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?

Mondays Are For Practicing Grace

I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.
I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.

Monday. Not my favorite word. Not my favorite day of the week. At 6:40 a.m., before my alarm had the opportunity to interrupt my sleep, youngest son busts into my room ready to beat his brother to the first shower of the day. I knew this was trouble because the first shower has traditionally gone to our unusually early-rising Joe, but honestly I was in denial that the weekend was over and not quite awake enough yet to deal with him so I let it slide. I remained in bed, trying to savor the last few minutes of relative peace before my week had to begin in an official capacity. After about five minutes, Luke exited the shower still giddy about his triumph.

“I can’t believe I beat Joe to the first shower. I’m going to hurry and get dressed before he gets in here. I want to beat him downstairs,” he announced to me from the bathroom.

“It’s not a race,” I reminded him.

“I know,” came the rejoinder. “I just never get to be first.”

This is true. He’s the youngest. He’s acutely aware that he is forever behind the curve of his older brother. He’s been in second place his entire life. He gets the hand-me-downs. He has to wait until he’s bigger to do things his brother is already allowed to do. Any chance to be first is a treat. I get that. I also knew Joe would be annoyed because the first shower of the day is a big deal to him for some reason. Sure enough I was right. Just a minute later, Joe burst into my room, saw Luke fully dressed with wet hair, and started yelling.

I get first shower of the day. I always get first shower, Luke! Why did you do that?”

At this point, the boys began bickering loudly and I began slowly coming into reality. Lovely way to start a week. I rolled out of bed, hoping to minimize the damage to the morning. I told Luke to get downstairs and out of the way and snapped at Joe to get over it and get into the shower, which he did. Less than 30 seconds later, I heard the water shut off. Was he kidding me? All that fuss for a 30-second shower? There’s no way he actually used soap. The kid barely had time to get wet.

“What are you doing?” I asked, striding into the room in full-on, overtired annoyance.

“I’m done,” he replied.

“Oh no you’re not. No way. You didn’t wash your hair.”

“Yes, I did,” he retorted.

“That’s not possible,” I said, raising my voice and upping the ante.

“I did, Mom,” he insisted.

“You threw a complete fit because you didn’t get the first shower. You started my morning with screaming, and now you take a 30-second shower after all that commotion? Nuh uh. Get back in there.”

From there, things rapidly shot downhill like an Olympic bobsled team gaining momentum. Joe was mad I thought he was lying about washing his hair. I was mad that he had made such a huge issue out of his shower time and then didn’t even bother to take it. He began crying and I was beyond irritated that this was the inauspicious beginning to my week. I sent him downstairs while I worked on my frustration by stomping and banging around upstairs. Childish, I know, but I was exhausted. I thought everyone in my house understood that you don’t wake this sleeping dragon beast by screaming in my lair.

When I had finally chilled enough to arrive downstairs, Luke was busily getting water bottles and lunches ready (feeling a bit guilty, I suppose, for knowingly starting a war for the sake of being first). Joe was sitting on the living room sofa crying. I tried to pull myself together and regain control of the situation. I could not understand why he was making such a big deal out of missing the first shower. Then I started to wonder why I was making an even bigger deal about his big deal. I certainly wasn’t helping anything with my histrionics. I stopped, took a long, deep, yoga breath to the count of ten, and went over to hug Joe. I told him I was sorry for yelling at him and for not believing he’d washed his hair. He hugged back and told me he was sorry for starting our day with a fight. He was starting to calm down. I looked at the clock and realized we had 15 minutes before we had to leave. I went off to fix him some breakfast, satisfied that once he had some food we’d get beyond the ugliness. Quietly I berated myself for acting like such a brat.

When breakfast was ready, I called Joe into the kitchen. He came to the counter, sat down to the gluten-free waffle in front of him, looked up at me with a smile and pleasantly said, “Good morning, Mom.”

