Tag Archives: confidence

The Training Wheels Problem


Our oldest took his first bike ride without training wheels this weekend.

He’s 9, which is old for that step I guess, but our house isn’t the most conducive to practicing bicycle riding and he had never been particularly motivated to pick it up, so it was no big deal … this year, though, he and little sister have the bug and we’ve been going to the local soccer field and doing laps in the parking lot.

(By the way, and just as an aside, the build quality on kids’ bikes is garbage. It feels like we can hardly go five minutes without a pedal unscrewing itself (seriously, what engineering genius threaded it so that it spins WITH the natural pedaling motion instead of AGAINST) or the chain jumping a tooth on the gear and falling off (that one I *might* attribute to the sprout’s bombastic way of “crashing” when he wants to stop…. he’s not exactly gentle on the machine).)

So we’ve been going out for several weeks, and they’re gaining in confidence, like they do, as he’s riding on the training wheels. And the training wheels are … they’re this double-edged sword, right? They keep you from losing your balance and falling over entirely, but they also inhibit the natural function and physics of the bicycle. (It’s impossible to take a sharp turn at any speed greater than a crawl, because on a bicycle you have to lean into the turn, and … well, the trainers don’t allow you to lean.)

This is the training wheels problem: they allow you to do a thing that you may not yet have the skill to do, but they don’t give you the full experience of the thing. If you lean on them too long, they actually stop you from getting better.

And I’m watching, and he’s getting surer and surer of himself, and I’m watching, and on this last pass around the parking lot, the trainers don’t touch down on the ground even once. So, okay, it’s time for those things to come off.

I tell him so.

He freaks.

I’m not ready, dad. I still need them. I’m gonna crash. I can’t keep my balance yet.

“You *are* ready, kid. I watched you ride a hundred yards without using them… you just can’t feel it. You’re ready.”

I’m not, dad. Please don’t take them off. I need to use them for a few more weeks.

This is where parenting gets weird, because you want to respect the kid’s wishes, and what’s a few more weeks? If it’ll make him feel better, what’s the big deal? But you also know things the kid can’t know — namely that these things are doing him more harm than good at this point — so what do you do?

In my case, I tell him.

“Nah, buddy. Next time we come out here, those things are coming off.”

He thinks it over.

Okay, well, if you’re going to take them off next time, can I try just once without them, with you helping me?

“What, right now?”

Yeah.

As the cool kids say these days? BET. I’ve got the ol’ crescent wrench in the van. I whip them thangs off lickety-split. His eyes get big as they clatter to the ground. (I don’t bother setting them down gently; I let them fall dramatically, and allow them to make a ton of noise, because I’m theatrical like that.) I walk the bike over to him.

“All right. Hop on. I’ve got you.”

Don’t let go, okay?

And here’s the lie every parent in this situation tells their kid: “You bet.”

He starts to pedal, I give him a little push, and immediately let him go. He takes off like a shot, loops around the parking lot. I jog to keep up, but it’s never in doubt; he’s 100% dialed-in. He zooms. He leans. He doesn’t crash, not even close. And from there, it’s a total reversal of energy:

Did you see me? Wasn’t that awesome? Did you see how fast I went? Were you watching me lean? I didn’t think I could do it, but then I did it!

This is not exactly a subtle metaphor. It gets re-used all the time, nowhere so heavy-handedly, or adorably, as in Onward, the most recent Pixar film to make me cry. Ian, the younger brother, is learning to use magic, but he lacks confidence along with knowledge. His brother, Barley, knows all about magic but can’t use it. The two need to cross a chasm, and this can only be accomplished by means of magic, so Barley convinces young Ian to try out a levitation spell with the assurance that he’ll keep a rope tied around the young man’s waist, just in case the spell fails. Well, the spell works, and the rope runs out of slack and comes untied, and Ian makes it to the other side entirely out of the safe grasp of his brother… and realizes, safe on the other side (okay, he falls a little bit because movies gotta complicate everything), that he didn’t need the support at all.

And this is the way, right? We use these safeties to teach kids how to do things, and then we slowly take the constraints away. This is education 101. Heck, it’s even how we do bowling with little kids now: those bumpers on the sides of the lanes? They’re just training wheels to keep you from throwing a gutter ball every time you take the line, to give you the kick of knocking some pins over, that dopamine hit to bring you back to the line and throw it a little bit better next time, until you don’t need them at all anymore.

We use training wheels, like we use all safety constructs, to keep ourselves from crashing too hard when we’re learning a thing… but who’s there to tell us when to take them off? When you learn new things as an adult, most of the time you’re learning them on your own. And maybe you put your own “training wheels” in place to one degree or another.

