I was watching Tiny-Small build with her blocks today and it struck me, blocks are a metaphor for life. You stack them, they fall down, you start again. How often do we start over in life? Yearly? Daily? With each and every breath? Maybe the second time you build your block tower it gets a little higher than the first time. Maybe you knock it down on purpose because something about it just isn’t quite right. Maybe you abandon the blocks all together and start a one-man band instead.
I noticed something else Tiny-Small was doing that really got my attention. She wasn’t just building one tower, but three. Some people focus on one tower and build it until it is perfect and tall. Other people build multiple, smaller towers. She takes after me. I’m pretty much a jack of all trades, master of none. I can do almost anything well if I work at it long enough. If I put in the effort, but I rarely become an expert. I rarely make one, giant, perfect tower, but I can make an awesome three tower subdivision. So can Tiny-Small.
I like to explore. I like some adventure. I like a little risk. I am definitely more of a three tower person than a one tower person. I am definitely a lets add another block and see if it falls kind of person. I may never paint the best painting, but I will paint something. I may never be the best parent, but I will be a parent. I may never write an award-winning novel, but I will write a novel (the procrastination is going amazingly well, thank you for asking). I may knock a few towers down on purpose once in a while too. I may decide I don’t like writing novels and want to write a memoir instead. I may throw away my oil paints all together (very likely), and I may choose new parenting strategies when the old ones stop working. I’m not usually afraid of starting over. I’m not usually afraid of doing more than one thing. Not usually.
But, sometimes I am. Sometimes I will do whatever it takes to keep my tower from falling. I will shelter it, cling to it, create barriers to it, but that usually doesn’t go so well either. What fun is a tower that never falls down? What fun is painting the same thing over and over again (because I only know how to paint that one thing well)? What good is writing the same words on a page “I will not write on the wall with crayons” 500 times? What good is success without a little failure? Movement is always superior to stagnation, right?
The thing is our culture is always teaching us to specialize. We emphasize the importance of being the best at something, of doing one thing really, really well. Some of us aren’t built that way. Some of us want to do three things even if it means we will never be number one at any of them. Give up painting to write or writing to paint? Never! Give up parenting? That’s not even an option. I mean, I kind of LOVE this kid. Who wouldn’t? She’s such a good teacher. She’s teaching me so much about myself. She’s teaching me about self-acceptance. She doesn’t feel bad about building three towers, knocking two down and then starting again. She just keeps building and growing, and getting smarter. She’s happy too.
I am often an amateur. A professional amateur. I really think I need to be OK with that. I need to be OK with starting over. It’s just sort of in my nature to try new things and when I go against that urge I am mostly left with anxiety and self-doubt. That’s when I start to stagnate. That’s where unhappiness and discontent is born. I don’t have to be the best, or the first, or the most to contribute. I just have to build. I’ll contribute along the way.
Anyway, I was impressed with Tiny-Small today as she built and rebuilt and added and removed and found joy just in the process of it all. It gives me hope for her journey in the future and reminds me that all is not lost when a tower falls, or when we neglect to build the tallest, most perfect tower of them all. There is value just in building a tower. There is learning and joy and personal success. When one tower falls, it just means we get to build a new one or two smaller ones, or, maybe, start a one-man band instead. Blocks are a metaphor for life. Living is something my daughter knows how to do quite well.