My 12 year old was schooling me in how to deal with setbacks. He’d decided to leave the mistakes of the morning behind. Yes. Monday had started out badly, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t change it. We could simply declare a do-over and move on. So, we did. I decided right then that do-overs should be my theme for the week. This came in handy a bit later in my Monday morning when I got to the Corepower studio for my flow-yoga class only to discover I’d gone to the wrong studio. Oops. Guess I’d be attending afternoon yoga instead.

Of all the days of the week, Mondays rejoice the most in providing me with multiple opportunities to practice grace.

Step Away From The Rhino

Step away from the rhino...well, maybe not this rhino.
Step away from the rhino…well, maybe not this rhino.

A few weeks ago I was perusing the news online when I came across a headline about a rhinoceros attack. I normally find the news either incredibly infuriating or simply plain boring, but this article piqued my interest. On January 12th, a woman from South Africa was gored by a rhinoceros while on her honeymoon. She and her husband had been vacationing in a nature reserve and were out on a jeep tour when the tour guide told them to pop out of the car so he could get their photo with some rhinoceros standing nearby. The couple was apprehensive, but the guide assured them it would be fine. Just after the guide snapped the photo, the woman was gored from behind by the male rhino. She was hospitalized for a collapsed lung and some broken ribs but will recover. She was lucky.

These type of incidents are teaching moments for me. I’m continually telling my children that wild animals are wild animals. I recently showed them a video of tourists in Yellowstone who were walking on a boardwalk too close to a bison. Now, perhaps they thought that bison understand the right of way implied by a boardwalk and that this bison, therefore, would yield the way with perfect etiquette. The bison, however, not giving a flying fig about the human-placed boardwalk in the middle of its territory, charged at them. They all escaped unscathed, but at the end of the video an adult is shown laughing at the whole chase, as if it’s just a cute story. I shake my head.

I wonder about humanity sometimes. I wonder whether we’re bright enough to survive. My children hear me comment to this effect quite often. They hear my tales of rhinoceros attacks and charging bison and understand my disdain for the truly inane things people do sometimes. First thing this morning, Joe came into my room carrying a small, model rhino, which he set on the bathroom counter.

“I was just thinking about that lady who got attacked by that rhino. What was she thinking?” he said. “I mean, seriously. Why would you even get that close to a rhinoceros? They weigh over a ton and have two sharp horns.”

“I don’t know, Joe,” I replied.

“They’re not house pets. They’re wild animals. WILD animals. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”

At this point I was feeling proud that Joe understood the point I had tried to get across by telling them that story. I was patting myself on the back for a job well done.

“I just don’t know what she was thinking,” he went on.

“Well, I guess that because the guide said it would be fine the couple assumed it really would be. But, I’m with you. I would not choose to stand within feet of one of those animals. I like to think I’d know better,” I said.

I’d know better,” he said. “She was just stupid,” Joe announced.

When he said this, it at last occurred to me that Joe was repeating verbatim what I had said out loud to myself when I was reading the news story that day. I was blown away by the complete lack of common sense this couple had shown. I know that people have a difficult time with perceived authority in situations when they feel they are being pressured, but isn’t there a point when you realize the danger and simply step away from the rhino? Still, I’m not teaching the right lesson if along with the animal safety tip he’s hearing my commentary that people who stand with rhinos might not be the sharpest knives in the drawer. So, I attempted to correct my misstep.

“Joe, maybe you should try to be more kind? It’s not as if she set out that day to be gored by a rhino. It just happened. Someday you might do something stupid and need some understanding,” I suggested.

“Probably not that stupid,” came his instant reply.

I didn’t know how to respond to that comment. On the one hand, he obviously missed my point about being kind, and that’s not good. But, on the other hand, I agree that he is clever enough to know you don’t get within feet of a rhinoceros. I have high hopes that he would be on the winning end of a Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest contest. In the end, I decided that all I could do was drop it for now and try to do a better job of not constantly commenting about humans performing stupid human tricks.

When I see in my children the worst of myself I am reminded that, especially when I’m not paying attention, I’m setting an example for them every day. I teach them as much with my snarkiness and impatience as I do with my generosity and love. If I could only figure out a way to get them to tune me out when I’m not at my best, I might be able to raise children who would be forgiving and kind and who also would know well enough to just step away from the rhino.

