Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Learning to Swing

My 6 1/2 yr old son, David excels at figuring things out and is always the first child in my house to learn something new. He's my little perfectionist, always watching and analyzing what everyone else is doing, making mental notes. He practices little, yet seems to get it right with very few attempts. This has been the norm for as long as I can remember and David's younger sister, Dani generally goes with the flow, watching and learning from him. As they've gotten older, however, it's apparent that Dani makes up for her lack of speed in her strong determination. While she rarely gets something on the first try, she's content to practice it over and over, for hours at a time, until she gets it right. Yesterday, this sparked an interesting shift in my household.

We recently added a swing set to the backyard. Since neither child had ever learned to work a swing on their own, I'd given them a few training sessions, in the hopes that my arms might get a break. Since David's not much for practicing things, intent on always doing everything perfect, after a few tries at swinging and not getting it, he'd simply move on to something else. Every day, they'd play on the swings in this manner, Dani practicing swinging and David coming up with several alternative uses for the swings. This was the trend, up until yesterday.

Yesterday, there was a new development, much to David's dismay. Dani, after several days of practicing, announced that she had finally learned to swing. I looked outside to see her working the swings, all by herself, pumping her legs just as I'd shown her. It was amazing watching her go back and forth, in perfect swinging form. I gave her lots of praise and congratulations for all her hard work in practicing. David, who had been sitting on the swing next to her, had completely frozen. He didn't quite know how to take the news. There were no words at all, just this expression on his face of disbelief in what had just occurred.

The next 3 hours went by like a 12 step program. First, David was angry, both at himself and at Dani. He wandered about the yard, sulking, watching Dani as she tested her new found skill. He stared at the swing set in disgust, refusing to even sit on it. We talked about things like jealousy and learning to be a good sport, since no one can win all the time. We talked about being happy for Dani and celebrating the accomplishments of others. There were tears and grumbles and denial. At one point, during the afternoon, David would not even go outside. He just sat in the living room, playing the Wii, occasionally breaking out in to tears. The discussions continued, until there was nothing left but silence, as he moved on to perfecting his game playing techniques.

After this seemingly long afternoon, something happened that I did not expect. All of a sudden, without saying a word, David stood up, went outside, got on the swing, and started practicing. There was a new look on his face of sheer determination, like I had only seem a few times before. It didn't take him long to master the art of swinging, once he'd made his mind up to do it. Within half an hour, I heard a familiar yell, as David announced he had finally gotten it. It was a beautiful thing to watch. The two children laughed together, swinging as they talked about swinging. They were perfectly in sync, looking at each other in discussion. I must have watched them for at least 2 hours, as neither wanted to get off.

Believing the day could not have ended better, I was given one more surprise. I was standing in the kitchen when David walked in with a somewhat serious expression. He had something he wanted to tell me. 

"Mommy, I think Dani learning to do the swings first was a good thing. I wasn't really serious about learning how to do it, but seeing her do it made me really want to learn. I don't think I would have practiced, if it weren't for her. So...maybe sometimes being jealous is a good thing."

Crouched down on the floor to talk to him, I just about fell over as he spoke. It was exactly the right way to look at the situation and was a profound observation for someone so young. While he may not have understood what I had said to him, he'd made the connection, stating in his own language what I'd wanted him to take away from the experience. Without knowing it, he had learned the value of healthy competition, something he'll experience many times in life.

A new David emerged out of the day, becoming much more aware of Dani's determination. He'd always seen her as just a little sister. But, for once, she'd managed to teach him something, rather than constantly learning from him. And, though humbled by the experience, David managed to find that happy place in it all, as both children went to bed with tired legs and a feeling of accomplishment.

Perfectly Synchronized Swinging

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