On coming naturally

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If there’s one negative subject that always comes up at parent-teacher conferences at Laurel’s schools — which are usually lighthearted hour-long lovefests about cognitive development and socialization and caring about her classmates — it’s about how she deals with frustration.  Like a lot of bright kids (e.g., say, both her parents) she loves when things come naturally.  Things that don’t can be tough to approach.  It’s something you contemplate a lot in the abstract as a parent – you want things not to come too easily, because kids need to learn to struggle, manage disappointment, persevere, etc.  Despite which you also feel good seeing things come readily because, well, just look at my smart/capable/athletic/etc child and this thing she can do.  Beth and I had our own issues with doing hard things as children — I tended to avoid anything that didn’t come naturally and missed a lot of learning opportunities, plus making learning to struggle with difficulty harder later on.

Laurel and I ride together on my bike a lot – she has a seat in front of me, which has really worked well — it’s safe, you can talk to each other the whole time, it’s in easy hugging reach, everyone fawns over you on the street (she’s also outgrowing it, and there’s no way whatever follows it will win me the same smoldering looks from San Francisco’s population of available elderly women.)  She’s had a balance bike of her own for a while too, which has helped her learn balance – though it’s not practical on SF’s hills, and sees most of its mileage riding around in circles in our garage (sometimes with the lights off, the bike lights all set to flashing mode, and Giorgio Moroder playing on the stereo.)

So this weekend we got her her first real bike.  And so today she and I went out, prepared for an epochal bout of frustration management.  I’d done a ton of management of expectations, warning her that falling down was to be expected, that she’d have to take calming breaths and try lots of times — she knows all that by heart but applying it in the heat of the moment is tougher.  She brought a stuffed animal “to snuggle after I fall down, so I can try again.”

In the actual event, little progress was made on the frustration-management front because this turned out to be an easy one.  Half an hour of trying, and she had it.  Most of the half hour was actually convincing her it was okay for me to let go.  Not a single fall other than steering into walls trying to read signs posted on them and the usual starting/stopping learning curve.

Well, okay.  She didn’t learn to ride the emotional roller coaster.  But she learned to ride a bike.  Independent of wanting her to learn to struggle for her goals, I did actually want her to learn that.  For the moment, I’ll take it.  I’ll even leave the post-processing on this photo in gratuitous Thomas Kinkade-esque mode for the occasion.

– Devin

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