 

Never Too Late To Turn Around

Me and my Joe 8 years ago

This morning in the car, my oldest son and I were discussing a potential switch of schools for him next year. If he were in public school, he would already be switching schools next year as he heads into middle school. As it is now, though, he goes to a private, K-8 school. His father and I have been wondering lately, though, if he would be better off in a public charter school where he would have access to special ed teachers and where he would have an IEP in place that would help him have greater success in his studies. His current school has very high academic standards and, while they do make accommodations for him, it’s recently occurred to us that we’re asking our ADHD son to work at a level that is a challenge for children with normal cognitive function. While we never wanted Joe to think he could use his ADHD as an excuse not to strive for the highest end, we also never wanted to set him up for failure either. Joe is a bit tentative about switching schools because of the big change it will be. So, we’ve been talking about it as a family, trying to make the right decision. Today, though, our discussion lingered the entire course of the ride to school.

When we got there, Joe remembered he was supposed to be using that time to review for a test he has today. In his 5th grade class this week, they’ve been asked to memorize the names of all 66 books of the Bible and to know the correct spellings for these books. I can’t stress enough what a Herculean task this is for Joe. The memorization part is work but not impossible, but his spelling is not strong. Asking him to spell 66 names that many adults could not tackle (Habakkuk is not exactly a household word) seems a bit much for 10 and 11 year old children. But, this was his task this week for Bible and spelling.

“I was supposed to be studying this,” he said when we got there, pointing to a bookmark he’d been using to review the names and spellings.

“Well, take it with you,” I said. “Maybe you’ll have some time to review a bit before the test.”

“I won’t have time,” he said, tossing the bookmark onto the back seat. I picked it up and handed it back to him.

“Take it,” I insisted.

“I won’t have time,” he insisted back.

“Take it!” I said, becoming increasingly annoyed.

“I’ll just leave it here,” he said as he tucked it into a car door pocket and began to close the door.

Then, before I could stop myself, in my total annoyance I uttered these words:

“Well, fine. Now I’m mad at you.”

He looked at me and closed the door. At that moment, I wanted to staple my mouth shut. What the hell is wrong with you? I watched him walk off toward his best buddy. I pulled away. I got as far as the right turn lane at the end of the school driveway before the tears came. How could I do that to my sensitive and sweet boy? How could I let him go into school with the words “I”m mad at you” repeating in his head all day? What kind of a creep does that? I was sick to my stomach. How could I leave things that way with my beautiful son who means everything to me?

I pulled out of the lot, made a u-turn at the first available spot, and headed back to the school. A minute after I had left I was back in the lot. I parked my car and approached him and his friends. Having your mom approach you when you’re in 5th grade is highly embarrassing, so he walked closer to meet me away from his friends. He looked nervous and sad. I pulled him to me by his shoulders and leaned in so that my forehead was resting on his.

“I am so sorry, sweetie. I’m not really mad at you. I don’t want you to think that. I love  you,” I said.

He looked into my eyes, muttered a quick “I love you too,” and I let him run back to his friends before the horror of having a personal moment with his mom in front of God and the world sunk in.

As I walked back to the car, I felt a bit better, not in a great mom kind of way but at least I was no longer miserable. I mean, a great mom would have kept her patience and held her tongue, right? I’m not exactly gifted in that area. I’m a passionate and excitable person. I get frustrated and have a tendency to run off at the mouth even as I know what I’m saying is absolute crap. One thing I am getting better at all the time, though, is apologizing for my temporary insanity. If I know I am wrong, I can admit it. I might not admit it immediately, but I will admit it as soon as I’m able to recognize it. Luckily, my skill at recognizing my idiotic behavior is improving all the time. (Probably because I give myself ample practice.)

