Tag Archives: parenting

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

We Got Some ‘Splainin To Do


I just got done speaking to a couple of students.

Things are a little … tumultuous right now; in this country, in our school, shoot… in *life generally*. They hung around after the bell just to talk, to ask some questions, to vent… and I’m happy to be that for them. They obviously needed to talk to somebody. Heck, *I* needed to talk to somebody.

I came away from that conversation shaking my head. The older generation has so much to answer for with these kids. They have been robbed of so much, and yet they’re weathering the storm with so much more resolve and level-headedness than so many of the adults in their lives.

I often joke with them about how I’m glad I’m not a kid like them in the world we’re living in (even though it’s not actually a joke).

But the truth is, many of them don’t even get to be kids anymore. They got yanked out of that and plopped straight into adult problems, starting a few years ago, but especially here in 2020.

And even adults don’t know how to deal with 2020.

These kids have it worse.


OMG DAD


The ambush predator lies in wait.

It disguises itself, or hides itself, under bushes or in crevices in rocks, blending in with its surroundings. It lurks.

The ambush predator is not built to take its quarry head-on; it’s not built for that. The ambush predator is not a creature of great strength. If it sees that you see it coming, you are as safe as can be.

But when it can take you unawares …

You will be dead before you even realize you’ve been attacked.

This is how my son tells me stories.

If you haven’t been told a story by somebody younger than 10 lately, let me enlighten you. They know what punctuation is, but they’re not much impressed. It’s like having one of those walls-of-text you see on the internet read to you by an AI voice that doesn’t need to breathe or pause or think. Pure aural overload.

HEY dad i was playing this game and i found this guy and he was a bad guy but you know what i was STRONGER than him so i used my guy’s laser power but it didn’t work so THEN do you know what i did I went and got my sister oh but she as mad at me and she hit me in the leg and I think she should be in trouble for that don’t you because she hits me all the time and it’s not fair but she came with me and we went after the guy and now he’s dead wanna see?

And all I wanted was to make it to the kitchen and back for a glass of water to head back to bed for another thirty minutes.

I mean, the sun’s not even up yet, and I’m being brutalized by this affront to grammar, by this run-on sentence from the sixth circle of hell.

And the thing is, like an ambush predator, he has to spring it on me. He has to wait around the side of a door and pounce on me as I walk through, or sit on the couch in the living room in the dark and wait for me to walk past, or even creep up at the side of the bed while I’m *still sleeping* to launch into one of these impromptu sermons.

He barely stops to breathe.

And it’s sort of cute — sort of — that he’s so enthusiastic about everything. That there’s wonder and amazement in almost everything that happens to him, that a little thing like seeing a bug on a windowsill can get him so worked up that he almost goes red in the face just trying to get it all out and tell me every emotion he had about it.

I wish I had that energy.


Bro


My wife says I should post about the kids more.

“They’re your best posts,” she says.

I think she’s biased. But here’s one anyway.

Sprout the Eldest has taken to calling me “bro”.

This is a cultural thing, I guess. Probably his classmates are saying it a lot. Certainly his mom and I say it a lot (or at least, I say it a lot) in mockery-kinda-sorta-not-really of the way it gets overused these days. (New rule: every time I say “these days” I shock myself with a cattle prod. I should be farting electricity by the end of the week.)

bro GIF

Anyway, it struck me that this is a thing my father would never have stood for, if it were me doing it to him. And doubly so if it were him doing it to his old man. It would have been disrespectful. And probably greeted with the ol’ open-palmed reminder.

Heck, I can even remember once referring to the principal at my high school as “Fred” (which was his name) — just as a joke, just in passing — and my dad got uptight about it. “You don’t get to call him that,” he told me.

And I guess I internalized that? Because I wouldn’t stand for my kids calling the other adults in their lives “bro”. I’d take a page from my dad’s book and call that disrespectful.

But me, personally? I just can’t say I’m bothered by it. It’s cute, it’s funny, and it’s not like the 8-year-old is getting crazy ideas about who’s in charge around the house. Maybe my tone would change if he were five years older.

But there’s just so many other things more worth getting upset about these days.

BZZZZAAAAAPAPPPPPPPP

(Also, a gif-search for “bro” brought me this, which I do not understand, but is heckin’ delightful)

bro minutes GIF

Math Night


I’m gonna generalize in this post because I have to. I’m also sort of uniquely positioned to generalize because I see this issue from both sides — being both a teacher and a parent. So I know this is a not-all-parents situation, but man oh man, it feels like too many parents.

Anyway.

Last night was Math Night at the sprouts’ school, and because we are dutiful parents, my wife and I were in attendance.

And, I mean, maybe I’m dumb for thinking Math Night is going to be some sort of *event* — you know, a math-themed sort of celebration with games and events and all. (This is at an elementary school, after all.) But no. Math Night is essentially an expanded parent-teacher conference; a way for the teachers of each grade level to meet with parents en masse and disseminate information about upcoming tests and what standards they’re covering and all of that good stuff. Actually very useful information, but really, just a conference.

