Parkour and Seven Years Ago

Our little guy works on his vault skills.
Our little guy works on his vault skills.

“To try and fail is at least to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of what might have been.”
― Chester Barnard

When our boys were little, we did what all suburban parents did. We enrolled our kids in class after class, letting them try out countless activities to see what might be their thing. We tried swimming, soccer, baseball, tumbling, and multi-sport camps. Nothing clicked. I can’t tell you how many times our sons did not advance from a basic swim class. I can recall four different swim schools that could not teach them. We were beating our heads against a wall. I used to complain that if I could get the money back for every class they attempted and found no success in, I could fly to Europe and back. Twice. Yet, we persisted in our parental folly and perpetual money wasting because we felt they should be able to do these things other kids could do. Our expectations told us to hang on. If we threw enough money at it, sooner or later something would have to stick, right?

When they were 4 and 6, they were diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which affected their fine and gross motor skills. They had very low core strength, as well. This explained why swimming and tumbling were nearly impossible for them while other kids their age breezed through without any trouble, but it did not make us feel any better. With assistance from occupational therapy twice weekly, they both learned to ride bicycles after they turned 8. They still had difficulty throwing a ball. Catching one was nearly impossible. Over time and with continued therapy, their core strength improved. They made progress, but they were still years behind other kids their age physically. We accepted it for what it is, and we stopped enrolling them in activities that made them feel slow, incapable, and defeated. We figured there was no point pushing them when they physically and mentally were not ready to be successful. We made the choice to let them just be kids. Time would take care of the rest.

Tonight, we made a big leap. We decided it was time to try again. I drove them to Apex Movement, a parkour gym, and enrolled them in an introductory class. I’d heard about parkour years ago from a male occupational therapist who worked with the boys and thought it might be a great thing for them. At the time, I showed the boys videos of professional parkour to pique their interest. They thought it looked cool, but weren’t totally on board. I talked about it the last two summers, telling them I could register them for parkour camp. Still…no interest. I reminded them of their successful work on the climbing wall at school and told them they were ready to take this step. No go. Then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago both boys come to me and tell me they want to try it. I thought I’d finally gotten through to them. Nope. Turns out their friends are doing it. There you go.

On the way to the gym, Joe was nervous. He began telling me that maybe he could start next month instead. I told him that you’re always nervous the first time you do something. It’s that nervousness that tells you that you’re actually growing. If you go through your whole life, never putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, you never progress. I reminded him of some recent times when I had been nervous about something and how it worked out without incident. You can’t have success if you’re afraid to risk failure. I reminded him that his success rate so far in surviving uncomfortable, new experiences was 100%. All of the times he’s tried something new, he survived and was better for it. This would be no different.

When we got to the gym, the boys could barely stand the waiting process while I filled out waivers and verified payment and class information. They were dying to get out and jump around. When they got the all clear, they went into the open gym time and started trying out every obstacle they saw. When class started, they listened and tried everything that was asked of them without concern about failure. As I sat watching them make honest attempts at new things, some successfully and some with definite room for growth, I was so proud of them for being willing to move forward and try again, for facing their nerves and taking a chance on themselves. I was a fearful child. I did not learn how to take risks. I instead learned that failure is not an option. I hid behind excuses so I didn’t have to try anything. I left important things unsaid and undone. I avoided opportunities to make mistakes or do goofy things until I was in my forties, when I finally realized that I was letting life slip by unlived.

Most of the time, I feel I am an adequate parent, just good enough. I try. I make mistakes. I apologize. I try again. Tonight my boys showed me something. They’re braver than I was at their age, which means we are all making progress. We’re learning to give ourselves a chance. Seven years ago, my kids weren’t ready for the opportunities we gave them. And seven years ago, I made a conscious decision to begin work on my own risk-taking skills. Now here we all are together. The stars and planets have aligned. We are still nervous but trying because it’s better to try and fail and at least learn than never to know what might have been. Who knows with a little parkour and seven more years where we might end up?

I’m Not Coyote Chow

A bunny I saw on my morning walk. I see bunnies everywhere all of a sudden.
A bunny I saw on my morning walk. It was not thinking.

I’ve been sitting here for the past hour or so desperately trying to come up with something to write about. I flipped through all the tabs I set up in the Bunny Buddhism book, twice, looking for inspiration in the words that had touched me a couple days ago. I found none. The clock was banging away the minutes to midnight, and I was no closer to a theme for today’s entry. I was becoming increasingly stressed out about my impending failure a mere two days into my renewed pledge to write daily. I was just about to give up and write it off (at least I could write something that way) as being overtired when my eyes landed upon this quote on a page I had not marked:

It is better to hop than to think of hopping.

