I sat beside my son as he cried large drops of tears.
Leaning my head against the wall, I shifted one leg up and rolled my head sideways to look at him.
He stared off toward the skating rink, where most of the Kindergarteners on our field trip were crawling on their hands and knees “skating.”
“I want to go home,” Judah said.
“No,” I answered.
“Please, can I take my skates off?” Each word was punctuated with a sob.
“No,” I sighed. “But you can try rollerblades if you’d like, instead of quads.”
“I can’t skate,” Judah cried.
“Son, you have no idea if you can skate or not.” I put my hand on his knee. “You’ve never skated before in your life. Of course you’re going to fall a bunch of times. That’s all part of it. And look at everyone here.” I gestured to all the Kindergarteners crawling around on the floor. “Hardly anybody can skate!”
“She can.” Judah pointed to a blonde girl who glided by before she promptly knocked over two other girls like bowling pins.
Judah hung his head. “I just want to go home. Skating is not for me.”
I looked up and saw Jesse gliding toward us with new rollerblades for Judah. After switching out the skates, Judah’s tears still continued to roll.
I had rarely ever seen my son look so defeated.
I stood up. “Alright, it’s time to try again.”
Jesse reached out his hand for Judah to take, but Judah fiercely shook his head. “I can’t do it. I keep falling. I’m terrible at skating. Please let me take the skates off.”
“No,” I said. I wasn’t completely confident we were choosing the right parenting strategy, but we know Judah.
When you know your kid, you know your kid.
And our kid is terrified of anything he can’t get right the first time. He hates failing at even the tiniest tasks and he completely loses control over himself when he’s afraid.
So when Judah wanted to quit skating after a few bad falls, Jesse and I made a silent decision.
It was time for Judah to learn what it means to persevere, an important life skill.
That meant watching him struggle with himself and him having a complete meltdown.
It was terrible and we loathed every second.
“Judah,” Jesse said. “Let’s go.”
Jesse took one arm and I took the other. Holding him up between us, we set off through the rink.
Judah had simply given up all hope. His face was tearstained, he went full spaghetti-noodle with his arms and legs, and I’m pretty sure he was beginning to hyperventilate.
We made it to the other side of the rink before I began my parent speech. Judah held onto the bar for dear life as I gripped his shoulders.
“Baby, look at me.” I bent down to get on his level. “It’s time to stop freaking out now.”
“I can’t!” Judah wailed.
“Yes,” I said calmly. “You can. It’s time to stop crying now.”
“You always say it’s okay to cry!”
“And it is! But there comes a point where you have to get up and try again. Otherwise, you’re never going to be able to do things that are hard.”
“I just can’t skate.” Judah hung his head.
“You know what? You’re right. You absolutely 100% cannot skate. That much is clear. And doesn’t that make sense? You’ve never skated before, so the logical conclusion is that you cannot skate. So why are you so upset that you’re terrible at it right now?”
“I don’t know!”
“Yes you do. You’re afraid of being bad at something. But, baby, there’s going to be all sorts of things in life that you’re bad at. At least at first. You’re not going to know how to drive, you’re going to fail tests, there are going to be problems you don’t know how to solve. But your ability to problem solve starts right here.”
“But I can’t —”
“Would you like to be able to skate?”
“And isn’t that why you’re so upset? Because you’d like to be able to skate but you can’t and you keep falling? Try something for me, alright?” I stood up. “Calm down completely, listen to me and your daddy, and trust us. He’ll be in front of you and I’ll be behind you. You absolutely will not fall. We’ll catch you. What’s making you fall is all the flailing around and crying you’re doing. You can’t focus doing that.”
Judah thought about it for a moment. Then I watched him take several deep breaths and pull himself up on the bar.
It took ten whole minutes of trying with this new confident attitude before he finally glided.
Jesse and I grabbed him and showered him with, “I’m so proud of yous.”
Our kid actually persevered. Our kid who hates to fail, conquered his fear of failure.
By the end of the field trip, he was gliding around telling other struggling kids to “watch me.” Suddenly, he was the Kindergarten expert on skating. He even started lifting up his feet to turn.
And he did eventually fall again. But this time, he didn’t mind so much.
He just got up and tried again.
Because, this time, he knew he could do it.
“I’m just,” Jesse put his hand to his heart as we left the skating rink. “I’m just so proud.”
When we picked Judah up later that day at school after the field trip, he asked us if we could buy him rollerblades.
The tears were gone, and new confidence remained.
And I hope, I dream, that one day he will come across something hard; something he can’t do well.
At least not yet.
He’ll get mad, he’ll be frustrated, and then he’ll take a big breath.
He’ll remember that one time he couldn’t skate.
That one time he did it anyway.