Mothers’ Day 2012
As I write this first draft I’m struck by the urgency of my muse. For the last two or so weeks I’ve been consumed by the idea of this blog. Nightly my mind races on a track of insomnia: who, what, how? I wake up drained but still driven to do this. I’ve never been so committed to action. I’m more of a “thoughts” person; a machine of good ideas unfueled by initiative.
Then I realized something: Only one thing motivates me, only one thing makes me hustle strive. You’ll hear this from any parent: Our off-spring makes us DO. When we’d rather sleep in on a weekend, our daughter’s soccer game gets us up. When we’d rather sleep through the night, our baby’s cough keeps us up. When we’re flat broke, our son’s school fees get paid; and when we’d rather watch the news, our infant’s finger-painting project takes priority. So, this effort, after all, is not surprising. It springs from my eternal quest to be the best mother I can be, to proffer to the world the best child that I can, to learn from other parents and to help other parents on their journey.
Yet this endeavor is the confluence of quite a few tides. I believe it first sprung from my helplessness when my child was leaving 9th grade. We had had the good fortune to have him attend 6th to 9th grades in the best all-boys’ school in the City (heck, I’ll go out on a limb here, in the Country!) This school, unfortunately, only went up to 9th Grade. It was time to find him another home. Not easy in Manhattan generally; not easy in 2009 when the economy was still reeling and folks felt they couldn’t afford to be charitable given the Stock Market’s uncertainty; not easy with the surplus of talented, bright 9th graders also looking for a new school-home; and not easy given the mediocre grades my son brought home for 8th Grade. (To digress and in his defense, 8th Grade was an awful time for him – he suffered some life-altering experiences.) Nonetheless, I was at my wits’ end. He had been accepted to a couple schools, but neither was what I would have wanted, and both were going to cost. A. Whole. Lot. I halfheartedly conceded failure and enrolled him in the lesser of two evils. But was still doubting my choice a few months later.
It was right around this time that I read Andre Agassi’s Open, an autobiography co-authored with JR Moehringer. A great story, but I was more taken by the way JR Moehringer captured Agassi’s voice. I immediately sought other books by him and discovered he’s a Pulitzer winning reporter who had written his own memoir, The Tender Bar, which I immediately bought. I totally devoured The Tender Bar. It is a beautiful, poignant story of a fatherless boy. I wished, one day, my son would be inspired to write such a book; I wished his take-away from his now almost fatherless life would be so insightful, so nostalgic and so wise. (Unsolicited plug: Reader, if you choose to stop reading this blog right now, I won’t blame you, but I strongly encourage you to read The Tender Bar – you won’t regret it).
I ruminated on this book and pondered as to whence it came — this humility, this genius, this tenderness, this humor. I envied the parent who had raised such a man. More importantly, I wanted to tap that resource for myself. Enter the stalker researcher in me: Of course, I searched for, and found Mrs. Moehringer. Don’t judge, People! It was easy – she wasn’t exactly hiding. And she even admits I wasn’t the first to track her down! I congratulated her on her son’s success, and on how she had done such a great job with him. She was modest, and self-effacing. Moreover, she was empathetic. Here I was, on the phone with the mother of a Pulitzer Prize winner and we were talking like two parents over the sandbox at the local playground. I expressed my fears, my dreams, my regrets to her, and good woman, she listened, offered advice, and cheered me on. I asked multiple questions which she patiently answered and even offered to get my book signed by the author himself — alas, it was on my Kindle. I promised to stay in touch and tell her how my son turned out. I didn’t keep that promise because when I told my friends and family of our conversation, they cringed with embarrassment that I had invaded this woman’s privacy. And though she hadn’t seemed to mind, I felt badly for having done so.
Fast forward to present day: My son is no longer in the school we didn’t like. He’s in a school of his own choice; still costly, but we both like it; 11th Grade, where college is the next frontier. Again, I’m beset by worries as to what he’ll do, how he will turn out. By now though, I’m less caught up in the where and the which. I just want him to go to college, and emerge productive and happy. And again, my current low-grade frettings are intercepted by another book. This one, called Defending Jacob, by William Landay, is a well-written tale which delves into nature versus nurture hypotheses and examines the lengths a parent would go to protect a child and a community from further damage. (Again, reader, thanks for sticking with me thus far, but if you must leave now, I urge you to buy this book — a great read and a great lesson in parenting with a nice twist at the end). With Mr. Landay’s help, I’m again reassured I’m doing a decent job. (And, no, I didn’t track him down to chat!!)
Meanwhile, along the way, I’ve had the privilege of meeting, and working with, some fantastic people. Renowned architects, media personalities, tech savants, businessmen and politicians. In every instance, I would come away with a tic, a query, an underlying curiosity — what was their childhood like? I speculated wildly. Coming from different backgrounds, different career choices, different upbringing: All hugely successful in their chosen field. Juxtapositions such as these made me wonder, what commonality do these folk share? What makes them luminaries?
In my humble opinion, one thing stood out: It seemed to me they were all well brought up. An odd phrase, that: well-brought up. What does it mean, and why does it matter? After some thought, I realized there is more to it. After all, not all children in one family excelled yet they may all be “well-brought up”; sooo, the mystery goes deeper. Again the question, what causes a person to be successful? More to the point, how is a successful person raised? What was he like as a child? What advantages did he have or not have? How was he disciplined? What was his religion? Was he single-parented? Home-schooled? Prep or public? Breast or bottle? Single or siblings? Natural or c-sectioned? There is so much more to the final product than whether he was well-brought up. And I realized something else. This has always been my quest, I have always wanted to uncover, nay expose, what makes a leader who he is. What got him to genius, celebrity, power, heroism or brilliance. Where did the trajectory begin?
Personally, I know I’m a direct result of my parents’ parenting: My mom was an avid reader, she stressed diction, vocabulary and self-education. If you don’t know something, go to the library, look it up, research it. I too am an avid reader, and when I want to learn something or find something out, nothing stops me. On the other hand, my siblings are not necessarily like that. What does it all MEAN? How does a person’s childhood translate to success, without the obvious silver spoon? Over time, as I’ve met these extraordinary people and read about others, I’ve always wondered about their childhood, who and how they were as children. I wonder about these twenty-something millionaires of dot-com fame, these mega-athletes with decades-long careers; these politicians who make a difference, these scientists whose research changes lives, these heroes of unselfish bravery.
And as I ponder, over time I realized I can’t be the only mother who wants to know, but more importantly, what parent doesn’t want to talk about his/her babies? Indeed, what mother doesn’t want to wax poetic about her baby, successful or not? His first word, her first steps, that time he stole ate all the cookies in the jar, the day she “ran away”? I’m ALWAYS ready to talk about my son, so there must be tons of parents wanting to detail their child-rearing habits, especially if they have something to brag about. And there are tons of moms, new moms, moms to be, old moms, (and dads) who want to know how they did it.
This blog’s purpose is to dig down and reveal, in their own words, how these parents raised children who are renowned leaders in their chosen field, and the early habits of these future news-makers.