But if you want to really ride, you have to take them off sooner or later. Because we all know that riding a bike with trainers on isn’t really riding a bike. Somebody riding a bike with training wheels is capable of so much more.

Where, in our lives, are we relying on training wheels without even knowing it?

And what would we be capable of, if we just had somebody to take our training wheels off?

Child, Tricycle, Play, Drive, Bike, Bicycle, Toy

Self-Published at 8


My kid wrote a comic book the other day.

He does this from time to time — the impulse just strikes him and he wants to tell a story, and he’ll grab a bunch of white paper and sharpies and markers and go on a writing and drawing spree for a couple hours, then come away with this concoction of hastily-scribbled, choppily-illustrated wonder.

This one, being in a holiday frame of mind, was about Santa Claws.

That’s not a misspelling, you see — in addition to being creatively inclined, the kid also has an affinity for the macabre.

“You thought Christmas was a happy season?” The book begins, ominously.

In his story, to summarize, Santa Claus is attacked by a Clawster (what that is, I have no idea, and upon further discussion, I’m not sure the kid does either). This infects him with a deadly virus that turns him into Santa Claws, who goes on a Tarantino-esque roarin’ rampage of revenge, attacking elves (tearing one in half!) and savaging his reindeer (poor Rudolph!) before being attacked by a SWAT team. (“PREPARE WAR”, Santa Claws says, in a quote from the book.)

This does not deter Santa Claws, however, because his claws are able to slice ‘n’ dice the bullets they shoot at him. The SWAT team comes up short, so it takes the army to subdue him, at which point they learn that the Clawster was from the Civil War, somehow.

Merry Christmas.

(I’d take a picture, but he gave it to my dad as a birthday present — because after hearing him read it to me, I told him his grandfather would love to hear it. )

I tell you all that not to try to brag that the kid’s story is awesome or anything (I mean, as a parent, I’m over here gushing about it. Objectively? …There are some plot holes.).

I tell you that instead to point out just how awesome it is to be a kid. Here I’ve been agonizing over this writing thing for years. One finished novel (unpublished), one drafted but un-edited novel (trunked), and a third in late-stage edits (out for review with some trusted critics). Endless revisions. Long-Dark-Tea-Times-of-the-Soul wondering whether my drivel is any good or will ever come to anything.

This kid has an idea, tosses it off in a couple hours, and starts shopping it around the same day — and then doesn’t think about it again.

Funny that from my self-doubting, self-flagellating self could come such a font of unabashed abandon, such impervious confidence.

I need some of whatever he’s having.


Not By Any Other Name


For so long I struggled with a question of identity. Actually, struggle is the wrong word, because I wasn’t thinking about the issue at all, but by virtue of not thinking about the issue, I was missing out.

Okay, that’s vague as hell. Let me try again. Self-perception is a big deal. Not so much in thinking of yourself as a big deal (although I guess that’s maybe not a bad thing now and then), but I mean just the way you think of yourself in general. The way you define yourself matters.

Sounds obvious, right? But it’s the simple truths that are the most powerful. For a long, long time, I thought of myself in a really negative way. Not actively — I didn’t sit around thinking to myself: “I’m a loser, I’m never going to amount to anything, I might as well just not try.” But that perception was lurking in the back of my mind nonetheless. I hadn’t amounted to anything, so I didn’t know that I ever would amount to anything. I had aspirations, but I had no confidence that I could achieve them, so I didn’t bother even thinking of myself as being on that track.

Case in point: Writing. I always wanted to write, but the idea of actually writing a book felt so insurmountable I just took it for granted that I could never get it done. Without really thinking about it, then, I named myself not-a-writer. By the same token, I could define myself by virtually any yardstick you could think of. Not-an-astronaut. Not-a-millionaire. Not a super-genius. But there’s only so much you can learn about a thing by determining what it isn’t, and that goes for yourself, too.

So, a little over a year ago, I decided to try something different. I told myself, you’re going to try being a writer. And so I started thinking of myself as a writer. And lo and behold, I suddenly found myself more committed than ever to writing well and productively and regularly. Well, that was pretty cool, so I started thinking of myself as other things, just to see what effect it would have on me. I never thought of myself as much of a dad, but now and then lately I remind myself, you’re a dad now, and I find myself being just a little more conscientious with my kids.

I’m willing to bet that this works with almost anything, because as good as we are at fooling ourselves about life in a direction that hurts us (I’ve got plenty of time for that project, or a few extra cookies won’t hurt), we can fool ourselves in a positive direction, too.

