Our first balance challenge comes when we try to move from hands and knees to walking upright. While an essential skill, it doesn’t come easily, and we land on our behinds frequently trying to figure it out. After that we try running, usually before we are quite successful at stopping, and often fall forward when we try to stop.
Eventually balance on two feet becomes second nature, so we learn to balance on various devices. Bicycles challenge us to remain upright while moving our feet in circles. Roller skates demand that we align two sets of wheels and move only forward, while trying to avoid doing the splits. Ice skates further try our balancing patience trying to glide on two long metal pieces. We rush down ski slopes on two wooden boards. Then we walk over creeks on logs, balance on railroad tracks, and teeter on the tops of walls. We have achieved an amazing array of balancing skills with some patience and perseverance.
And then one day late in life we find that something has gone awry. A skill we took for granted–balancing–seems as challenging as it did years ago. We use handrails going down stairs, after wondering for years what they were for. We accept a hand on slippery surfaces. We begin to think about broken bones when we consider ice skating and roller skating. Our bravado about balancing seems to have evaporated.
Fortunately, as I wrote a few months ago, there are exercises such as balancing on one foot while brushing our teeth, that restore balance. While I wish I could take balance for granted as I did for so many years, I now concentrate on maintaining it. It’s a lot farther to the ground if I fall now!
Each year on the Oregon coast sneaker waves sweep unsuspecting visitors to their deaths. At other times tourists are killed with large driftwood logs rolling over them. Both happen because these people don’t possess local knowledge acquired naturally by those who live near the ocean.
Here I sit on a large log on very dry sand far up from the water. I absorbed lessons very early from my first visits to the beach. The first was to never turn my back on the ocean. This was reinforced before I had any idea of its importance since my parents were on the lookout for unexpectedly large waves. By the time I explored the beach on my own the lesson was firmly entrenched.
I was also cautioned to never climb on driftwood that was on wet sand. Clearly the log had been washed there by the waves and could just as easily be washed away, injuring me. Plenty of driftwood accumulated high on the beach left during winter storms but not at risk of moving in normal weather. We played on it.
I was also taught to distinguish between the tide coming in and going out. If it was going out I might be able to reach a rock and play on it. But I needed to watch for the tide returning and stranding me on the rock. In my childhood people stranded on rocks had to wait for the tide to turn to return to shore. In recognition, I guess, that so many travelers don’t understand tides, the Coast Guard now rescues people stranded on the largest rock, Haystack, at Cannon Beach, our favorite spot.
It’s easy to forget that what is “common” sense for some was actually locally acquired and is not “common” at all.
One of my major learning challenges came in first grade with my first pair of saddle shoes. I had worn other tie shoes before this, but there was usually an adult around to help out. I struggled to learn to tie the things. Then I struggled to make a knot that would hold. Then I struggled to tie the oft-suggested double knot designed to make sure the knot held. Of course after that I had to wrestle with the impenetrable knot that resulted when I tried to undo the double knot. My mother possessed what was to me a magical power to untie things. I have a clear memory of deciding I could never be a mother because I could never successfully remove tightly bound knots.
In Camp Fire Girls I was challenged to tie a square knot in the kerchief that came with our uniform. I consistently tied a slip knot instead of a square knot and never could get the hang of the appropriate kerchief display. Thankfully I never was a Boy Scout. My brother had to learn all sorts of knots as part of the Scout culture. I also grew up without boats so I never had to master nautical knots. In college I was in awe of my sailing friend who effortlessly handled the ropes and the requisite knots.
As I tied my shoes the other morning for what must be one of the thousands of times I have done it, I marveled that at some point it had become second nature. I still lack any more advanced knotting skill. Fortunately I married a man who flawlessly ties things to the top of the car as if it were the easiest thing in the world. And he definitely knows the difference between a square knot and a slip knot. If it were left to me, those car top parcels would be long gone.
Waiting doesn’t come naturally to children. Whether it’s the incessant “are we there yet?” or the pleas of “when’s dinner?” children want time to speed up. I remember riding my bicycle up to my elementary school in August to see if the class lists were posted yet. These held special importance for me and my friends since they let us know not only our next teacher but also our next classmates. It took several bike rides until I finally got to see the list taped on my fall classroom door. And who among us couldn’t wait to be “grown up?”
