"Are you ready?"
I looked into my daughter's eyes. Four years old, one of dozens of kids at the ice rink near our house, she was at her first ice skating lesson.
"Yeah," she said, tentatively. With probably too-big white ice skates sticking out of her purple snow pants and her pink bike helmet on top of her curly hair, she looked proud but terrified. She was in the first group of skaters, probably the youngest and by far the smallest, a purple peanut among the bigger kids.
After a first few tentative steps on the ice, she was given a bar to hold onto to help her learn to balance on the ice — the skating version of bowling bumpers. A few tentative strides — and then down she went. Right on her butt.
Tears immediately followed.
This was expected and accepted. We talked about this going in. We both knew she was going to fall.
A few minutes later, down again. More tears, more yelling. This time, one of the teenage teachers picked her up and brought her over to me. I stood on the edge of the ice, holding her. No, nothing hurt. No, her skates were fine.
"I don't want to ice skate anymore," she sobbed.
Two thoughts flashed instinctively.
1. Take her home. Tell her it's OK, she doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to do. Wrap her in a blanket with hot chocolate and a movie and keep her safe.
2. Wipe her tears and tell her it's OK, but it's time to get back on the ice.
Man, No. 1 looked and felt appealing. It's instinct. My little girl was crying. I'd do anything to make that stop. Also, I don't want her to hate this, to feel pressured to do something she doesn't want to do.
But at the same time, I wanted her to do something she didn't want to do. She didn't have to be great. She didn't have to be good. She didn't even have to be adequate. But she did have to try.
It's the balance we fight as parents. The balancing act between the "everybody gets a trophy" mindset and being a stage mom or football dad. Between accepting and praising the minimal effort and demanding excellence at all costs.
A few months earlier, we'd had a parent-teacher conference at her Montessori school. The one "negative" thing she said about our daughter was that she didn't always push herself. That she liked to do the work she had done before and was easy for her. That she didn't like to do things that were hard.
Nothing abnormal. Barely a concern.
But it stuck with me.
It's sobering, as a parent, to see one of your own flaws in your kid.
In a lot of ways, my daughter's teacher was describing me. Someone who doesn't always push myself. Someone who does what's familiar because it's easy. Someone who seeks comfort and complacency rather than risk and rewards.
The trick, of course, is learning to balance comfort and risk, complacency and rewards. It's having a standard (for yourself and your kid) that's attainable and realistic. Too high yields too much pressure. Too low, not enough. Parenting, like life, is about that balance. And balance is not something you achieve and then walk away from. It's something you actively maintain.
So with that in mind, I went with Option 2 and got her back on the ice. As I watched her finish the lesson, crying some more but trying anyway, I made a deal with myself. My goal for her lessons was to see her get on the ice every day. Five times on the ice. That's it. The skating skills would come. I honestly didn't care what she learned. Learning to skate was a Mcguffan. The real goal was to get her doing something athletic and physical. To have her do something that's safe, but still a little bit hard, a little bit of a challenge, a little bit new and scary. To learn the value in showing up and trying.
That night, we talked about her lesson. She talked to her aunt, an avid skater, who told my daughter that she fell on her butt all the time (few things are funnier to a 4-year-old than someone else falling on their butt). She was ready.
The next day, there were tears at the start of class — but none during. No falls. She skated forward on her own. The definition of baby steps, and never more than 10 seconds without help from one of her patient teachers. But she skated, even briefly, on her own.
Every day, for the rest of the week, she got on the ice. She tried. She did something new. She pushed herself.
Has she learned to skate? Not really. Not yet.
But she learned something way more valuable.