“Give it another try. Come on, honey. You can do this!” I cheered as our daughter tried to run up the slide. The smell of lilac hung thick in the air while large, fluffy, white clouds danced through the azure spring sky. Maya had seen a bigger kid run up the slide and she wanted to try. Screams of glee sounded in my ears as other children ran around playing tag and enjoying their time at the park, but Maya was oblivious to anything but that slide.
Her little chubby legs would take her a few steps up the steep incline, but every time she would slide back down. After about her tenth try, my husband and son came over from the swings. She kept trying as Tom and I shared a smile and kept encouraging her. She wasn’t quite 3 years old yet, but she oozed determination with each attempt.
We chatted and chased her younger brother around while she kept going. After about 15 minutes I realized she was not going to quit, and I started actually watching her. Each time she would start a few feet away from the bottom of the slide, take a big deep breath and then leap into action. She would get about half way up before sliding back down over and over and over again. Sometimes she would get a little further, but pretty soon tears began streaming down her face. She would just wipe them off and try again. My husband and I were in awe.
Soon we started discussing in hushed tones how to help her. Should we just give her a hand? All it would take was a little pressure on her back and we could help her get to the top, but she had not asked for our help. She hadn’t even acknowledged we were watching. This was between her and the slide. Who were we to interfere? Somehow we understood that if we helped at this point it could do more harm than good. So we started cheering-- chanting her name over and over and encouraging her.
Closer and closer she came to the top with each try now. She was SO close! It was heart breaking and somehow uplifting to watch her persevere. As a society we preach the idea of perseverance, but they never tell us about how hard it is to watch someone in the process. When you’re the one doing the work you know why and you get to enjoy the outcome. My husband and I stood as bystanders watching the pain of failure after failure; seeing how close she was coming each time and somehow trying to will her to the top.
She never once gave up. She never even took a break. She spent over 20 minutes and 100s of attempts to get to the top of that slide. Pride and relief flooded us when her little legs finally landed at the top. She had done it! She stood at the top doing her victory dance and squealing in delight. Her dad grabbed her up in a giant hug and spun her around as we all clapped and cheered. Her face floods with pride and happiness even now when I mention this story. I don’t know if she remembers it or if her memory is based on her dad and I telling and retelling the story, but it doesn’t matter. The lessons and effect are the same for all of us.
This experience taught us all so much. Even now when things get difficult as she takes her first college course at the age of 14, we remind her of the slide. She has learned not to give up, and that hard work pays off. We have learned that even though it may be excruciating to watch, letting her fail is more powerful than any hand on the back could ever be. It is so hard to know when to help and when to let our children fail. I would argue this is one of the single most difficult things of parenting once they get past the infant stage. Ultimately, we decided not to help because she had not asked for it and it wasn’t a matter of her safety. I am so glad we made that choice.