Brenda S. Williams
13 min readOct 31, 2023

--

WATER SEEKS ITS OWN LEVEL

Your children are not potter’s clay and no matter how hard you try to mold your children into your vision or perhaps a vision of your younger self, like water, they will always seek their own level. Of course, there are some children who follow in the footsteps of one or both of their parents. Perhaps, Tiger Woods’ son will become a world-class golfer. Perhaps, Serena Williams’ daughter will become a first-rate tennis phenom. However, more often than not, your children will go on to become the person of their choice, the person they were put on this earth to become.

Like many young females sporting an engagement ring, I had preconceived visions of what married life would look like, ranging from how my future husband and I would spend our weekends, to what kinds of sports events, music venues and art museums we would attend, to what kind of house we would eventually buy. The fact that we never discussed having children was never a factor in our imagined life. That is, until standing in the check-out line at a local supermarket one sunny afternoon, having just left the office of my OB-GYN, I was forced to come to grips with the fact that I was pregnant after six long years of marriage. Even then, my thoughts never envisioned what kind of child I was going to have — — never even wondered whether I would have a boy or a girl — — never considered whether my husband and I would go on to have more than one child. And, most importantly, never considered whether my husband would be overjoyed by this news or whether he would consider the news of this forthcoming child an intrusion into our selfishly independent, satisfying life. Thankfully, we both settled on accepting this news with pleasant resignation and happiness upon happiness slowly began to build over the next several months.

The day our daughter was born everything changed for me; and my plans for her went into overdrive. She came to us as a “preemie,” only four pounds and twelve ounces, very pink and with long narrow feet. As she lay in her inoculator, onlookers and family members not only remarked about how beautifully dainty she was, but how much she looked like her father, and how long her feet were. “She’s going to be tall like her father” they murmured. Her beaming father basked in the observations of how much she looked like him. I, on the other hand, had thoughts of excitement as I envisioned how much joy I would have in living out some of my dreams through my daughter. Of course, I would dress her in the most beautiful clothes. I even had a name picked out for her which was the same name of an adopted cousin of mine who was part German and part African American, and who looked like a beautiful, sweet, China Doll-like visage when I first met her. I was only eleven years old, but the image never left me. And so, the dreams that I had for this baby daughter were set in motion.

In these dreams, I decided she would do a minimum of two things-one, she would become an ice skater as I once enjoyed, and two she would play tennis as I once sought to enjoy but never quite got the hang of the sport. Although I must admit I was athletic — — a great soft ball player, a champion ping pong player at the local park, and a recruit by the Head Coach of the Junior High School Girls’ Volleyball Team. I would have been satisfied with witnessing my daughter as an evolving, pretty good ice skater and/or tennis player. I had no academic or career plans for her at the time, but knew she would be smart, and knew with encouragement and insistence from her dad and me, she would work to her ability, as I had failed to do in my younger years.

As a college-educated, two-career couple living an upper middle- class life, we were fortunate enough to purchase a three bedroom, one and a half bath house with a large, well landscaped yard, and a year-round sun porch with many large windows over- looking the fenced in backyard. Our house was on a lovely tree-lined street in a suburban neighborhood twelve miles west of New York City. There were similar families on the street who also had small children; which in our minds was the perfect place to raise our daughter.

Looking back at my childhood, I could not help but wax nostalgic about my experience with ice skating. In the coldest of winter months in our suburban town there were two places to ice skate. Located in the center of town was a large picturesque outdoor pond adorned with a patriotic statue in the middle of it and red brick walkways and park-like grass surrounding it. At night, there were flood lights all around the glistening white, albeit scratched up ice, and one could find ice hockey players at one end of the pond and “regular” skaters like me at the other end. While the hockey players were outfitted in their appropriate gear, the “regular” skaters were bundled up in a variety of outfits, some to keep warm and some allowing themselves to freely execute routines which mimicked professional ice skaters. I was somewhere between the former and the latter. Creamy hot chocolate awaited all who desired it, which was served in a space in a small log-cabin-like building where one could also rent skates. Of course, I had my own skates. There was no better place to be whether day or night, weekdays after school, or all day on weekends. And, happiness for me abounded…I didn’t have to be a great skater but a good enough skater brought joy to my heart.

When the preferred pond was not frozen, there was always the local indoor rink named appropriately after an iconic township coach where Ice Hockey Teams practiced in the early morning and after school hours, and where community members could enjoy skating in the evenings and on the weekends. By the time my daughter turned four or five years old, this was the desired place to skate; as for whatever reason, the winters weren’t usually cold enough for the outdoor pond to freeze. The idea of the presently much talked about global warming was not an issue back then. I had already checked with my daughter’s pediatrician to determine whether her ankles were strong enough for skating, and it was determined that a pair of her own skates, carefully measured to fit her feet, would be both safe and appropriate. Not only were pretty, new white ice-skates enthusiastically purchased, but knee pads and elbow pads were also purchased at the go-to local sports store. We were all set!