So, this post is to remind myself that I’m a writer. And a runner. And a dad and a husband. And a teacher. And a thinker. And a goofball and a nerd and a reader and a slew of other things. Positive things.

The names we give ourselves, I think, become the names we make for ourselves. So pick good ones.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


A Complimentary First Review


So the first non-me reader of my novel has finished it, and gave me a pretty solid compliment. She said that she loved the concept, and wished there was more to the book because she was enjoying it so much.

Okay, so the reader is my wife, which perhaps makes her review a little less than perfectly objective. She does have several notebook pages of notes compiled, though, and pointed out some errors that I overlooked, and some that I downplayed in my own mind despite the fact that they are actually pretty significant.

In short, a mixed review, which is actually exactly what I was hoping for. Good news is she didn’t feel it was a waste of her time or mine, in fact just the opposite. She told me it would make a good movie, and that it would do really well as a series. All the things a wife is supposed to say to her husband who is thrashing around in the riptide trying to find an artistic identity.

In fact, her feedback couldn’t have come at a better time; I’ve started working on my next major project and, much though I love the raw rush of creating from nothingness, it’s leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe bitter isn’t the word for it: I tried to describe the sensation to my wife, and the best I could come up with (though I actually rather like the simile) is oatmeal.

Writing the new project, at the moment, is kinda like eating oatmeal. The right things are happening, I feel like I’m building a solid foundation for the story to come, and in general the development of the project feels good. But it’s lacking flavor, and I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing the story explicitly from one character’s point of view, but I’m writing it in the 3rd person. Like, if I got into the character’s headspace, I could develop her voice with a bit more flair and verve, but from outside, I’m stuck describing events simply as they happen, and it feels… well, like oatmeal. Also, there’s the fact that I haven’t 100% decided exactly where this story leads — I know some major landmarks along the way but I don’t yet have an ending in mind yet. As a result, I’m moving through it a little tentatively, and that makes me nervous to take risks, which leaves the writing feeling… yeah. Bland.

So maybe I’ll toy with some 1st person perspective over the next couple chapters, or then again, maybe I’ll hold off, since the action is about to start crackling. Blerg. Should I be focusing on infusing a bit more flash and style into this piece to complement the story, or should I just focus on the events first and nail down the delivery later?

I would have thought that, having written a 90,000 word draft before, I’d know what I wanted to accomplish in this new story when I tried to come around and do it again. But apparently not. I blazed a path through the jungle only to discover that writing the next novel will be a hike across the endless desert.

Writer problems. I complain, but these are good problems to have, because the words are flowing, and a lot of writers can’t say that. Nothing to do but press forward. No way out but through.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


To Extremes


This week’s prompt is “an emotion and its opposite.” Now, the obvious one is love/hate, and that would be an easy one to explore. As a writer, I swing back and forth between loving and hating my work like the tides. Hell, I swing back and forth between loving and hating the craft. But love/hate is obvious.

No, the dichotomy that seems most apt to me is confidence/doubt. These two phases, like the peaks and troughs of a ray of ultraviolet light, alternate with alarming alacrity (triple alliteration bonus, whee).

One minute, I feel at home in the me who is on this adventure. I know what I’m doing. I’m staying smart, looking sharp, making good decisions. Every new bit of text is a good one. Every cut makes perfect sense. Every edit improves the whole. There is no shaking me off the course I’m on as I work inexorably toward writing the best inaugural novel that’s ever been written.

Then the light goes out, and I remember that I’m miles deep in an unfamiliar jungle with the dark rustle of foreboding creatures of the night on all sides of me. That bit of dialogue I thought was scorchingly clever the first time around seems a bit hackneyed upon further review. The character arc I’ve worked so hard to create feels like a flamingo on roller skates; all awkward angles and feathers crashing everywhere. The cut that felt so necessary when I made it now looks like a gaping wound, and the patient is bleeding out.

Then I stop working for a while, and by the time I come back to the novel, I feel like I could drive nails with my forehead again.

Do any other writers suffer from the same up-and-down, hot-and-cold, bulletproof-then-made-of-glass feeling? Do all of them? I have a hard time believing that my sentiments on writing are unique, but by the same token, not every writer can be so schizophrenic.

In fairness, though, the ride is pretty fun. There’s something to be said for riding the roller coaster til you throw up the oversized cotton candy you just horked down while you were waiting in line. Then wiping the pink fizz from your lips and lining up for another turn. Some might call that crazy.

No, that would be me. I’d call that crazy. I’m too old for that sharknado. But the writing, okay. I can handle the swings of that ride.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


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