Skill up

The Summer of 2017 was a most excellent one. I enjoyed family holidays and lots of chill time with my daughter. I asked her at the beginning of the holidays if there was anything special that she would like to do, and she said yes, she would like to go to the circus. I had sort of been aware that I hadn’t sorted anything out, but as the last week of the summer break approached, I remembered a flyer that I had picked up earlier in the year. It was for a circus that was only a half hour drive away. Win!

The name of the circus that we saw was ‘Nicole and Martin’s White Tent’. It involved two performers (Nicole and Martin I presume) and a child that was possibly their son, who came on a couple of times throughout the performance. And it was magical. It was the kind of show that allows adults to see as the eyes of children do, with wonder and amazement. Everything that the performers pretended to see, I could see too, with sharp clarity. And it was beautiful. My daughter laughed so hard that she went bright red and tears streamed down her face. It was a high point of the summer.

After the show, I started to think about the skill sets that I had witnessed that were employed by Nicole and Martin and how truly incredible they were. I saw them play clarinet, trombone, tuba, flute, trumpet, piccolo, violin, double bass and a host of percussion instruments. The both sang beautifully too. This was accompanied by juggling, magic and acting along side the myriad use of a small selection of props. There was also the acrobatics, the displays of balance and strength that were utterly astounding (think you can plank? try that on one hand, whilst balanced on someone else’s head, whilst they walk around.. whole new level!). And if that was not impressive enough, they also perform this whole show in at least four languages. In short, I was awed.

I can’t speak any other languages (am attempting to rectify), I can play maybe two instruments and I have never been able to touch my toes. It is desperately easy to compare myself to others and to come up short. There are so many amazing people in the world with skills that I will never have. I could see this as inspiring and could attempt to learn all these amazing things or I could simply be grateful to have such beauty in my life and appreciate the skills that I do have. I am not less by seeing greatness in others.

Map Point. Have I learnt not to spread myself too thin?

Vaster than empires

My daughter recently had a swimming gala. I was on poolside as I was helping to find swimmers for the races (‘I need to find Lauren, could you try really hard to be her?’). On her first race, she made a technical fault and was disqualified. She was utterly distraught. After around ten minutes of reassuring her that this was perfectly okay and that even top athletes experience this, she was still sobbing. I then took a step back, spoke to one of the other most amazing teachers, and she calmed her down within a few minutes. She went on to take three golds, it was a good evening. But for me, asking for help, and knowing when my presence was not making things any better felt really good. It was empowering to recognise that I cannot do everything.

It has taken me a very long to realise that. When we are children, much stuff is done for us, and as we grow we learn to become more self-sufficient. Some skills come easy to us, and others not so much. As a child I could easily create a camp out of furniture, sometimes camps that would cover my whole room. But being able to put my hair in a ponytail? Not until I was a teenager. Some things we are impassioned to know, to understand. Other things just seem like a chore.

I think it is also down to what other people will do for us. As a parent, it feels like such a delicate balance. Helping your child to develop with your assistance, and knowing when to step back and let them find their own way of doing things, their own flight. A few years ago I was choosing all of my daughter’s clothes each morning, and now she finds her own. Some of her choices are a bit mad, and this is awesome. It is also incredibly important as she ascends into adulthood.

One of the best gifts we can give our children is encouraging and enabling them to be confident and independent people. I read recently that children who share in the home chores are more likely to be successful adults. I don’t know whether this is true, but it feels that it could be. Understanding that some things take effort is an important skill to learn. We need to be able to achieve.

But understanding that we cannot do everything is just as important. No one can learn all the skills, all the crafts, all the everythings. But for some people, for me, I felt as if I had to. My mindset was I could not be totally successful unless I could do everything for myself because relying on others? That was a weakness. That was a failing I had that I felt compelled to improve. And if I couldn’t learn something? That made me feel low.

Learning to ask others for help, not just when I am desperate, has been something that I have really struggled to learn. But I am learning. People utilise my skills, I utilise the skills of others, and collectively, we all grow together. And realising that has been a new beginning.

Map Point. What skills do I share with others?



Childhood ‘lasts’

Last week my daughter smacked her hand hard against the edge of the pool as she was completing a length of backstroke. Her friend came and told me and I went to her, she was cradling her hand, and had the kind of muffled sobs, that denote serious pain. I cuddled her (being careful of the hand) and I then dressed her. It occurred to me that it had been a very long time since I had rolled up socks so you can get them onto a child’s foot easier. It was a massively nostalgic moment, and I commented on it, to which my child made some sort of funny. Her hand was utterly fine except for a minor bruise that took a few days to come out, but it reminded me just how many ‘lasts’ there are for the parent during childhood.

My friend Maggie once observed that the last time that your child holds your hand, you won’t know it’s the last time. That level of need, that level of looking to you for safety, warmth and reassurance is never so physically pronounced as it is during childhood. There will come a time where the nightmares no longer wake your child in the night, when they no longer need help tying a shoe or reaching to a shelf for the colouring pencils. They have learnt all these skills for themselves.

It can be easy to view these as a loss, and sometimes, during waves of nostalgia, I feel that keenly. But I also accept that as much as these are ‘lasts’ for me, they are ‘firsts’ for her. I have taught her some of these skills, others she has worked out for herself, she has built confidence in what she can do and resilience and determination to see these things through. And my idle memories irrespective, I am immensely proud of and interested in the young person that I have the privilege to raise.

I guess there are many new ‘firsts’ that I will get to experience in the coming teenage years and am sure these will be a whole new learning curve for us both. Possibly in quite interesting ways! For me, it is trying to appreciate the actuality of the present moment, without thinking too far behind or ahead.

Map Point. Where in my life am I fully living in the present?