kids to find things that they love. Passionate living is contagious, and your kids could catch a glimpse of that passion in you. 

So plant those possibilities. Water those ideas. Weed out the self doubt that will follow as dreams try to grow.  Who knows what you will harvest in the end, or how those little lives will be richer for the planting. 

Either way- so much is possible. 


Teresa said...

Malcolm Gladwell
Find it.
Devour it.

Jenni said...

Awesome thoughts! Now to process through what will work for my family.

Nicole @ she-laughs said...

I love the way you love people, friend... especially the little people surrounding you.