In Praise of Awkward Trying

We were at a family church camp with a big open meeting room. Some of the children were taking advantage of the space to roller skate, and I was struck by one child in particular. He was big and awkward and not nearly as accomplished as two or three of the littler ones, who were zipping around like pros. Yet there he was, lurching about, struggling to keep his balance, hardly able to make forward progress without a push, and as pleased as he could be! He didn't care if younger children were more skilled than he was. He didn't care if other people saw him looking awkward. He clearly loved skating, and was having a great opportunity to practice--and that was all that mattered to him.

What a model! I couldn't keep my eyes off him. Personally, I would have died before going out on that big open floor and displaying my incompetence to anyone who cared to look. Yet I know that this attitude has held me back from trying many things. What new doors might I have found open and walked through--what new loves and new possibilities might I have discovered--if I'd had the attitude of that young skater?

How had this innocence, this lack of concern with looking "cool", survived in him so long? How early is it knocked out of most of us? I started thinking about what we can do as parents to help our children and the young people around us hold on to this unselfconscious pleasure in life.

In this case, the surroundings clearly helped. It was a wonderful group of people. Nobody teased--not even the younger children. Lots of people offered him a hand--or a push--when he was in their vicinity. All the comments he got were warm, supportive, appreciative.

It's tempting to poke fun at early efforts and "childish" pleasures. Yet teasing, and the threat of teasing, can have a severely dampening effect on children's (or, for that matter, adults') willingness to expose themselves. It's hard to keep a child's life free from teasing, particularly as they enter school age. But we can play an important role by refraining from teasing ourselves, and by encouraging a tone of appreciation for new effort wherever we are.

We can also look for occasions to try new things and take "childish" pleasures ourselves, without regard to what our peers might thing--as a way of keeping that model available to our children. As well as being useful to them, this can be a wonderful opportunity for us. And we may discover that our children can be great allies to us in this process.

I remember when a woman at our school decided to try a jump onto the mats, one that the preschoolers regularly did with ease and glee. She was scared and embarrassed and awkward as she prepared to jump--and the children were wonderful. They clustered around and offered a steady stream of confidence and encouragement--and then a big bouquet of congratulations when she finally took the leap. They were as delighted as she was. Her willingness to go for it, despite all the feelings of awkwardness, had touched them. There is just something inherently hopeful about trying.