When my sons were born, prematurely, the doctors said they would most likely not survive, and if they did survive, they could be severely handicapped. Knowing this, every day was a victory for us and as they grew – and throve – even the things most people take for granted were celebrated like huge accomplishments. Sebi finally walks! (at nearly 20 months). Alex gives us a real smile! (at 7 months of age) – each act consigned to history in my journal – photos of Sebi’s first wobbly steps on his little spaghetti legs – Alex’s first real smile when he finally figured out no one was going to stick needles in him every day.
I watched the twins grow with trepidation but immense pride and thankfulness that they had survived and turned out just fine. I was so very thankful for their health, I never really thought about anything else. Asking my children for achievements like being first in the class or the best at sports never occured to me – I was just happy to have them in school and running around. Alex was diligent, loved to please, and a hard worker. Sebi was probably the best at getting into trouble and making us laugh – but Alex managed to be head of his class, and Sebi was definitely the teacher’s pet. However, I had been so utterly traumatized by their birth and struggles to survive their first year of life, that it never occured to me to make a fuss over this. What counted for me was that they were happy and healthy – the rest was just window-dressing. What I was prepared for were their failures. Failing a grade in highschool and having to redo the year. Not getting into the program they wished for. Not being able to play certain sports or do certain things because of asthma – and the inevitable break-ups and fights, the car crashes, the broken bones… Each of these were technically failures, but I wanted them to be, in their way, seen as part of the steps to success.
Some people might say I simply set the bar low. But my children were never short-sighted. They had goals in life, and I simply made them see that each of their failures was important too. When Sebi failed his first entrance exam to the police academy and took a job as an online callsperson for Peogeot, he would get up early to put on a suit and tie – even if he was just going into a cubicle where he called people all day to talk about their cars. When he quit his lawschool studies in the middle of the year he became a volonteer fireman and ended up working as a fireman for seven years while he changed his major to psychology, finished his studies, and became a policeman – his dream job. His love life & break-ups were epic – but he finally found the woman of his dreams as well (also in the police!) Alex was more complicated – he wanted to live in the US, but it was too expensive to study there, so he went to community college, lived with my sister and brother-in-law, learned how to work in a restaurant, was accepted into a SUNY college in Potsdam, spent too much time partying and failed his first semester. He got a full time job, intending to pay his own way – after a year he gave up and came back to France. But he’d learned valuable lessons. How to manage money, how to get a job and a car – how to navigate insurance, banks – and he learned the real cost of studies in the US vs studies in France. He came back to Europe and got his Masters degree in microbiology and chemistry, then a degree in bio-technology and now works in a hospital His failures were never really failures – they were stepping stones to his future – without them, he never would have met his wonderful girlfriend, had the opporunities he’s had, and even though he struggled for a few years – he is where he wants to be now.
So what have I learned of all this? Failures are part of ife – what really counts is brushing them off, taking what can be learned from them, and ploughing on. My daughter (who is severely dyslexic and had huge problems in grade school learning to read) once told me that what she remembers most about her childhood was the one time she got a failing grade on her work – a huge red F on her paper. She was in tears as she showed it to me. I looked at it, and said, “It’s not what you think. It’s not for Fail – it means Forward – because from here, you can move ahead. I’ll always be proud of you, because you try so hard.” I don’t remember saying that to her – I honestly don’t. But she says it was the best thing I could have ever told her, and it made her realize that there was always a next time, and that she wouldn’t give up.
That, to me, is worth celebrating.