Dedan K. Bruner
Father of 2
Falling is Learning: The Lesson We Should Remember as We Teach it to Our Children. She had wobbled, fought for her balance, listed like a wounded cargo ship, and finally tumbled unceremoniously to the ice. And my little Sage- 4 years old at the time- was looking in no mood to stand back up on her skates.
“No sweat, honey- falling is learning!” I called, putting on my ‘trust me, I know this to be true’ voice. And it was true for me- I came a bit late to ice skating, willing myself to learn it out of my love of hockey, and just needing to be out there, even if just in the rec leagues. I laced up time and again, looking like a newborn deer at the free skates, getting picked last at the stick and puck times with friends, slowly catching up to the pack as I headed off to college, and finally looking like I belonged out there as a thirty-something with the other northern transplants in the Beltway adult leagues.
I did it- I learned to skate. And it came from every fall, every muscle memory of what sent me hurtling down to that cold, hard ice, every conscious and sub-conscious lesson of what to do and- more important- what not to do. And most of all, it came from the next step; that decision to get back up.
And as I stretched out my hand and looked down at Sage- my firstborn, cautious and given to perfectionism (a bit like her dad…)- I knew the challenges she faced. She didn’t want to learn how to skate- she wanted to know how to skate. She had bruised her knee- and her pride. And there was that challenge of standing back up, when that only offered slow, plodding progress at best, and a scary, awkward tumble to the cold, hard ice again at worst. Would she do it?
She took my hand. Her lip quivered, her knees wobbled, and oh man did she let out a panicked yelp when she stumbled again. But she stuck it out that lesson. And the next- and the other four. Falling, getting up; learning. I just couldn’t have been prouder. And neither could she!
Class five included the ‘backwards skating’ lesson, where we faced each other, holding hands, and she’d do ‘windshield wipers’ with her skates. Voilá!- she scooted backwards! I got to see her eyes light up and her smile glow as she realized she could skate backwards. She came in the door shouting to her mama “I can skate backwards!”, and just beamed when mama told her she was officially better than her at skating.
Well, there’s always a new challenge in life, isn’t there? The next season it was time for little sis’- Morgan- to join us in our lessons. And, as you read, mama isn’t so great at skating. So it was dada and his girls off to the rink together for the “Mom/ Dad and Me” lessons. Morgan is the type to run at a challenge, but not the meticulous instruction-follower that big sis is. Even getting onto the ice was a near-disaster, as she ran as fast as she could on those skates for the open door. We carefully stepped on sideways, and almost all tumbled down to the ice as Morgan hung onto my arm like an anchor, and Sage was a bit spooked from realizing my attention would be split and that her skills had eroded a bit over the summer.
My back ached from leaning over for the little one. I was sweating profusely despite being atop an enormous slab of ice. And Morgan was realizing that this new challenge she had run to greet was a bit bigger than she had bargained for. She whined, grabbed my leg, and caused me to catch an edge, toppling over and bringing her crashing down with me.
I sighed deeply and surveyed the scene. Morgan was sobbing (though unhurt), the rink guards looked on with those looks of deep concern (those never get easier to bear, do they, dads?), and I was thinking about just calling it a day. But wait…
Sage was standing. She hadn’t fallen. And she was slowly plodding over to console Morgan. She was quiet, but resolute.
“It’s okay, Morgan- Falling is Learning,” I said. This time, it was Sage reminding me of the lesson through her determination. “Right Sage?” I asked, looking at my big girl with pride. “That’s right!” she said, a smile creeping across her face as she realized she was being our role model.
Hey- did I teach her that? Yeah... I did! And it was time to take my own advice. Learn the lessons, get back up, rinse, repeat.
The rest of that lesson was- not great. The next one was better. The one after that, Morgan learned that she could put her gloves on her feet and they looked like monkey feet. So that one was much better.
But learning can be a slow process- and a painful one at times. We need to tell our children to stick with it. But- even more- we need to show them, and it’s a constant process of reminding yourself it works by doing it.
So go ahead- go fall with your kids. And let them see you get back up again.