|Genevieve, normally not the ambitious (i.e. competitive) one|
Is ambition good or bad? I used to discuss this with my freshmen English classes when talking about Homer's Odyssey. On the one hand, ambition is what set Odysseus out on his great voyage in the first place--without ambition, there would be no story--and on the other, ambition causes him to miss 20 years of his son's life, not to mention the pain and suffering of poor Penelope, his wife, who had to stay home and wait (and weave) while her husband was out having all these adventures (some people think Homer must have been female because The Odyssey so well depicts the peculiar suffering of women). In any case, I used to be extremely ambitious, and competitive. Sports, school, family board games ... I liked to be first. Eventually, I mellowed (thank goodness), but Grace, my oldest, seems to have inherited the trait. We could be singing along with the radio in the car, having a fine old time, and suddenly she'll decide that we could all have much more fun if it were a competition. And she was upset when Joseph recently started crawling, at six months, because, well, she would like to hold the record for youngest to crawl in the family, thank you very much. Genevieve, on the other hand, was not born itching to compete. She takes things in her own time, whether walking (14 months), talking (only 7 words at age 2), potty training (I won't go into it, but it was a struggle), etc. She still has the training wheels on her bike, while Grace took hers off before her 4th birthday (a fact she likes to remind Genevieve of). It's not that Genevieve's not capable. She just likes to think things through before doing them. So I wasn't sure what to expect when I signed Genevieve up for swim lessons in our neighbor's pool across the street. Her teacher, Olivia, was wonderful, but I know Genevieve. Indeed, despite being excited about the first lesson, she decided, right before the second lesson, that she didn't want to go. Going under water was too scary. But I talked her into walking across the street just to say hello, and Olivia talked her into staying for the lesson. They just had fun. I watched Genevieve afterwards, though, as Grace bragged about how she had done laps and jumped off the diving board during her lesson. She didn't like it one bit, this feeling of being "second." And it turns out Genevieve had some ambition of her own. This past week, when I came to pick her up from the lesson, she amazed me by jumping off the diving board and swimming, by herself, to the side of the pool. She was thrilled. "I wasn't scared at all, Mom," she told me. "I just talked to myself and told me I could do it." Then, she wanted to know if her cousin Eddie, also her age, already knew how to swim. I told her he was taking lessons, too. "Because if he doesn't know how, I could teach him, Mom," Genevieve offered. She was beaming, breathless with her pride. And then she jumped in one more time to show me what she could do. So for the moment, though I know ambition and its sister competitiveness cause heartache at times, I was so grateful they had taken root in Genevieve to push her to take this leap. Perhaps we all need a little rivalry and ambition at times in order to help us do what we didn't think was possible before.