Ping pong
Photo: © 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
 Recently, The New York Times profiled a young table tennis player en route to becoming the best in his chosen sport. His name is Michael Landers, and at 15, he's the youngest national men's champion ever. When I read about this pingpong prodigy, my first thoughts were like those of other anxious parent/readers, I'm sure: "Are there Division 1 pingpong scholarships? Is pingpong the new lacrosse? Why 'table tennis' when 'pingpong' is so much more fun to say?"

But, here's the thing about Pingpong Boy: Michael Landers has made his own success. He commits to grueling workouts, training like an athlete first and table tennis player second. He commutes for hours on a train to work with his coach, absorbing his advice on everything from sports to school. He watches film of table tennis greats, studying form, tactics and strategy. Michael Landers doesn't just play table tennis—he cares about table tennis, explaining, "I guess when you love something, you just keep doing it because you enjoy it so much."

And isn't that what we want all for our kids? Not just for them to do something, but to care about something so much that they do it to the best of their ability. And, here's the key: They do it without Mom or Dad having to remind them over and over again.

There have been moments when I have whined to my husband, after a torturous homework session with my teenager or reluctant violin practice with my tween, "I can make them do it, but I can't make them care." Ah, that elusive quality that separates the task from the pleasure. Sure, I can make my teenager write the essay, but I can't make it good. I can force my tween to pick up the bow, but I can't make the violin sing. Only caring can do that.

It's something to think about as we sign our kids up for endless lessons and activities or beat our heads against the wall over grades. Someday, if they are lucky, they will find something they really care about and we won't have to nag anymore. In the meantime, I'm hoping that lightning strikes and my boys really learn to care about keeping their bathroom clean. 

Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, writer and talk show host. She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website, ChaosChronicles.com, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.