My philosophy with my kids has always been, Be the engine to get them started...and then get out of the way. When my kids were younger the activities would include kicking a soccer ball, sliding down slides, attempting the monkey bars and playing the game "lava" around the edge of a park. I have wonderful memories of our visits to the park. As time has passed the activities have changed. Now we ice skate, golf, build things, swim, read and explore. Whether it is past or present I have tried to make activities fun and entertaining.
As a classroom teacher I took a similar approach. I wanted to make learning an enjoyable experience. I remember a time when I was able to step back and watch with sheer pride. Our class was working on a project, and each student had the choice of how they could show what they learned. Years ago this would have been my version of Project Based Learning. I had a few students that wanted to use music or song to show off their learning. One young lady that struggled to show what she knew in a typical setting really blossomed with anything that involved music. Her name was Macy. Macy approached me and asked if she could memorize and sing the Star Spangled Banner. During the final quarter of the school year we had discussed the song and I thought that this would be fitting for Macy. I told her to learn the basics, who wrote it, when it was completed, and then I had one more caveat for Macy...I told her I would be videotaping. Macy smiled and got nervous, she knew she would be in front of her peers, but also being taped...I thought that might be a deal breaker. I was pleasantly surprised when Macy excitedly took the challenge! The day finally arrived and Macy dressed up in red, white and blue. Then the moment of truth...Macy absolutely hit a home run! All year long she struggled to fit in and find her niche. I was so proud to watch her excel and nail the Star Spangled Banner! As I reflected I was happy that I gave Macy the freedom to be herself...but I was most proud she stepped up to the challenge and did it!
I remembered that moment this week after I took my youngest son to his first ever junior golf event. Troy is nine years old and for the last four or five years he has joined me on the links during the summers. Last year I could see that Troy had a little drive to improve, so this year I decided to get him started in the Spring and then ask him if he wanted to join the Junior League. He excitedly accepted. The Saturday before his first event I took him to the course and we walked nine holes. I got to listen to his grumbling about being tired and carrying his bag, but I was also able to encourage and give him some tips. I felt fairly confident that he was going to be just fine. Finally, on the morning of his big day I drove him to Sharp Park. My plan was to watch him on the first tee, encourage him and then leave. At this point some might wonder, why would I leave? The fact is, I could have walked all nine holes, I could have watched, caddied or even been the score keeper. I told my wife that I thought it was important to let Troy grow up. Letting Go is a tough thing for adults. My approach is to try my hardest to put my kids in a spot to succeed and then, let them take it from there. That's what I did. I let go and allowed Troy to figure it out. I could go on and tell you all about that first tee shot, but I won't...I'll let you see it for yourself. (Yes, Troy is the one that looks like he should be on the basketball court...not the links.)
As I drove away from the course I had mixed feelings. I was proud that he was growing up...he wasn't the little baby anymore. As a dad I wanted to stay and watch, I wanted to see all the good and bad and just take it in. Finally, my feeling was one of peace. I was letting him grow up and figure things out. (I'll admit, I was pretty proud that he ripped one up the right side about 150 yards!)
The two stories are very different...but they do have parallels. Both Macy and Troy had the ability to show their stuff. They needed opportunity, trust and for adults to get out of the way. These two moments will always be with me; they teach me two important things:
1) Every kid can succeed...we as adults need to figure out how to bring it out and let them show their stuff!
2) It's okay to let go. Our kids are growing up fast and our responsibility as adults is to help put them in a spot to succeed and then get out of the way.
Letting Go is very difficult. I encourage adults to be the engine that gets them started, and then get out of the way.
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