Kick loves ice skating.
As a profoundly un-athletic person whose only physical effort was a running routine that went tits-up after my back got destroyed three years ago, I have refused to invest any emotional energy into my child’s physical prowess. I have no idea if she can do a somersault. She runs kickball bases like a drunk freshman headed for Taco Bell. It’s all fine. She’s tried soccer and tennis with middling enthusiasm, but last winter, she begged to go skating.
Her first lesson, she spent on her butt.
I mean, typical, of course, but she didn’t know that, and she was PISSED. She threw her tiny baby helmet across the park-district locker room like an NHL player denied the Stanley Cup and said, “I am NEVER doing that again.”
I got down on my knees in front of her and looked her right in her red, embarrassed, angry face. “Yes, you are.”
Most of the time this child — with her thinky-face, and her insistence on reading and following directions to the letter, and her boundless loyalty — is her father. But some of the time she’s me, and this was one of those times.
“You sucked at this today. You were really bad at it.”
“I KNOW, and I –”
“And you’re gonna go out there next week and suck at this again.”
“You’re gonna suck at this every Saturday for nine more classes because that’s how many Mama paid for. And because EVERYONE sucks at EVERYTHING the first time they do it. And you might get to the end of these nine lessons and still suck.
“At which point you tell me you want to quit, and off we go. But you don’t know yet if you’ll keep sucking so you gotta suck a while longer.”
She nodded. This, God help her, made sense to her. She did the next nine lessons, plus a practice a week. She did the next class, plus two practices a week. She got her own skates, her own skate bag, an outfit just for skating. She asked to go to open skates and get extra ice time. She befriended her teacher and classmates and watched skating videos online. She laughed when I called her my rink rat.
She got promoted from the baby class to the big-kid class.
And here’s where things came to a screeching halt again.
It’s perfectly natural to only want to work with, and employ, the best people possible. I know I feel better working alongside people I respect and admire. But what about everyone else? What about the B and C and even D players? Do they deserve to eat fucking rat bones for the rest of their lives, just because they couldn’t magically invent gorilla glass on demand for Steve Jobs?
This is the quiet tragedy of 2019 America. Our economy has been optimized and perfected into rendering the bulk of the workforce unacceptable to those in power. If you didn’t fucking graduate from MIT at age 15 and win three different seasons of Shark Tank, you’re fit to be cut. Consulting firms are paid handsomely to sniff you out and prevent you from hindering your poor company’s progress. You are not an A player, and therefore you deserve to rot. Only the special are allowed to survive.
I don’t want to lionize mediocrity or laziness, but: No matter how hard I practice and how much I learn, I am never going to be a concert pianist or a fighter pilot or cure cancer, and there is something deeply wrong with a society that tells us all that we have to dream that big.
I have an acquaintance whose spouse is the sort of person who gets two glasses of wine in her and starts thinking everyone agrees with whatever’s in her head; we were at a party recently and she started bitching about her “loser” son. He lacks ambition, he just screws around, he doesn’t want to make anything of himself, never does anything, blah blah blah.
Did he live with her, smoke weed all day, sell crack to the local kindergartners? Was he in jail, had he impregnated a member of the clergy, did he have to steal for his food? Nope. Turns out this young man has a job, pays his rent on his own place, and on weekends what he most likes to do is play with NERF guns, which honestly sounds fun as hell.
It took everything in my body not to say WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, DO YOU NOT KNOW PEOPLE’S KIDS ARE DEAD OR DYING OR IN CAGES? I do not get why our standards have to be sky-high for everybody. Why can’t some of us be okay? “You could have been an astronaut” is not actually TRUE, not for all of us, and there needs to be a place for those of us who are claustrophobic and can’t do science to still exist.
I am hard on my kid; I make her do more schoolwork than her teacher requires and I’m strict about manners and behavior with guests and screen time and such. It feels mean, a lot of the time, because I don’t know where the line is between teaching her something and becoming the villain in a story, because none of us know that line, we’re all just guessing. I know I am hard on her. She knows it, too, but:
I do not care one whit if she can axel or lutz or hip-check bigger kids into the boards. I don’t care if she competes or wins trophies or which trophies, if she does. It does not matter at all to me if she’s good at this or at anything else. Of course I don’t want her to starve or end up being exploited but I live in an area with a lot of competitive preschooling, you know? Like they need to know four languages and be reading textbooks by second grade. And it’s such, such, such bullshit, and it doesn’t produce success, and even if it does, do you know how many miserable smart people I know?
Our expectations cannot be sky-high for everybody. And if the best we can hope for is okay, then we need to be okay with that, and not look at our kids like every thing they do is going to be THE THING, the moment when they shoot into the stratosphere. Some of ’em will be right here on the ground. They’ll have to live here. They’ll have to know how.
In Kick’s big kid class, she wasn’t the fastest anymore, or the best. She was the slowest, again. She fell down the most, again. She flunked the first go, couldn’t go on to the next class, got a “needs improvement” report card, and she’s five, I mean, she doesn’t have a ton of experience with failure.
One day in big-kid class she fell, hard, like I HEARD it sitting in the soundproofed parents’ area where we all try really hard not to watch our kids so that our kids won’t look at us watching them and will pay attention to their own stuff. I heard her just absolutely eat it and I saw her stay down for a minute and I ran over to the other side of the rink figuring that even if she hadn’t cracked her tailbone she’d never want to skate again.
Her teacher had helped her up and they were sitting on the bench by the time I got over to them, and I stopped before they saw me. They were talking, and I saw the teacher ask her a question. I don’t know what she said, but I was watching when Kick answered.
“I’m ready,” she said. “Let’s go back out.”