Several months ago there was a sale at a school and up for grabs were bookshelves, desks, instruments and a million other things. We went, of course, and found three desks for the girls. Problem was they would not all fit in the back of the truck. I came home and hooked up the trailer (a very proud and physically tiring task!) and returned to the sale. The man who helped me load commented that he had never seen a woman tie down cargo quite as well as I had. Proud moment number two! After a successful drive home, I approached the driveway and faced a great obstacle: backing the trailer into the driveway.
I have watched my husband do this over the last 13 years and I remember the ‘steer in the opposite direction’ concept from driver’s ed. classes, but this was the first time I had actually attempted backing up a trailer on my own.
After several failed attempts and even more positive encouragement from my daughters, I did manage to back it in. While learning how to do this, I was completely blocking traffic on our street and had more than one offer from a man to just to it for me. Stubbornness runs fiercely through my blood, and I politely said, “No. I have to learn how to do this.” Luckily, the men just waited patiently in their trucks and laughed at my many comical moves.
My pride was a bit bruised by their laughter, I’ll admit, but when I did finally succeed, those lovely men actually cheered for me. That was worth all the work!
A few days later, my middle daughter was working on a new math concept, her most difficult subject. Working together, she could solve the problems well. But as soon as she was on her own, she forgot what to do next. And so I would model the process again, this time asking her to figure the steps along the way. On her own once more, she would trip and fail. We were both frustrated and I didn’t know what else to do.
“I think you just need to try these on your own. Do one problem then show me. We can figure out the mistakes together, but you need to give this a go.”
She did not like the idea. “What if I get it wrong?”
Ah-ha! That was the problem. Children are afraid to make mistakes and adults are quick to jump and respond too harshly.
Children need a safe place to learn, explore, make mistakes and succeed. There is a line from the movie, Megamind when Titan, the bad guy, tells Megamind that he always fails. Megamind responds with, “I might fail, but I’ve learned from my mistakes.” And he proceeds in successfully defeating the bad guy. (I apologize if that’s a spoiler for anyone!)
I reminded her of that line in the movie. “We learn the most when we try and fail. Sometimes learning what doesn’t work is more important than learning what does. Thomas Edison, in inventing the light bulb, said he found a thousand ways that it didn’t work. He needed to find only one way that did.” (another movie line! Thank you National Treasure!)
“Like when you backed up the trailer?” she remembered. “Those men wanted to help you, but you said no.”
“And now I know how.”
My parents always told me that parenting was a more difficult than growing up because you re-live all the emotions that your children feel. How true! I’ve also discovered that children are learning how to be adults. If, as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends we can embrace a child’s mistakes and use them to enhance their understanding of this world and how they fit in, we are creating a future of people who can pass along the tradition of knowing the value of the ‘try and try again’ principle. The moms and dads of the world also need opportunities to completely fall on their faces and get back up. What would happen if we forgave a friend who made a grievous mistake that hurt us? Or what would happen if we gave a co-worker, who should know better, the opportunity to re-do a botched project?
In a nut shell, children are being schooled on the idea of adulthood. Adults are taking the test.