This post originally ran on Christmas Eve last year on another blog. We bring it back because we love this song and the message it has for parents.
“The Little Drummer Boy” is my favorite Christmas song. It makes me cry every year, this song about two little poor boys and their gifts. One, with his drum; One, with His endless capacity for love and acceptance. I saw this quote from Leo Buscaglia on a California Baptist University billboard the other day: “Your talents are a gift from God. What you do with them is your gift to Him.” Amen.
Here’s the thing about gifts, though: we don’t always get what we want. And when it comes to gifts from the Big Guy, if your heart and soul are not paying close attention, you may not know a gift for what it is.
In my years as a teacher, I saw this again and again. Not from my 16 year old students. Teenagers have a special and innate ability to dream BIG. Why not? They are at the beginning of their journeys; the highway is long and uncharted in front of them. It is a time of life when the possibilities truly are endless.
But their parents.
I sat in my share of parent meetings. I cannot count how many times I heard some variation on this theme: “Look at him. He doesn’t care about anything. He’s throwing away his future! He’ll never get into college! He’s going to grow up to be nothing.”
Wow, right? Except, in parent speak, what that really means is this: “Look at my beautiful child. I am terrified that he is growing up. He doesn’t understand that I want the very best for him. I love him so much and I cannot bear for him to struggle. I want the best for him.”
You can’t teach a child for 180 days not get to know him. Not on the same level as a parent, but teachers know your kids in ways you don’t. And I would think, Don’t you know what I know? He looks like a hot mess, but have you seen how he draws? Have you heard him play his guitar? Have you read his poetry? Seen him ride his bike? Do you know he can fix my computer? With a paperclip????
A child who has a passion for something, even if that passion interferes with their grades and their college future, is not going to be nothing. The child who draws anime on standardized test forms, who stays out late playing in his band, who breaks his leg trying to skate down the staircase, who skips school to go surfing—that child is a Drummer Boy.
I have known tons of Drummer Boys and Girls. They can be kind of angry. Or they can be really quiet, which is not normal for high school students. Or they grow their hair down to hide their faces. Or they are “that kid” in class who seems like the agent of the devil. I tried to see beyond the front. All that obnoxious noise hiding an artist, a poet, a dancer. I tried to see their gift, to have them play their music, whatever it was, for me.
But like the boy in the song, Drummer Boys and Girls approach their own gift tentatively. It’s all they have to give, and they aren’t sure it’s good enough. It’s the thing that makes them happiest in the world, and for that very reason, they aren’t sure they can trust it. They are surrounded by us, too many grown-ups who hate their jobs, their choices, their lives. These kids, they’re scared that’s what being a grown-up means. They’re scared that their heroes, the ones who do what they love and love doing it, were just lucky. These Drummer Boys worry they won’t ever be that lucky.
They think they have to fall in line. They know that when their mamas tell them that they “can be anything you want, sweetie”, there’s a giant, silent asterisk. Except that thing they really want to be. And society, all of us, are just as guilty. We show them, or we allow the message to be that success equals money.
Some of you are Drummer Boys from way back. You know what I’m talking about: that moment you gave up your dream to fall in line with someone else’s definition of happy, wealthy, successful.
My Drummer Boy wants to be a chef. He has said this since he was two. We bought him a play kitchen and caught some flak for it. But he has never wavered. He watches the Food Network. He cooks Sunday meals with my husband. He’s serious about this.
Once I told him he could be a chef after he went to college. My husband said “College is not going to help him be a chef”. I rolled that idea around in my head for a minute. I envisioned my son living in a dive studio apartment while he earns his chops as a line cook in NYC. I saw myself as the mom whose son did not go to college, after three generations of college graduates. I’ll admit it. I cringed.
Then I got my feet under me. I tell him he can be anything he wants, and I stifle the asterisk. I take the “But” and lock it up in the basement of my mother’s heart and forget about it. We will scrape up the money to send him to cooking school (only the best, of course; which costs the same as Stanford, who knew?). I will save the laundry dollars and quarters and send them off to help pay his rent. In Paris, hopefully.
We will do it because of what happens at the end of the song. The Baby smiled at the Drummer Boy. If my son has a gift and passion for cooking, it did not come from me. It truly is a gift from God. And in this house, we don’t second guess God.
I know we dream big for our kids. We tell our teenagers “No!” when what we mean is “Be safe, be wonderful, be happy”. But if you have a Drummer Boy or Girl at home right now, I want you to think of who else was in that manger that night. Mary. The ultimate example of being guided by God’s hand. If she could say yes and trust the Greatest Plan of all, if she could take it and hold it in her heart, then so can we.
Advent is a time when Christians eagerly await the birth of the Son of God. He was the fulfillment of a promise between God and His people. If you have a Drummer Boy or Girl in your home and your heart, put your fears away. Take a good hard look at the drum your child is playing. Listen to the music. Think of all the Drummer Boys and Girls who have changed the history of the world with their music. Think how brave that Drummer Boy was to stand there in the light of God and make the Baby smile.
Maybe your Drummer Boy or Girl will change the world too.
But first you have to let them play.