My daughter started taking ice-skating lessons three years ago, when she was four and passionately wanted to become a hockey player (because of Inside Out). I was naturally very excited about it, especially after I saw her go on the ice for the first time ever and learn how to stand and move on the skates in a matter of minutes without supervision. Also without falling.
So, we found a club and signed her up for lessons. She started with the basics and I was there every time, freezing to near-death, watching her and her coach — a lovely lady — and envying both, and recalling my own casual affair with skating in my teens. All pretty regular.
The first time Cat fell, her coach helped her up. Then she showed her how to get up alone: you stand up on one knee, prop your arm on the thigh, then raise the other leg to stand on the skate, and raise the kneeling leg after that. You know how all skaters — professional skaters, skating stars — get up exactly the same way? There’s just no other way.
It didn’t always work on the first try but Cat got the hang of it pretty quickly, as kids usually do. From that moment on, the coach never helped her up again, not this coach, not the next one, when she switched to figure skating for obvious reasons such as a small frame much more suited for figure skating and the fact she had trouble grasping the idea of team play. She wanted to perform on her own.
A few days ago, something got me thinking about what’s the best thing we can do for our children and in my mind I saw the picture of that coach teaching Cat how to get up on her own. There was the answer: the best thing we can do for our children is teach them to get up on their own. Yes, I realise how soppy and trite this sounds but, hey, who said cliches aren’t true? It’s why they are cliches.
The thing is, it’s hard to do. When I saw her fall on the ice I got this urge — every time — to rush and help her up. Her coach, by the way, kept her hands clasped behind her back, I suspect to resist that very same urge. The ice is hard, the ice can hurt you and sometimes there are tears. But if you never learn to get up on your own, you’ll never conquer the ice.
Life is pretty similar to the skating rink. You either learn to navigate it, conquer it, conquer the pain and the tears or you end up flat on your back with your head pounding with pain, wondering what happened and why you can’t get up. By the way, skating clubs also teach the kids how to fall. It’s one of the first things they learn. The coaches actually make them throw themselves on the ice, like penguins, to master the art of falling.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Well, life is harsh and, besides, I’m not talking about the really bad falls when we all need help. I’m talking about the educational falls, the “Okay, then, run, scrape your knees. You’ll be more careful next time” falls. Pain, I think, can act like vaccines do: endure a little bit, get a little scared, so your brain remembers how unpleasant it all is and next time you move more carefully. Avoid all pain at all costs and you will never learn to be careful; you will end up in a lot more pain.
One of my saddest memories from Cat’s toddlerhood is when the neighbour from the house opposite ours came to our back yard so Cat and her granddaughter, who’s the same age, can play. Cat was all over the place, running and jumping, and the other girl walked slowly and reluctantly. Once, caught up in Cat’s enthusiasm, she tried to run. The attempt was suspended with a “DON’T RUN!” from Granny.
Look, I understand none of us want our single physical claim to immortality to suffer pain. I can completely relate to the fear of The Child Hurting. But isolating them from all and any kind of pain is first, impossible and second, bad for them. Impossible, because sooner or later they will encounter pain since children are not house plants and they grow and move about. Bad for them because if they’ve never encountered pain they would have no ways to deal with it.
Do you know how long and how hard Cat cried the first time she tripped, fell, and scraped a knee? The answer is VERY. She was in pain for the first time in her life and it was heartbreaking. Now, when she falls or scrapes herself, she nonchalantly informs us she has hurt herself but it’s okay. And we didn’t have to do anything special to get her here, we just hugged her and told her it will stop hurting, and said “It’s okay. Next time you’ll be more careful.”
Today, even if there are tears — Cat’s very emotional, the tears are quick to be triggered — they dry up in a matter of seconds. Which is good. She’ll need them later in life for heartbreaks and teen sadness, I’m sure. But we’ll hopefully be there to help her up from this whole new kind of fall and we’ll then teach her how to get herself up. That’s the best we can do for her.