Of course, if they call it an “informational meeting on math and standards”, attendance would be even lower than it was. So “Math Night” it is. And they serve pizza. Because nothing brings people in like free cheap pizza.

Ahem.

We go to Math Night.

And I immediately find out what I already knew, which is that I don’t really need to be here. Both of our kids are doing pretty well in math in their classes (which I already knew) and the teachers’ purpose tonight is to sort of explain how the curriculum works and what strategies they’re teaching the kids (which the kids have explained to me). The presentations only take about twenty minutes. Blissfully short, in my opinion. Then there’s a question-and-answer period.

Which is where it goes off the rails.

Look, a question-and-answer period is pretty straightforward. A speaker gives out a bunch of information on a topic. When they’ve finished, they allot extra time for anybody in attendance who didn’t quite get it or who missed something to ask clarifying questions about the topic. You know, information that might directly benefit everybody else in the room, said information being pertinent to the topic at hand. And as I always tell my students, if there’s a question you have after listening to somebody talk, odds are somebody else in the room has the same question, they’re just too afraid to ask it.

But I know what’s coming, because this is not our first Math Night. We’ve done it before. And there is always a parent (or two!) who want to ask questions totally unrelated to the topic or the occasion. They’re sitting here with their kids’ teachers, after all, so why not ask the teachers specific questions about their student specifically?

(This is not the way to do it.)

So the rest of the parents in the room get treated to a lengthy discussion about how this student struggles with her work habits (not the topic) and is struggling with reading (also not the topic) and gets upset when they correct her work (still not the topic). The teachers are uncomfortable as roaches under a sun lamp discussing this stuff in front of the group — you know, because teachers aren’t meant to divulge personal information like that (and also because, y’know, NOT THE TOPIC) — but the mom keeps going on and on. And I’m not really listening and it’s just kind of droning on and man could the clock please go a little faster so this session can end and we can leave and somehow it breaks through the fog:

“I mean, of course, we took her phone away, but I don’t know what to do besides that.”

What? Er — what??

We’re in a 2nd grade class. Kids seven and eight years old. “We took *her* phone away.” Which means it’s the kid’s phone, not mom’s or dad’s phone that the kid uses.

So — let me get this straight. You gave your kid — your (let’s be charitable) eight-year-old kid — a magical internet box of her very own, and you’re confused as to why she gets upset about doing homework? Heck, most adults you come across can’t successfully integrate their lives with these things — we get consumed with social media likes and Youtube rabbit holes and push notifications to the point that they destroy our lives. And your kid has one of their very own.

Gee, I wonder why your kid is having math issues! I flippin’ wonder!

On the one hand, I get it. I really do. Screens are prolific and it’s next to impossible to keep kids off of ’em. Our kids use the tablets to watch garbage before they go to sleep at night, which, okay, yeah, I know, it’s terrible. But the tablets are not theirs, they don’t have ready, instant access to the things just anytime and for lack of anything better to do, and we monitor their time. And yeah, I also get that the “new math” of the Common Core is hard. I’m decent with numbers and even I go a little bit glassy eyed trying to understand some of the techniques they use. (The way they teach regrouping now is … just do yourself a favor and avoid it if you can. They showed us an image of the method and it looked like the hash-mark riddled wall of a twenty-year death row inmate. Hell, they’re teaching the kids “base 10” notation in the 2nd grade now. I don’t think I even heard of base 10 until I was at least 17 and even then struggled with it; and I’d wager that half the adults my age couldn’t explain what base 10 even is.) But you know what that means? That means you have to shake off the dust and learn the stuff so you can help your kid do it.

That’s what being a parent is. You suffer some inconveniences — and often some outright pains-in-the-tuchus — for the benefit of your progeny. That’s the deal you make when you bring a kid into the world.

But the problem isn’t even that this woman’s seven-year-old has a phone of her very own. I mean, that’s a problem, but it’s a relatively minor problem.

The problem is that this woman is the type of parent who’s involved enough to go to the Math Night event in the first place.

As a teacher, I can tell you (and here’s where I generalize) that the parents who come to events for parents are the types of parents who don’t actually need to come to events for parents. What I mean by that is, the parents who come to these things are the parents who are going the extra mile anyway — you’re talking about the top 10-15% of parents when it comes to more-or-less healthy involvement in their kids’ lives. The parents who need to come to these things — the parents of those kids “on the bubble” as it were, who need an extra push to help school make sense and come together — those parents are nowhere to be seen on parent nights. They’re off doing whatever else they have to do that’s more important than their kids’ education.

You see the calculus ticking toward a result, here.

This woman who was here for parent night — and therefore in the top 10-15% of parents — thought that giving her seven-year-old a phone was a good decision. Didn’t know how to help her kid focus.

This is what we’re up against. This is what these kids are up against.

Point is: Math Night is annoying.

And every parent needs to be there.


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