When it comes to raising kids, you end up learning as much as you teach them—maybe more. I show Ava how to draw rainbows and floss her teeth and she teaches me patience. I instruct her to say “please” and “thank you,” and she reminds me to lead by example—inevitably in front of other moms. This past week’s lesson: lighten up.
It’s in the Cards
A few nights ago, Ava presented me with the game of Go Fish, which she had been given as a gift. I don’t like card games—at least I don’t remember liking them the last time I lost to my sister in a heated game of Crazy 8’s back in ’91. I get all worked up and competitive like my life is on the line, rather than a match-set of guppies. But when given the option between the card game and watching another episode of Phineas and Ferb (which is not unlike having white noise funneled directly into your brain stem), I reluctantly said, “Game on.”
My daughter and I huddled around the coffee table and drew our cards. An hour later, we were still at it, giggling and squealing when one of us would lay down a match set.“In your face!” she’d shout, putting down a set of sharks. I used it as an opportunity to teach her about being a good winner.She responded, “I know, Mom. Losing hurts”—a lesson I hadn’t forgotten. As adults we try to preempt loss. We play games that we know we’re good at. We avoid activities that our years of experience tell us will result in certain humiliation. Like roller-skating.
When I was young, I’d lace up my white leather skates with the green rubber wheels and pretend to triple lutz around the carport like Dorothy Hamill. I’d skate for hours, thinking that if my parents would just send me to the Olympic Training Center, I could actualize my natural talent. Of course, they never sent me. Instead, they bandaged my skinned knees and palms and sent me back outside. I eventually realized that I wasn’t any good and I hung up my skates. I grew up.
Last week my daughter caught wind of an open skate at a roller rink in town I didn’t even know existed. I told her I would watch safely from the wings, but she had other plans; she wanted to see Mommy skate. And what a sight it was. I was like a cat on stilts, flapping my arms and thrusting my hips in a desperate attempt to stay vertical. My cheeks and armpits were hot with embarrassment, until I discovered that the only person on the rink who cared what I looked like was me.
Once the pressure to perform was lifted, I started to enjoy myself. As I whizzed (okay, wobbled) around the rink, I began to remember things that I hadn’t thought of for years—the “rink ref” blowing his whistle at my dad because he was skating too recklessly, sweaty slow-skate handholding with Matt Lopez and the blisters on my feet after a long, hot night in pair of rented skates. But most important, I remembered that it’s okay to look stupid, to lose, to fall down—because that’s what happens when you play. And when you think about it, a grown-up life without play isn’t much of a life at all.
It turns out I didn’t outgrow the activities I once enjoyed; I had just burdened them with my expectations. Thanks for the lesson, kid.