It’s difficult to describe my excitement when the first Sunday arrived when I would take my daughter to the rink. It was the first of many Sundays when I would put a roast in the oven instructing my husband to keep an eye on it, and off my daughter and I would go. The first few times at the skating rink, which was bursting with community members young and old, I could be seen holding her hand while we tentatively glided along the ice. Although I hoped she would come to feel more comfortable after several Sundays, I noticed instead that she did not seem to enjoy this activity but had a look of fear on her face, even as I continued to hold her hand. Plan B involved inviting her neighborhood friend to accompany us. This friend, we’ll call her “N,” was a couple of years older and one might describe her as being a bit of a “tomboy,” bolder, or more fearless. The idea was to show my little girl that there was nothing to be afraid of as, “Look at how much fun “N” is having.” “You can have the same kind of fun when you learn to skate.” When Plan B didn’t seem to work, it was time for Plan C. Ice skating lessons were in order with a professional instructor. However, during the first lesson, I looked on in horror as my little girl slipped on the ice and fell backwards onto her head. Luckily, the hurt was not so much physical, but emotional. It was at that moment that I had to admit that ice skating was not in my daughter’s future nor was it in my dream for her.

All was not lost for my dreams, however, as Spring would soon come. Not far from our home was a huge lovely park with a rose garden, bicycle paths, soccer and baseball fields, a professionally laid-out track, a small playground, and lucky for us, six beautiful, well-kept tennis courts. Both adults and children were offered tennis lessons during the Spring and Summer months and so it was determined that I would take lessons in the evening accompanied by a neighborhood acquaintance, and “E” as I shall henceforth refer to my daughter, would take lessons during the daytime hours with a school friend. At this point, one might ascertain that this too ended in disappointment, possibly due less to skill but more to boredom on E’s part. I was told it was “no fun”. As for me, it wasn’t tennis elbow that sidelined me, but the very beginning of bad, arthritic knees.

Not to fret, for after Summer comes Autumn when it’s not only school that begins, but other lessons begin as well. My mother, “E’s” Grandmother, enters the picture. Never one to let grass grow under her feet, my mother had decided to take piano lessons in her twilight years. Early one Saturday morning she asked me if she could take “E” with her to this lesson. I should have guessed that my mother had an ulterior motive, but I did not. Upon their arrival home, I learned, “E” took my piano lesson, and ‘Mrs. J’, the piano teacher, said she had talent”. Again, although an ulterior motive was at play here, that was the beginning of “E’s” piano lessons. Several piano lessons later, along with the many attendant recitals where mostly girls performed among family and friends in their most darling pastel made-to-order dresses, and in the fanciest of church halls or women’s clubs, “E” announced that she didn’t feel that she was advancing under her present teacher and wondered if we could find another teacher for her. I reminded her of her wonderful performance of a portion of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, however she insisted and persisted. She must have another teacher! To my surprise, this to her was serious business.

The new piano teacher gave lessons in a large house, where upon entering, one noticed a foyer with much dark mahogany woodwork and a parlor on each side of the entryway. In one parlor piano lessons took place, little did we know initially that in the parlor across the hall, voice lessons would take place. It turned out that we had entered the “music studio” of a lovely husband -and- wife team, interestingly one Italian and the other Jewish. I hesitate to take credit for my daughter deciding that she wanted voice lessons although I had recently taken her on a church outing into New York City to see the musical “Annie” where I feverishly fed her cough drops to keep her from coughing during the performance. I had also taken her to the famous Radio City Music Hall in New York City to see a production of Snow White. And, here we were wanting to stop piano lessons and take voice lessons. Apparently, the intersection of seeing the musicals and becoming excitedly distracted by the voice lessons taking place in the parlor across the hall, had planted this incredible seed. Initially, ‘E’s’ piano teacher was upset by her choice to drop piano and take voice lessons instead, but she soon came to accept the decision and began to accompany her on the piano during the frequent, more intimate voice parlor recitals for families and friends. The parlor recitals were not as grand as the piano recitals previously held in Women’s Clubs recital halls, but to say that “E” poured her heart into her voice lessons is an understatement. She was deemed a soprano with a unique voice, at which time her passion grew and grew. Mr. and Mrs. B, her former piano teacher and present voice teacher encouraged her, took her under their wings and recommended her for several opportunities which would give her the experience of performing and perfecting her craft. These opportunities soon set the stage for something which seemed to be on the brink of lasting.