When I got home, I saw this quote by Doe Zantamata on Facebook as if it were a sign: “It’s never too late to turn it all around. Be honest with yourself and others. If anything you’re doing in life  is not what you should be doing…stop. Life is way too short to continue in the wrong direction, but the longer that you do, the less time you will have to travel in the right direction.” This morning I could have driven off and left things the way they were with my son, but I didn’t. I turned the car around and tried to make it right. Am I disappointed in myself for not shutting my yap in the first place? Absolutely. But, I’m so, so glad that instead of continuing in the wrong direction, I made a u-turn this morning. It’s not everything, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Hitting My Head Against The Same Wall

My son who is too much like me in the ways I wish he was not

I wish I had the energy for a decent post here tonight, but the truth is that I gave at the office today. My full-time job is as stay-at-home parent, aka chauffeur/homework guru. Today my oldest son, who has moderate ADHD, had a rough afternoon. A very rough afternoon. You see, he didn’t do so well on a few math papers last week, papers that he completed in class so he didn’t have to bring them home to be checked by us. This would have been a nice avoidance tactic except that in his rush to finish he missed a lot of answers. His teacher, being the sweet woman she is and wanting to make sure he understands the material enough to be successful, kindly gave him the opportunity to correct the areas in which he had fallen short. In addition to the corrections he needed to make (about 20), he had 28 new math problems to complete and about 50 spelling words from two spelling lists to practice. Oh..he also had at least 15 minutes of reading to do. He missed recess because his teacher made him stay in and work on the math he was struggling with. As I was approaching him after school, I could tell we were headed straight for Chernobyl-level meltdown.

By the time we walked the thirty feet to the car, he was crying. He desperately needed some free time or a nap or a snack. But, he was so overwhelmed by the list of work he knew he needed to complete that he was certain he would have no time for television or video games or playing with friends tonight. Joe has a miserable fate as a Type A personality in a brain that is not readily capable of Type A behavior. As Joe carried on in the car about how sad he was that he wouldn’t get any “free time” because of his workload, I told him that I would not let him work for six hours without dinner. I told him that we’d happily accept the bad grades on his homework rather than making him redo everything if it was too much to ask of him today. I told him that this is only 5th grade math homework, and it’s definitely not worth crying over. I reminded him that in the grand scheme of things none of it mattered. I told him that we loved him and that he was plenty capable of completing the work with time to spare. He wouldn’t listen. His mind was made up. He was determined to believe that his short life was over and that he would never get the work done. Ever. The dramatic performance on the way home in the backseat would have put the actors on Days of Our Lives to shame.

If there’s one thing I understand about ADHD, it’s that it’s not a rational disorder. It makes no sense to someone who doesn’t have it. Many people don’t even believe it exists. I can understand that. You can’t quantitatively measure it, therefore it’s dubious.  (Side note: you can’t quantitatively measure migraine headaches either, yet doctors prescribe medication for them just the same and that is considered a perfectly acceptable diagnosis and treatment.) I can’t get into Joe’s brain and help him calm down when he gets this way. I’ve had my son for 11 years and, even though I understand what ADHD means for him, there are times when I completely mess it all up. It’s not that he wouldn’t listen to me. It’s that when he gets into that state, he can’t listen to me. After all this time, you would think I could stop the tantrum or curb it just by knowing how to handle it. But, I can’t because I don’t know from drama to drama what will work to calm him. It’s in his head. He has to be willing to let it go before things will change. Instead of letting him vent, I kept cutting him off and trying to comfort him. When he still wouldn’t listen, I became agitated and tried harder rather than backing off. I should have known better. I’ve had this wonderful child for 11 years. I should know better by now. Bad, bad mommy.

So, this is why it’s now 10 p.m. and all I want to do is watch some mindless television and go to sleep rather than write anything about what ended up being a mentally exhausting day. I didn’t do the best job at my job today, and I’m worn out. The good news is that I still have a smart, sweet boy who loves me, and I have another chance tomorrow to prove to him that struggles in school do not make him less of a wonderful person. They’re just what they are…struggles. Nothing more. Nothing less. We all have them, and no one is immune. Maybe I would have a better time convincing Joe of this truth if I believed it applied to me as well?