As adults we need the capacity to wait, and it appears many adults don’t possess it. From the person huffing and mumbling behind me in the checkout line to the car behind me in slow traffic, other adults are impatient. The culture caters to this at the moment. On a drive last week I passed a billboard which displayed how long I could expect to wait in the hospital’s emergency room. I can’t imagine rushing an emergency to take advantage of the short wait time!
Waiting is seen as so unpleasant that in every place I will need to wait someone has installed a television. So the doctor’s office, the airport, the gas station and the grocer store sport televisions. If a transaction takes a couple of minutes a clerk will almost always apologize for making me wait, fending off my potential criticism I guess.
Mindfulness seems designed to teach people to wait. It encourages them to be in the moment, not in the future. I didn’t need to take it up to learn to wait. I had many years of experience waiting while I grew up. Now I treasure those times of stillness, when they aren’t interrupted by a television, when the only thing that I have to do is wait.
My daughter’s rescue pups have learned to share the couch. They could each take a side, but they prefer to share one end. They worked this out over time with a few growls, nips and tussles, but they found a solution that suited them both. We learn to share in much the same way.
Growing up my life offered many opportunities to learn to share besides formal school settings. In our first home five people shared one bathroom. Eventually we owned one television. I shared a room with my little brother for many years. When I rode the bus I shared my seat with whoever sat down next to me. I went off to college and shared my room with a stranger that I first met on the day we both arrived. After college I shared an apartment with a friend. By the time I married and had children the habit of sharing was well established.
I don’t think sharing comes naturally to children, but that is the best time to instill the habit. By the time we are adults, we ought to take other peoples’ needs into consideration at most times, whether on the road or in the grocery store. I wonder if some of the people around me demanding full attention despite other peoples’ existence never learned to share. Perhaps they had their own bathroom, their own room, and their own television. Perhaps they even got to dictate their choice of roommate.
I imagine many of us could benefit from remedial education in sharing. Unfortunately I suppose those who most need it would never sign up!
Many years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a short book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” As I began reflecting on education, I realized that throughout our lives we learn many things in many different ways. This series of posts, rather than chronological, will instead reflect the variety of teachers and lessons we encounter as we age and, preferably, mature.
Fulghum’s first rule he learned at five years old was “share everything.” All around me I see entitled people acting as though they were the only ones with needs. I would say that this is merely the grousing of an older person complaining about the young, but it is just as often older people acting like this. American culture seems to be teeming at the moment not with “America First,”(Donald Trump’s slogan) but with “Me First.” Of course it is possible that there is a connection. At least the first reinforces the second.
Back in kindergarten we were taught both that we needed to share and also that there was enough for everyone. Somehow both lessons seem to have gotten lost along the way. With the “quantities limited,” “hurry in now before they are all gone,” and “be the first to own…” we are being taught the opposite. We are encouraged to focus on meeting our needs first. We also are being taught that there is “not enough.”
I remember Miss Hilen’s kindergarten classroom with great affection. We shared. We had enough. We learned that together we were one terrific bunch of kids.
I begin my thoughts on education by reflecting on the recent scandal in the United States around college admissions. Fifty people have been indicted on charges that they falsified school records, invented sports teams, provided substitutes for tests, asked for extra time to complete the tests, and bribed college officials. And these fifty people are parents! They were trying to get their children accepted into colleges with the prestige they believed their children deserved, despite the fact that their children were not qualified for admission.
What motivates parents to go to such extreme behavior around their children? I had heard of the term “helicopter parents” for some time, about parents who constantly hovered around their children. But now I heard the term “snowplow parents” which applies in this situation. A “helicopter parent” might need to talk to their college student every day. But a “snowplow parent” has a different job. That parent is determined to remove any and all obstacles in the way of their child’s forward progress. This is called helping.
Sad to say, this “helpful” behavior actually handicaps their children. Most of us realize that it is in overcoming obstacles that we grow. There is a real satisfaction in achieving our own goals without the interference of “well meaning” parents. A child’s wonky science project pleases her much more than the carefully finished one of a fellow student’s whose parent stepped in to finish it. The one knows she can accomplish something. The other doubts her own abilities and believes she will always need to be rescued.
Unless the snowplow parents hoped to pay for their children’s essays, pay for substitutes for their exams, and feed answers to them through earpieces in class discussions, their children were bound to fail their classes. Sadder still, their children would feel like failures when all they needed was to be celebrated for the people they actually were, not the lofty projections of their parents.