encouraging our kids when their dreams don’t match their abilities

Yesterday India woke us up by bursting into our room with an announcement about a dream she’d had.  “Mommy!  I had a dream that I could ride my bike without training wheels! This means I can do it now.  Let’s go take them off!”  I loved her enthusiasm, and the idea of her dreaming about shedding those training wheels was just too cute.  But at the same time, Mark and I were stealing glances at each other because both of us were skeptical that she was really ready for this step.

India is a cerebral little girl. She taught herself to read at age 4, and spends most of her day buried in a book or working on a craft. Meanwhile, her brothers spend most of their day playing sports and riding their skateboards and bikes.  Lately, India has been trying to join in with her brothers’ activities more and more.  I love seeing her push past some of her insecurities. But even as she does, her brothers continue to have an easier time with physical tasks. Kembe took his training wheels off over a year ago, and now rides around the neighborhood looking for ways to propel himself into a wheelie.  I know that it bothers her that she is still trailing behind them on a bike with training wheels, still struggling with both speed and balance.

I was so proud that India was willing to push past her fears and try to make a go without the training wheels, but I was also worried that she would be disappointed.  There was a part of me that wanted to tell her just to wait, that maybe we could try when she turned 6. Mark and I had a quick conference about what to do, and we both agreed that even though we doubted she would be able to ride on her own, that we should just support her and help her try.

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Mark took off the training wheels, and all four of the kids were getting really excited. As India got on her bike, her brothers were giving her encouragements and advice.  She and Mark found a spot on the street, and at this point Jafta and Kembe started chanting her name.  Her anticipation was palpable, her smile a mile wide.  I was shouting my encouragement, but inside, I was cringing.

 

Mark helped her get started, and immediately she was frustrated that he was holding on. She yelled at him to let go, that she could do it by herself.  The boys were riding next to her.  Kembe was chanting. Karis was running alongside. I was shouting my encouragement. And Mark let go . . .

 

 

. . . and she couldn’t do it. There was about a nanosecond of glory, until it was obvious that she was going to fall unless Mark grabbed the bike again. She knew it, too. She went from elation to despair in a matter of seconds, declaring that she hated it almost as quickly as she’d said she felt like she could do it.  I stopped filming and she started crying . . . wailing, really. We tried to encourage her to keep trying, to try riding around with Mark holding the back of the seat, but she was totally defeated. She had been so sure that she would be able to take off like her brothers and ride freely into the wind. She had no interest in practicing . . . in wobbling, in righting herself, or in trying to ride with her dad holding on.

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At this point, she broke down in racking sobs as I held her and tried to give words to her feelings.  Her emotional reaction was so strong, and I knew that this was hitting her on a deep level.  This kind of disappointment is so hard to watch, as a parent, and as much as I wanted to protect her from it, something told me that this was an important moment, and that I just needed to sit with her in it.  Her crying was so loud that a couple neighbors came out to see if she was hurt.  I repeated over and over how proud I was of her for trying, and how I understood how disappointed she must feel. 

Her strong feelings reminded me of so many times when I’ve been similarly disappointed.  Not making a team, having a crush that wasn’t reciprocated, not getting a call-back after an audition, having a piece of writing rejected . . . this experience of trying and failing is one that is life-long, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last time India experienced it. I knew it was an important moment to try to help her through.  I sat and held her for a while, and continued to reassure her that we were proud, that it would take practice, and that we would help her along the way.

We went about our day, and throughout the afternoon I kept telling her how proud I was that she had tried.  That evening, after she got her pajamas on, she told us that she wanted to try again.  This was a surprise, because that morning she’d asked Mark to put the training wheels back on and announced that she “quit” riding a bike without them.  We pulled her bike out front again, and this time, she rode with Mark holding on.

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This is the part that made me the most proud.  I was thrilled that she tried that morning, but even more thrilled that she had tried, failed, and then was willing to go out and try again.  I certainly can’t raise my kids to be perfect at everything they try.  But my hope is that I can raise them to keep going for it.

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