Poor Opie. He had to miss football practice to take piano lessons from Miss Clara and he hated them. But after just a few lessons, Opie learned he had an ear for music and started playing guitar in a groovy rock and roll band. Well . . . perhaps I’m scrunching two episodes together, or maybe it was the Brady Bunch I’m thinking of, but no matter, we’ve all seen the story on TV and in real life where a child was coerced, forced, bribed or tricked into doing something they didn’t want to do, then suddenly realized it was something amazing.
I fear the days of rearing a child “buffet style” have come and gone. No longer do parents insist their children try a little bit of everything, but instead, have them focus on one main dish. Sure, your kid loves soccer, but how do you know they won’t love making pottery or camping, or dancing if they are busy with soccer 24 hours a day? If they try an activity once and don’t like it, parents are tempted to throw their hands in the air and say, “I tried, but he just hates the clarinet, so I’m not going to make him do it anymore.” But Mr. and Mrs. Fountain should insist little Pete keep trying and even though they must endure the most agonizing sound known to man — a beginning clarinet player, the budding musical genius may eventually realize he loves it and wants to spend his life ruling the jazz scene in New Orleans.
Dr. Harley Rotbart has authored an article that reminds us we have approximately 940 Saturdays to spend with our children before they leave home. The article was supposed to motivate parents to spend more quality time with their children, yet I took it to mean we only have 940 Saturdays to expose our children to a world of options, variety, adventure and all the possibilities of our amazing world.
Children who are exposed to a wide range of experiences learn perseverance and are more likely to keep trying to master unfamiliar and new tasks in school like reading or focusing on what seems to be a boring teacher because she doesn’t have a glowing, blinking screen attached to her forehead. Unfamiliar experiences teach adaptation, concentration and creativity.
“Children’s theatre? Oh, Lula would never get on stage.” But how do you know until you get little Lula to give it a try?” She may be shy at first, but with encouragement could turn out to be the star in the Possum Playhouse all-child version of Steel Magnolias. “Her dress looked like she had two pigs a-fightin’ under a blanket” (followed by wild applause and blowing kisses).
A balanced diet of sports, music, art, science, dance, literature, theatre and travel make for a well-rounded child that won’t grow up to bore their date by only being able to talk about one thing. And we can’t forget the powerful potential of wide-open days with no plans at all, and no adults butting in, which often leads to the greatest childhood inventiveness ever.
Opie’s childhood combination of football, music, tree climbing and fishing, led him to a creative career directing block-buster films for the Mayberry Film Festival. Aunt Bee and Andy arranged his 940 Saturdays just right.
This story first appeared in AL.com newspapers.