Monday, January 30, 2012

It's About Passion, People!

Tween and teen emotions run high. Whether it's elation (when things go their way) or devastation (when things don't) or any and every range in between. Most middle and high school students live very dramatic emotional lives.

This heightened sensitivity isn't limited to great big events, like falling in or out of love. A perceived snub in the cafeteria, a new episode of Glee, an unfair grade on a math test ... pretty much any day-to-day occurrence can be fraught with feeling.

So, it always surprises me when another mother complains that her daughter isn't passionate about anything. Granted, these moms aren't talking about exultation over a new cell phone (or misery as said cell phone is confiscated when its owner is caught using it after hours). They are talking about bigger issues: a sense of purpose, a mission, one's life's work.

I've never had this problem. From the time my daughter saw the movie Spirit with her little friends from Sundance Preschool, she has been passionate about one thing (and, pretty much one thing only): horses. Horses, horses, horses. All horses, all the time.

Now, as a fourteen-year old, horses are more than a hobby. My daughter is an athlete, practicing many hours per week, honing her skills and competing in events (often against women considerably older and more experienced). My daughter is a scholar, reading books — both fiction and non- — about horses, studying breeds and tack and technique. My daughter is a philanthropist, donating time and money to various organizations. She has helped save abandoned horses, worked with disabled children in therapeutic programs, and enabled inner city children to gain confidence by learning to ride. Because of her grand passion (and, trust me, it is a very grand, very passionate passion), my daughter has become a better student and a mentor to younger riders. She's already looking at colleges with Equine Studies curricula. (Apparently, I'll have to pay room and board for her pony as well as tuition. Help.)

I confess, as the reluctant mother of an equestrienne, I find horseback riding to be both expensive and inconvenient. But, I also appreciate the fact that my daughter is not hanging out downtown, drinking, smoking, or prematurely dating. She has a nightshirt that says, "Better the stall than the mall." Amen!

This past weekend, I had the amazing privilege of reconnecting with nearly a hundred people who shared my own youthful passion. As children and teenagers, we were part of a repertory theatre company in New York. We rehearsed four days a week after school and did four performances each weekend. We toured New England in the summers; we traveled to Canada and Washington, DC. We played at Lincoln Center, Broadway's Shubert Theatre, on TV and in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (How cool is that!)

After 30 years, we were all ... well ... emoting (remember, we were theatre people). There were countless hugs and many tears. What struck me as we shared our extraordinary memories was that we all knew in our hearts that we had been part of something bigger than any of us as individuals. Even at the time, at fifteen, sixteen or seventeen years old, we recognized this. That is what I took away from my experience there. And, that is what my daughter is taking away from her experience now.

That's what passions are all about.

Will my daughter compete on the Olympic equestrian team? Probably not. Will she go on to a career in equestrian medicine or business or advocacy? Maybe. But, will she take away transferable skills, like how to set goals and work hard for something you want, how to handle disappointment, how to muck a stall? Yes.

Let's face it, figuratively speaking, we all need to know how to muck a stall.

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