One of the things I’m coming to learn as a relatively new parent is that the rules around things I can control in my world are completely thrown up in the air when it comes to the children. I can enable strategies in my own life to help, fix, change or at least just manage the things I find difficult. But when it comes to the kids’ lives, this just doesn’t work and if I’m honest, I’m not sure it should. I’m learning that I’m going to feel, more and more, the discomfort and almost fearful feelings about situations when they are entering difficult times and I cannot make it better. This realisation is not new. It’s been approaching like a slow train for a while, but today it became magnified. I took my daughter to a gymnastics class. She has been talking ever since the Olympics was on TV, about wanting to ‘do gymnastics like Dora the Explorer.’ My husband and I discussed it and waited before we did anything, just to make sure it wasn’t a passing wish one week that may change the next. Before gymnastics, she wanted to dance, and as my daughter is still little, she is enjoying a constant stream of refreshing new ideas she wants to try out each day. But this one held.
So, after a few weeks of her talking about gymnastics, I found a centre nearby that offers a recreational class for pre-schoolers on a weekend, which you can try out before joining. As we drove to the session, she was really excited. She talked about how she was going to tell her cousin all about it when she got home, and her only slight worry was that she absolutely did not want to do handstands. I said what I always said, that she wouldn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do. I’ve always thought that way. I’m not sure if its right or wrong, but it is how I managed to navigate things in my life when I was a child. I’ve written before about my shyness and there is a tendency in shy people to turn away from something they fear. There are people who will tell you that you should always face your fears. I don’t entirely agree. I think sometimes there is great bravery in being able to stand up and say that this time, this isn’t for you.
As a child, I hated sport with a passion that consumed me. The marks on the timetable that indicated PE lessons were happening would fill me with dread. I would pray they would come and go quickly. I remember vividly, one day of rainy, indoor PE when we were told to play ‘Obstacle Rounders’. Part of this horrific game involved jumping from a spring board, which wasn’t in any way springy, up and over a stupidly high bar. Picture yourself being the awkward kid at the back of the queue as this gets closer. That was me and all I could do as I reached the front of the line was think about how I just had to refuse to do it. There was no other way. I could hear my voice shaking. I could see my peers looking at me. And all I could feel was fear. I was lucky that day to have a teacher who accepted my resolve and let me do something different. But I never forgot it. And I don’t believe ‘facing it’ would have had any positive effect.
So, I know I carry some baggage from my own experience when it comes to sport as a child and I knew that I needed to put all of that in a box so that it wouldn’t affect my daughter’s experience. She’s not me and her experiences are not mine. When they told me at the class that grown-ups couldn’t go in and that I had to wait in a separate viewing area, I waved her off and trundled upstairs. Admittedly, I was a little nervous that it may be a ‘grown up’ thing too far for her but I didn’t want to project my fears onto her. When she came out into the main hall with the rest of the class and sat in a big circle, I did feel excited for her. The staff seemed nice and welcoming and the atmosphere seemed happy. And when she started rubbing her eyes, I thought she was tired from the broken sleep she’d had the night before. But then I realised she wasn’t tired, she was crying. The kind gym coaches brought her to me and I fully respected her decision when she said she didn’t want to stay, and, later on in the car, that she didn’t want to go again.
When I thought about the experience afterwards, I felt so sad for her, that she had that horrible moment of fear when she found herself in that unfamiliar place and she couldn’t see me. But I also felt proud at how brave she was. I told her this, that she was so brave to have walked into that big room by herself and sat down with the other children, not knowing what was coming up and having never done it before. That took guts. And it took guts to say that it wasn’t for her. I know it’s important that she learns to feel those horrible feelings and to find her own ways to manage them with our support. I want my children to know their own minds as they grow up. I want them to know they will be listened to if they say they do or do not want to do something and most importantly I want them to know they have a voice.