The first musical that our daughter auditioned for was as a fifth grader. The name of the musical was Cabaret. On the night of the performance, the audience was seated in the dimly-lit school gym at several small round tables with black tablecloths and tiny vases with red flowers inserted, which represented an actual cabaret. The make-shift stage was appropriately brightly lit and the entire ambience demonstrated the hard work put forth by the team of professionally trained drama teachers. From this mother’s point of view, ’E’s’ acting, singing and stage presence, albeit not major parts, were spectacular! Then there was the performance of “Oliver” in middle school where most of the performances were choral performances; but it was the solo performance of “The Rose” at her middle school graduation ceremony that brought tears to my eyes. What poise she possessed as she gave a perfect performance in front of the entire middle school community of administrators, teachers, fellow students, parents and friends. She absolutely “knocked it out of the park.” I still get goose bumps thinking about the first time I witnessed her performing in front of such a large audience.

During her high school years, the events and opportunities just kept coming. Her confidence in her singing and hutzpah enabled her to audition for and win choral parts in two performances given yearly by an adult operetta club. One was “My Fair Lady”, the other, “Most Happy Fella”. Although not seeking a scholarship from the club for her participation, a scholarship, nonetheless was received. On the heels of this scholarship, two additional scholarships were received from a non-profit organization of adult singers and a community based choral group as well.

As a member of her high school’s performing arts program, which was in combination with a hefty academically oriented, college-bound curriculum, she took part in several musical theater performances including the lead role in “Snow White” which was performed in each of the elementary schools in town to the utter delight of the young children. I chuckled when she told me that the mother of a Chinese friend, wondered aloud why they would have a black Snow White. Additionally, she became a member of the jazz chorus earning an Ella Fitzgerld like scatting solo when the jazz band traveled to a competition at the well- known Berklee College of Music’s Jazz Festival in Boston, Massachusetts. Confidence having been attained she performed a solo rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for a Martin Luther King Jr. Annual School Assembly Program. My daughter, with a lyric soprano voice which was uniquely hers, went on as a frequent soloist in the high school’s prestigious choral group, the Madrigal Choir which she secretly auditioned for. Did I say this was serious business?

During E’s senior year of high school, the accolades, attention and newspaper articles of her talent continued. Both voice and musical theater had become a passion, and not surprisingly, she presented her father and me with the idea of delaying college to pursue a career in musical theater. Taking a “Gap Year” was not in vogue at the time. I was willing to entertain this notion; her father was not. Was I really putting E’s vision for herself before my vision previous dreams for her? After several family discussions, and after listening intently to E’s arguments and thoughts on the subject, it was decided as a family that she would go ahead and apply to college. She would continue to perform in college and treat her passion as an avocation. After all, she was also a student who would graduate in the top five percent of her high school graduating class. And although not mentioned previously, college was always a part of both of her parents’ dreams, bordering on absolutes.

A liberal arts college in the Northeast, deemed one of the prestigious “Seven Sisters” at a time when the Ivy League colleges were for male college students only, afforded her all the desires and opportunities hoped for. After taking part in a musical theater production as a first-year student, she decided to concentrate on performing in the highly acclaimed college choir which not only allowed her to perform in the United States, but allowed her to perform in Spain, France, and Switzerland. A double major in English and French satisfied her academic aspirations, and who would have imagined that the supportive faculty would play such a huge part in her chosen career.

As parents, we could not have been more pleased or proud of what she chose to do with her life. I might add that her father, a musician himself, was equally supportive or her musical talents and both he and “E” often criticized me for being the ultimate stage mom whenever I offered critical analyses of her performances — -with love of course. Ironically, everyone in her high school community thought she would major in music in college, not knowing it was never the plan. This avocation was apparently one piece of the puzzle which brought joy to her life. The other piece was her love of literature and world languages. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at an Ivy League University; and is now a professor of literature at a New England University. I would say she is a perfect blend of strengths from both mom and dad — her love of literature and languages from mom and her love of music from dad. However, dare I say, she is her own unique person who always spoke her mind, made her own carefully thought- out choices and ultimately became the woman she was meant to be, living the life she was meant to live.

Water does indeed seek its own level. Although you must know how much I enjoyed writing this piece, I must admit that I learned something as well. As parents, introduce your children to as many activities as possible whether they be sports, the arts, history, government, science theater or stamp collecting. If necessary, seek out those activities that don’t cost “an arm and a leg;” for they do exist. Ask your children what they would like to pursue. If they have no idea, present ideas to them and look for what makes their eyes light up. The public library is a good source of books on a variety of interests and it’s free. Museums are another inexpensive source of inspiration. Always keep the word “sacrifice” in mind for raising children usually requires it. Most of all, allow your children to safely evolve and be who and what they want to be. As the deceased Lebanon born writer, poet and philosopher, Kahlil Gibran wrote in his most famous book of poetic essays, The Prophet, in his poem”, “On Children”

“Your children are not your children,

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts”

--

--