Yesterday was very unlike the typical Saturday morning – and it was a change of pace that provided an incredible learning moment.
I usually get up early, pry my youngest sons from both the wonder of their dreams and the warmth of their blankets, encourage them to find clothing choices devoid of holes that actually match, fix a light breakfast for us, pack uniforms, water bottles, snacks, toys, crayons, and coloring books, and usher them out the door and into the mini people mover in what can be considered nothing less than Olympic record-setting time.
Following that early morning flurry, we drive 50 miles south to a community center so the boys can partake in their martial arts training. They begin the hour-long instruction at 9:45 a.m., often still engulfed in morning-brain-fog when they walk in. Normally my boys would attend their class, change into their civilian clothes, find their crayons and snacks and hunker down for a couple hours before departing for the journey home.
See … I normally help instruct on Saturday mornings, not just their class but the classes that follow. Like my sons, I’m suited up in uniform also, assisting in any way asked to help the classes run smoothly for the children. I don’t consider it work since I revel in those light bulb moments when the children suddenly get it! And it’s good for ME to learn how to break down a technique in manageable pieces so children can learn it. In this, teaching becomes a growth opportunity rather than a task.
Yesterday, however, I was suffering through the eleventh day of a head cold and was feeling miserable in every aspect. Since I’m not one to often give in to illness, I packed my own uniform, filled my personal water bottle, and determined to fill my usual role. As I drove those 50 grueling miles though, only able to draw breath through my mouth and struggling to get past the larger-than-life pain at the base of my neck, it came clear to me that I just might need to sit this one out and take on the role of a parent-spectator.
Fortunately the available instructors were willing to take on the classes without my assistance yesterday. And as I sat with the other parents, literally on a stage to the side of the room, I was able to observe my own kids without simultaneously teaching seven others!
[Allow me to interject here that my two youngest sons
have been in martial arts training for only 8.5 months. AND they are only 8 and 5 years old respectively. (Although, if you ask my youngest son, he is 5.5 years old, NOT five years old!) However, I have been training now for over nine years and am a little bit older than they are!]
As I watched, I struggled between that feeling of pride of accomplishment for what my boys did well and frustration for all those techniques that I wanted to jump out of my seat to fix for them! If you know me, you know that refraining from what I want to say and do is probably one of the most difficult tasks for me. So I sat, side stage, and watched. And watched. And watched … with that feeling of both pride and frustration growing within me, each battling to be triumphant.
Summing up the conflicting conversation occurring between Pride and Frustration? It might sound something similar to this:
P: Wow! He really knows the pattern of this form!!
F: Lower your front stance! Place that block over your front leg!
P: Hey! He’s paying attention to the instructor and responding accordingly.
F: (the next moment) Hey!! Pay attention to the instructor and respond!
P: Nice kick!
F: Don’t forget to chamber the back hand. Keep your guard up.
P: Amazingly, they are starting to look like leaders in this group!
F: Get your weight on your back leg. Fix your line of sight.
And so it goes.
If you’re a parent, if you’ve ever taught children, even if you’ve ever just observed children at play, I know you’ve been there. There is a sense of wanting to fix things for kids, whether or not they are your children, but ESPECIALLY if they are your children. And when you sit side stage and are rendered unable to do that, it can be challenging at best to remain in-check. I DID still learning something, sitting there off to the side. I learned the role of parent-spectator: how to help build their confidence while silently noting areas for future growth (all while keeping quiet); how to encourage with just a look of approval as they glance over hoping to see just that; how to support an instructor by being present in an appropriate manner; and how to trust that the instructor also has your children’s best interest in mind.
Most importantly I learned that sitting side stage, the role as parent-spectator is also THAT of a student! Lessons exist if the mind is open to learning them. There exist many other times in life where circumstances necessitate that parents are the main instructors for their children. However, enrolling children in any type of program where we are NOT the instructor, not the coach, not the tutor …. it necessitates a little bit of letting go and a lot of trust. And in sitting side stage, we might just get more than we paid for, provided we assume our proper role.
Then gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you willing to take it up, Parent-Spectator? Come sit alongside me and learn lessons alongside your children.