One of our largest parenting challenges — and believe me, we have a number of those — is striking the appropriate balance in paying attention to each of the four kids. It doesn't help that all basically like and do the same things (dance, acting, theater, in case you haven't guessed by now), and are — like all siblings — genetically programmed to compete with each other.
At times, life in our house feels like a long, constant guitar pull, in which musicians perform in a round-robin format and end by turning to the next singer with the implied, "Top that!" At others, you watch helplessly as Vince Lombardi retires and is replaced by Phil Bengston; no matter how good the successor may be, it's impossible to follow a legend.
All four have their strengths. Nicholas definitely has the big picture gene — he's "directed" the family shows for as long as we can remember (see the "Pooper Heroes" video below) — as well as comedic timing and a very nice singing voice. His greatest strength, in my opinion, is in art; he did a beautiful job of illustrating a children's book we are working on as a family project.
Kate brings a combination of ditzy, otherworldly humor and a long, lithe dancer's body to the proceedings. Emma's strengths are tap, gymnastics, and a sly, dry, very funny sense of humor. (Definitely she was an adult in the womb — see "The Zoo Story.")
They all are smart, sharp kids, children any parent would be proud to have. But I know it's hard for them not to feel overshadowed by Ben, the flip-a-switch kid.
This is the child who potty-trained in one day at age 3, rode a two-wheel bicycle after an afternoon at age 4, won national and world aerobic gymnastics championships by age 9, and is now part of the company of his first Broadway show ("Ragtime") at age 11. Everything, it seems on the surface, comes easy to him.
This makes the juggling act even more difficult for us, his parents, because it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. You can't compare "Macbeth" at the Folger Shakespeare Library to a fifth grade class production. Both have merit; both provide you with opportunities.
As his parents, we've seen how hard Ben works at his craft, and how much he has grown as a performer (and human being) as a result of the chances he's gotten over the past two years. We know how tough it is to get up for school at 7:30 a.m. after not getting home until midnight because of a show. We have heard from his fellow actors and directors that he is a professional who is on time and on cue, ready to do anything at a moment's notice. We know that his peers, not just his siblings, don't understand him sometimes. And yet he has perservered.
I'm just as proud of that as I am of Emma's A on a project, or Kate's self-portrait that hangs in the hallway of her new school, or of seeing Nicholas as a member of his homecoming court. (Although, in true Nicholas fashion, he ditched the dance afterward.)
Our mantra has been to help each child develop and grow at his or her own pace, and to give them the training and opportunities they need as they move forward. Are we always successful at the juggling act? No. Do we always try? Yes.
Someday, I hope all of our kids will look back and remember that we did try, that we love them, and that we were there to support them when it counted. Isn't that all you can truly hope for as a child?
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