Not Giving Up

My ten-year-old is in a club where the children, parents and adult friends get together once a month to play hard, be close and challenge ourselves. Someone had brought a jump rope, and my son was very interested in trying it out. All the other children, however, were more skilled, and quickly grew impatient with how his attempts slowed them down.

I was in a state--a combination of outrage and despair. Why was my son always the least coordinated? What had I done wrong? How could these children be so selfish and thoughtless? Why were none of the other adults helping us out? My son quickly decided that he didn't want to jump rope after all, which made it even worse. Now I had his despair to add on to mine. What could I do?

I finally got one of the other adults to join us, but she couldn't figure out how to help him try either, and was soon called away to do something else. So there we were, the two of us. He stuck firmly to the position that he didn't want to try any more. I suspected that this was not the whole story. Something about trying new things, where there is a performance standard and others are clearly demonstrating more skill, has always been hard for him. In response to my prodding he acknowledged that, while he didn't want to practice, he would like to be good at jumping rope. My hunch had been right.

It felt like a standstill: I knew it didn't make sense to give up; he refused to budge. Luckily at this point a batch of people went off to another activity, abandoning the rope. I grabbed it and another person and bodily hauled my son off to give it a try. I kept hoping that she would take over and tell me what to do, but she didn't, so I bumbled on. I hauled him to the middle and announced, as cheerfully as I could, that all he had to do was jump when we turned the rope. As we started to turn, I saw that mulish stubborn look on his face that I know so well, and my heart sank. Sure enough, as the rope hit the ground, he remained totally immovable. You can bring a boy to a rope, but you can't make him jump.

There was a part of me that wanted to shake him till his teeth rattled, and a part that wanted to walk away in helplessness and despair. Luckily a third part, whose presence I hadn't even been aware of, rose up and took over. "Good try!" it said. "Just a little bit higher and you'll get it." The teeniest bit of a smile tugged at his mouth. This was not the response he had expected. "Let's try again," I said enthusiastically, claiming that unsuspected part of me that had come to our rescue. We turned again--with exactly the same result. Nothing. Good try!" I beamed again. "I think you've almost got it!" The smile tugged a little harder.

The next time, he actually jumped--and succeeded in getting one foot over the rope. Then he really got into it, and after ten minutes was not only jumping as we turned, but successfully running into the turning rope. He was clearly still a beginner--but an enthusiastic, practicing, improving one.

I was left with a jumble of thoughts. For all his look and sound of stubborn absolute refusal, he really had wanted someone to help him with the jump-rope. And, as he was standing there immobile while the rope turned, there was a way in which he really was trying his best. There were also some striking similarities in what he and I were experiencing. He "knew" that jumping rope was too hard. I "knew" that I couldn't figure it out, didn't know what to do, couldn't help him all by myself. We were both ready to give up. Yet we both had more in us than we thought.

The icing came at the very end of the evening. He was deeply involved in a different activity when somebody announced that it was almost time to clean up. "Mom", he said, grabbing my hand, "there's only a little bit of time left. Let's jump rope!"