Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Different Points of View

Yesterday was the first day of classes for me. My husband stayed home with the kids since they don't go back to school until tommorrow. He also watched two other kids in the neighborhood as there are no camps this week for working parents to send their kids to before school starts. My 13 year old son greeted me when I got home. As I was walking up the driveway with him, I looked all around the yard and the front patio – and saw baseball bats, baseball gloves, baseballs, footballs, bikes laying on their sides, bike helmets, lacrosse rackets, scooters, etc. I turned to my son, sighed, and asked, “What do you suppose the neighbors think when they see this mess in front of our house?” He looked at me and said, without pause, “They think healthy active kids live here.”

He won that one.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Two weeks ago my husband and I took the two youngest kids white water rafting on a 5 mile Class 1 (the easiest) stretch of the Genesee River. This was designed for beginners – and there were families there with children much younger – and smaller – then ours! It was the first time for all of us – and we had a blast. In reflecting back on the experience, there was something about the excursion that I enjoyed just as much as the thrill of doing it. It was the teamwork needed to navigate the river.

Everyone who had signed up for this (about 40 people) had the choice of navigating their boat with or without a guide. I leaned over and whispered in my husband's ear that maybe we should opt for a guide in our boat. You know, since it was our first time and we had two kids with us and all. My husband gently whispers back "NO (insert swearword here) WAY!" So – if you opt out of having a guide in your boat then you need to appoint one person as the leader. This person sits in the back of the boat and tells everyone else what to do. My husband thought I’d be good in this role.

However, at my insistence, my husband was appointed the leader of our boat. I grew up in central New Jersey. I have no experience with boats in water. He grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York. He has lots of experience with boats in water. It turns out I made the right call.

Everyone needed to work together to get through the spots where the water ran faster and rougher. Everyone also needed to listen to the boat leader – who had the more global perspective of maneuvering through the water from the back of the boat. It was these two factors – listening and working together - that made this event such a great learning experience for each of us.

My youngest daughter is a natural leader – only at age 10 she hasn’t yet refined this skill enough to add diplomacy to it. She had to learn not to be on the lookout for what her older brother might be doing wrong, that it wasn’t her role to correct him if she thought he was doing something wrong, and not to contradict the boat leader’s instructions if she disagreed with him. Simply put, she had to learn she couldn’t be the boss (or bossy – whatever fits).

My youngest son does not like to be told what to do. Nor does he like to be wrong in any way. He is 13. He had to learn to not be defensive when being told what to do. He also had to learn that just because he was being told to do one thing and then – quick – do something else instead (as in “paddle FORWARD – now BACK, HOLD!) didn’t mean he was doing something wrong - just do it.

This was an eye opening experience for me. I loved how we had to work as a team to negotiate the river – and had to depend on each other to do his or her part. I loved watching how my two youngest had to get over their desire to constantly annoy each other and instead work together. There was no time for arguing, no time for blame, no time to monitor who did more or what wasn’t fair. No arguing at all – just learning to work together.

I’ve always tried to work on teaching my children how to work as a team – but being kids and all – they are more interested in monitoring what the other one is doing. And reporting loudly about the unfairness of what each one got stuck doing. You can’t do that when your raft is stuck on a rock and you’ve all got to work together to get off the rock.

I saw my role as a parent in a whole different light. I also saw what I was missing. It isn't just about teaching your children how to navigate rivers on their own. It's also learning/knowing what baggage you need to get rid of in order to work together to accomplish a goal. I'm struggling to put this in words - but I do know that I need to provide more of these type of real life experiences to help them.