Mathew Lajoie knows how to cheer on his kids when they succeed. What happened when he observed another child fail made him realize what needs to be done when kids DON’T succeed. Here is his story.
My fingers gripped the ice cold, grey chain link fencing of the skating rink at Rosedale Park. Pressing my chest against the makeshift glass I leaned in heavily, flexing the frozen wiring. My warm breath softened the frigid air and crafted slight clouds around my head as I watched my son tiptoe along the rubber dasher toward his formal skating lesson.
Standing atop a small mound of brown dirt-steeped snow, I nervously observed Cash take his first steps onto the ice without me. It was both a proud moment and a terrifying moment to see him strongly affirm his independence over an activity that we shared so intimately. I was the only skating companion he knew until that day.
For weeks leading up to the commencement of formal instruction we had taken to the ice, working on strength and balance. We had even spent sessions in our home focusing on moving from a kneeling position to a standing position on an old utility mat. It was fun and we always laughed.
Cash was ready to take part in his new group-learning environment. Pre-school provided a foundation for confidence being among children his age. He was shy to interact but involved himself through observation.
I found it difficult being a mere bystander to him embarking toward this Canadian rite of passage. My eyes affixed to his every move; I offered words of encouragement in my mind.
“Good job, buddy.”
“You can do this.”
“Make sure you bend your knees.”
Hitting the ice with cautions steps, Cash’s ankles were malleable ends to rigid legs. He smiled radiantly through the mask of his helmet while his eyes remained focused on a point of reference to aid his balance. I could feel his sense of accomplishment, and I wanted to tell him at that moment how proud I was of him.
“That’s my boy”, I whispered softly to myself.
Cash looked at me in that moment as if he heard me. It was a coincidence but I couldn’t help but feel connected to him.
Next to me, a woman stood watching her daughter join the other children on the rink. With the entire class on the ice surface, I clapped in support of the wide-eyed group. The mother looked on with bated breath as most of the other parents did.
And then something unexpected occurred.
Observing her daughter struggle to remain on her feet, the woman beside me began to exhale deeply. Her body language changed from that of a nervously excited parent to deep frustration – twisting her torso and looking away every time the body of her three year old would collapse to the ice.
After mere minutes of watching her daughter’s continued, fearless efforts to succeed, her mother could not contain her disappointment any longer.
“You’re not doing it right!” the little girl’s mother shouted at her daughter through the fencing, as she lay exhausted beneath her.
“Get up or we’re going home. I didn’t come here to watch you fall. There are better things I could be doing!”
An awkward silence blanketed the crowd of cheering parents. I stood paralyzed beside the fuming woman, avoiding eye contact. Should I confront her? Would it be appropriate for me to interject, comment or divert her frustration?
I wanted to watch my son, but I felt sadness for this toddler. Looking at her, the joy seeping from her body onto the icy sheet beneath, I couldn’t comprehend the mother’s reaction to her daughter’s hard fought attempts to skate.
Reflecting on my experiences as a parent, I also felt sadness for the mother. What this parent failed to grasp were the remarkable qualities that her daughter was exhibiting – fearlessness, unwavering dedication to learning, courage, and a no-quit attitude.
As parents we should not be blinded by the expectations we set for our children’s success. We should not measure achievements solely on outcomes, but focus on attitude, work ethic, and dedication. Foster these qualities in your children while they are young and success will come in all facets of their lives as they mature.
Parents, we cannot control outcomes. What we can do is cultivate each and every experience they have for teachable moments in order to provide them with the tools and character to achieve their successes. Be happy for your children, show support, and don’t put them down.
Since that day, I vowed to always look for the positive in all that my son tries to accomplish. No matter the outcome, I will commend his efforts and help him learn from all he experiences.
I thank that frustrated mother for giving me this gift while my son is still young.