Well, crap. There it is in a nutshell. My problem. You see, I am a great thinker. I’m not exaggerating. I am really great at thinking. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m curious and intellectually open-minded, happy to accept the world for all its grey matter (and not the black and white that others imagine exists). The problem is that sometimes I spend so much time trapped in my skull, thinking, weighing options, and organizing mental tidbits, that I run out of time to do something. In this way, I am perpetually paralyzed…too tangled in thought simply to be a human being and too overwhelmed by possibility to be a human doing. I am frozen and worthless.

I need to blow up today’s quote to poster size and mount to the wall in my office. Sometimes the best thing to do is tell the chattering monkeys in my mind to shut the hell up and then start hopping forward. I can worry about the quality of my written work after I’ve actually written something down. So just like the zoo keepers in Kansas City, tonight I decided to toss those chimps back into their enclosure so I could stop thinking about writing and just write. It doesn’t matter what I churn out. It’s the act of writing and not the thought of writing that makes a writer.

My friend Heather recently sent me this amazing book by Anne Lamott. In Bird by Bird, Anne, a published author many times over, confesses her own struggle with writer’s block.

“What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I’m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, is to stop.”

I am gifted at stopping and declaring defeat before I even begin. And it helps to know that even well-known writers experience a jungle-drum-level fear of doom when they’re facing a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise. Sometimes we humans are our own worst enemies. I stress myself out so much about what I should say that I end up saying nothing…something I did most of the days last year. But that has got to stop. In time and with enough practice, I will spend less time thinking and more time producing. Not every day is going yield a worthwhile piece. Some days I might be fortunate to land squarely somewhere between schlock and drivel. But even schlock and drivel are a tangible result of effort, a venture out of my self-prescribed mental straitjacket. It’s a step (or hop) in the direction I want to head. A bunny that fails to hop ends up Coyote Chow. I’m not prolific yet, but I’m sure I’m not ready to be finished either.

What hops have you been missing?

 

 

Excuses, Excuses

What was that you said I couldn’t do?

 

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”       ~Jim Rohn

My friend Lisa posted this quote on her Facebook wall the other day. I’ve seen it before but never given it much thought, probably because I’ve never thought of myself as an excuse gal. I like to believe that, as a rule, I make things that I want come to fruition. I am determined by nature. Tell me I can’t do something. I’d love to prove you wrong.

In high school, our marching band was going to a competition in Florida over Spring Break. I wanted to go to Florida. I didn’t play a musical instrument, though. Problem, right? Wrong. The band needed a cymbal player. I could play cymbals. I mean, how hard could it be? Well, I don’t read music of any sort, including percussion music. Problem, right? Wrong. I simply got a recording of the songs we were going to play and memorized where the cymbal crashes occurred. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, so marching in formation while banging some cymbals together would be no problem for me. I was golden. So, I went to Florida with the band. I marched. I splashed in the Gulf of Mexico. I got a ridiculously painful sunburn. I went on a Journey Into Imagination at Epcot Center. It was awesome, and well worth the very early morning band practices on a cold, frost-covered field in Castle Rock.

Thinking back to the quote, though, if I’m honest with myself I must admit there have been a few times when I made excuses about things I should have attempted to achieve. I choose not to acknowledge those times, however, because I don’t consider them to be traditional excuses. I know this sounds like semantics, but it’s not. Here’s why. Sometimes an unconscious lack of confidence in my abilities convinces me that I cannot reach a particular goal. Because I inherently know I can achieve anything I want, my brain simply chooses not to want things I’m convinced I could never achieve. It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to find a way to do something if I convince myself I never wanted to do it in the first place. It’s an incredibly brilliant rationalization, but a rationalization all the same.

The reason I bring this up is because of my recent decision to brave my fears and attempt to write something other than a blog. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always wanted to be published…and not just by myself on a page I slapped up onto the Internet or via a bound copy of my master’s thesis housed in the library at Illinois State University. I’ve always wanted it. I’ve just never believed I was capable of it.

When I started this blog back in January and committed to writing every single day without fail, I thought I was doing it to get back into writing, something I’d given up when my oldest son was born almost 11 years ago. What I didn’t imagine, however, was that by practicing writing I would find some measure of confidence in myself. By writing every day, I was able to overcome my self-imposed road block. I realize now that the only current difference between me and published authors is that they tried and I did not. I may not write the next classic American novel. I may not become the next J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But, I will never know for sure what I might be if I refuse to allow myself the opportunity to find a way to do the thing I have forever longed to do. I look at it differently now. That is all that has changed. If I try, I might fail. But, if I don’t try, I will have sold myself short. That, I now believe, is a far worse fate than failure.