By Denise Gonzalez-Walker
DJ, my 10 year-old, stood in the middle of his classmates, rigid and then sinking quickly to the soft grass. His eyes rolled back as he fell and he let out a sharp whimper.
Sitting with a small group of moms, I watched the game from one side of the playfield. By the end, all the kids were happily writhing around on the grass.
“Have you ever thought about enrolling DJ in acting classes?” the mom next to me asked out of the blue. Her own daughter, DJ’s classmate, was deeply involved in acting and performed in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. The mom continued eyeing DJ. “He’s good at acting, you know.” The other women agreed.
A few days later, it was The Grandmother nagging me. “I think DJ would make a good actor. Have you ever asked him whether he wants to take acting lessons?”
I had not. But after hearing about his natural talent from several people, I became convinced that DJ should start acting lessons right away. Perhaps it’s my competitive streak, or perhaps that crazy maternal desire that someday my kid could be Somebody — the same desire that drives moms to tart up their 3-year-olds for beauty pageants, or fly their surly tweens across the country for elite sports competitions.
That night, I told DJ about what the others had said and enthusiastically asked, “Would you like to take some acting classes?”
“No,” he replied, “I’m not really interested in that.”
I felt like whapping him across the head. What kind of kid is not really interested in being in the spotlight? Even no-talent adults clamor for the opportunity to embarrass themselves on reality TV shows or, even worse, on YouTube. And here’s a kid with talent, but no desire to pursue stardom?
For me, this embodies the most difficult challenge of Free Range parenting — giving my son the freedom to choose his extracurricular interests. With the exception of swimming lessons, which I insisted that he take despite his protests, DJ has been allowed to decide what activities he does. And because he generally abhors busy schedules and has no desire to participate in competitive sports, his activity list is relatively anemic compared to his friends’.
It makes me worry about whether I should more actively “guide” DJ’s interests. In my mind, I picture him as a middle-aged man, shaking his fist at the TV and saying, “If only my mom had forced me to take those acting lessons!”
Trusting your kid to find his way to the park is one thing, but how about trusting him to find the path to his passions? It’s another Free Range challenge. A hard one.