When Jane and Michelle were younger, I got them involved in all kinds of extracurricular group lessons: ballet, tennis, gymnastics, ice-skating and Chinese, as well as private lessons: drum, guitar, cello, piano and horse riding. Jane took piano lessons all the way till the spring before she went to college. She still plays a little whenever she comes home. Michelle quit piano when she made the high school tennis team as a freshman. At the time she told me she would no longer have time for lessons and daily practice, but she would still play if there was time, but that hasn’t happened. I pressured Michelle to learn piano when she was only four and a half since it would be easier for me to take both of them to the same class. Michelle never let me get away with it. Every time things got tough, she would cry and scream, “I never wanted to learn piano, you made me and I don’t even like it!”

I don’t believe any skills they’ve acquired will ever be wasted. But from hindsight, I’d have had Michelle taking tennis lessons much earlier and nurturing Jane to develop some athletic interests. Up to this day, people still remind me of how Jane used to jump so effortlessly and swiftly like a little monkey. Michelle’s drawings got picked twice by the Naperville Police Department Crime and Prevention Calendar. Back then I thought “Well, if she has an artistic gift, it’ll have to blossom on its own because we don’t have time for another class.” And that little bud didn’t bloom. Looking back, I didn’t pay enough attention to each girl’s uniqueness and therefore missed many opportunities to help them develop meaningful and lasting interests and hobbies.

So I vowed not to make the same mistakes with Jake. Jake spent the first four years of his life playing and exploring, no lessons. Jane’s piano teacher who used to come to our home every week was eager to enlist the talkative Jake as one of her students. Jake said no and so I said “No, he isn’t ready.” At the age of four, we signed him up for swimming (a survival skill) class at Lifetime and he has loved it. And as a wonderful side effect, I’ve been working out at Lifetime regularly for two and a half years since his first swimming lesson. Win-win! Close to the age of five, Jake wanted to play tennis because his friend said it was fun. So we went to the Naperville Tennis Club where Michelle used to be trained. After a couple of sessions, I had to entice him to continue by offering him a snack from the lobby vending machine. The Club is closed for the summer season and Jake hasn’t wanted to go back after two terms of classes.

We started Tae Kwon Do a year ago and Jake has advanced from white to purple belt. He is very serious about mastering the forms. Last week, Jake was struggling in class. I could tell because when he noticed I was watching him, he just glanced at me without smiling.

“Jake, purple form looks very difficult.” I said when we got into the car.
“It’s too hard…” Jake sounded defeated.
“But I’m very proud of you because you were working very hard, and you held yourself together even though I knew you were struggling inside.”
Jake started crying.
“I’m sure you’ll master it if you keep on trying and not giving up. That’s how you learned the orange and green forms, right?”
“Yes.” Jake was still crying.

I reminded Jake not to get too frustrated before he went into the studio last Saturday.
“How did it go today?” I asked after the class.
“I didn’t get frustrated, and I am getting a hang of it.”

Joe and I have been taking private ballroom dance lessons next door to the Tae Kwon Do studio for almost a year, another awesome side effect.

Recently Jake showed an interest in clarinet when we were reading the SpongeBob books. I sought advice from my personal consultant Michelle.
“Jake wants to learn clarinet. What do you think?”
“Why clarinet?”
“Because Squidward plays it.”
“No… It’s a girl’s instrument.”
“He doesn’t want to play piano. So what should we do?”
“He should play drum. There is a drum show in high school. He has to be really good and pass the audition to be in the show.”
“Thanks. I’ll ask him.”

Of course Jake didn’t want to play a girl’s instrument. He actually got excited about drum. “We already have a drum set in the basement. So we don’t have to buy anything!”

So far the drum lesson has been going very well. Jake practices everyday (mostly on his own) and is making progress every week.

I don’t remember how we got into ice skating. But Jake has jumped a couple levels in the last few months. He is like a bullet on the ice, always charging ahead during the 40-minute class. A few weeks ago, his coach approached me and asked we’d be interested in private lessons because “Jake shows some potential and he listens well.” I didn’t know what to say. To me figure skating is more of girl thing than clarinet.

Jake actually said ‘yes’ when I asked him if he wanted take one-on-one lesson to get better at skating.
So I sought opinion from Joe. To my surprise, Joe didn’t oppose to it either.
“But what is a boy going to do with figure skating?” I wondered.
“He can play Hockey.” Joe replied.
“Hockey is a very physical game. I am not sure about that. The coach said he could get him to compete regionally in a couple of years.”
“We’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out, we can always choose to stop.”
“You are right.”

Soccer season is going to start soon and so we’ll get busier. This will be Jake’s third year playing the sport. Often times Jake ran the field without a purpose. Like most kids his age, he’d give the ball a random kick, hoping someone else would finish the business. But towards the end of last season, Jake suddenly transformed into an awesome goalie, protecting fiercely and skillfully his team’s goal from being scored. What I like about soccer is the concept of team building, collaboration and the lessons about winning and losing. It’s also lovely to be out there with other parents, cheering for our kids and exchanging valuable information.

Our goal is to open the door to different experiences for Jake. In the process, we are observing in him particular talents or a streak of intelligence and inspire him to develop it. I understand we’ll have to streamline his activities at some point because the last thing we want to do is overload him. It will be exciting if Jake ends up becoming really good at or passionate about music or art or science or sports. However the process of getting there is more rewarding than the end result itself because mastery leads not only to more positive emotions but also to the discovery of his signature strengths that will serve Jake and those around him well for the rest of his life.