During carpool recently I witnessed an 8-year-old realize her relevance and her sense of belonging even more than before. What a total profundity. It happened by accident and this involves J.K. Rowling…
It’s my belief that getting a child to understand their import is a hope housed in almost every parent, teacher, auntie, or grandfather. When those of us, even peripherally involved in a child’s life, witness a child discovering their capacity, import, potential, and connectedness the moment can be immense. I don’t think I’m overstating this.
Everyone wants to feel they are capable. Everyone wants to feel they belong. We learn and see and feel our connection in infinite ways.
You’ve probably read a lot about parenting your children more with a focus on “grit” than with a focus on accomplishment. I think most of us can all agree that perseverance and a steadiness in keeping a “can-do” attitude is far more important for survival and for joy in life than any accomplishment we’ll ever have. In fact it’s in our failure that we perhaps find ourselves feeling more connected and less alone.
The best moments we have with our children are therefore neither about grit nor honing success — they are typically about presence. Being aware of the sincere vitality in being alive together and a part of when our children grow, delight, see, or be seen is a thunderous thing. The moments when it happens are hard to contain in our heart, no matter how big it is.
Working to cultivate grit is certainly a meme in the perfect-parenthood swirl of advice this decade. Working to extend yourself so you fail is something all of us want to do when we think about tapping into our true potential as workers, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and community members. But it’s hard to push to fail and sometimes, as odd as it sounds, it’s hard to fail well.
Sometimes failure happens because we’ve stretched ourselves too far. Sometimes, of course, it is the external factors that bring failure. Most of the time it’s a combination of the two. Sometimes we learn about failure through our own experiences as we stumble and then heal our own scars.
Connectedness, togetherness, and the capacity to contribute to things greater than ourselves will always be foundational for humans. Every day should be about building more and more of this entanglement with each other, with those that we love, as best we can.
So back to that day carpooling. On the way to school, my car full of delightful school children, we got talking about about the Harry Potter series and specifically J.K. Rowling. I mentioned that I remembered hearing she’d submitted her book, “about 7 times before a publisher had accepted it” and now she’s the author that has sold books faster than any other human on earth. When I realized I wasn’t certain about my facts, I did something I DON’T typically do. I asked my 10 year-old to grab my cellphone (!!) and look up the real story of J.K. Rowling and her attempts to publish her first Harry Potter book.
He used wiki, then he used a search engine and landed on a version of the story. At this point we’d parked at school and so an 8 year-old now was leaning over his shoulder helping interpret what he was reading online. Curiosity was abloom. The children found this explanation:
The Christopher Little Literary Agency receives 12 publishing rejections in a row for their new client, until the 8-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor demands to read the rest of the book. The editor agrees to publish but advises the writer to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books. Yet Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling spawns a series where the last four novels consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, on both sides of the Atlantic, with combined sales of 450 million.
“Until the 8-year-old demands to read the rest of the book…….”
There we were, a 42 year-old woman, four children ages 5, 7, 8, and 10 years-old, all left somewhat stunned. And it was the 8-year-old who said it best, a grin extending wildly across her face, “That could have been me.”
That could have been me!
Yes — we learned about failure and J.K.’s grand perseverance and the reality that you never know… But we realized that it was in fact a child who likely created the path for her stories to reach the world. “That could have been me” and “that could be me” speaks to a sense of belonging and possibility. Knowing and being reminded that anything is possible is always something for pause. Children DO change and define the world. Let us never let them forget it.