Passion Starts Young
At 23 years old, I was a new mom responsible for a tiny six-pound human. I often wondered if I was doing anything right. With the passage of time and two more babies to love, I appreciated the comfort of familiar routines and tasks. I was passionate about trying to be a good mom, but I didn’t give a thought to how I would help my children find their passions. My kids were grown before I realized the crux of the matter: Parents set a powerful example for children from day one.
My kids didn’t grow up with a silver spoon. We lived in a small town in Ohio. Our old house had character and stacks of books everywhere. My husband John taught elementary school. I was a stay-at-home mom until my youngest started first grade. Then, I worked at a state institution for adults with disabilities, and later, I managed group homes.
Siblings have their own unique identities and ideas (of course!), with personalities that can be night and day apart. So, regardless of the impact of life experiences and the argument for nurturing, the set of genes they were born with factored in.
My first child, Ben, was born with an old soul—calm and thoughtful yet driven by insatiable curiosity. As a toddler, he made many charts and was drawn to endless books. He had been fascinated by The Electric Company, a children’s show on PBS, and taught himself how to read long before he started school.
My daughter Maria’s personality contrasted with her brother’s; she popped out ready to rock and roll. She woke up around midnight, wide-eyed, happy, and looking for toys. On dark quiet nights, I carried an alert baby girl and wore a path around our dining-room table, softly patting her back to encourage her to go back to sleep. At nine months, she walked fast, with a persistent fondness for daredevil acrobatics.
During Maria’s first story hour at the library without me at three years old, she somehow talked her way onto the librarian’s lap. At home, she grabbed books and a stool to “read” to her baby sister, Beth. Our kids visited their dad’s classroom, but Maria was the only one who talked about being a teacher, a vocation John loved.
From the start, Beth was easy-going, shy, inquisitive, and on the quiet side. She talked a little later than usual, because her big sister talked for her. At four years old, Maria lived in her Snow White dress and often announced the cast of her princess story: I was the wicked queen, Ben was the handsome prince, and Beth was the dwarf Dopey—which Maria pronounced “Dupey.”
Our youngest liked to pat our backs during big bear hugs. We called her our little lawyer for her ability to talk her way in and out of most anything with a big dimpled smile. When Beth was 14, our lives changed in the blink of an eye. A car accident left her with a cut spinal cord and quadriplegia, and I expected her to lose her smile. I’m so glad she didn’t.
Like her brother and sister, Beth found her passion on her own: giving back to the amazing disability community. Today, she is a lawyer with ongoing pro-bono work for disability nonprofits and businesses. I’ve been a disability advocate since long before Beth’s spinal cord injury. We’re both active volunteers in the disability community.
Ben became an avid reader in college. He earned his first master’s degree in English literature and his second in library science. He recently took his high-school robotics team to state for the first time and works as a librarian. When he was a toddler, we read endless books. I love them as much as he does, and I’m thrilled to see my first book in print, a memoir about our amazing new directions after Beth’s injury.
Maria is passionate about education for children with disabilities. She supervises special-ed staff, creates effective programs, and teaches workshops. Like her dad, she cares deeply about her students. Maria, Beth, and I are proud to be disability advocates, each in our own ways.
John and I didn’t set out to help our children find their passions, but I’m so glad they found them on their own. Actions really do speak louder than words. I’m sure that the world would be a better place if more parents shared their passions with their children.