I can do hard things

My fourteen-year-old daughter just learned to ride a bike. She never learned when she was younger because for a long time we lived in apartments and there was no place to keep a bike (or a tricycle) and no place to ride it either, really. By the time we got around to getting our kids bikes, she was too tall to ride the ones that came with training wheels, and being somewhat uncoordinated (she comes by this trait honestly, i.e. genetically) she found trying to learn pedaling and balancing at the same time too frustrating–not to mention painful–and she quit. She made some other half-hearted attempts to learn over the years, but unfortunately it never became any less frustrating (or painful) and finally she just became resigned to never learning.

Of course it’s kind of embarrassing to be fourteen and not know how to ride a bike. Plus, she has been wanting to get more exercise. So this summer she asked if I would help her practice. She couldn’t get started by herself, so I had to hold the bike steady for her while she got her balance. This is a lot harder to do with a fourteen-year-old than a six-year-old. Or a nine-year-old. But I was motivated, so I made it work. Once she got some momentum, I’d tell her I was letting go. Then I’d actually let go.

Actually letting go was a lot harder than I’d anticipated. She’d had a lot of nasty spills in the past that had inspired all the quitting, and I really didn’t want her to get hurt again and decide it wasn’t worth it. I would end up holding on longer than was necessary–or, trying not to hold on too long, I would let go too soon. I decided it would be smarter to have her tell me when to let go. Her balance got a lot better. Soon I was letting go before she told me and she never noticed. Unfortunately, she was still lacking confidence. She would get distracted by the sound of cars driving in the neighborhood or her little sister riding her scooter next to her and get afraid she was going to get hit by or run into something and she’d stop the bike so she wouldn’t fall. Eventually she was able to complete two full circles around the block without stopping. But she still couldn’t get started by herself.

I told her that she was doing great, that I was hardly helping her at all, and if she went out and practiced every day, she’d be doing it on her own by the end of the week. Unfortunately, I had to go with my son to cub camp that week, and when I wasn’t at cub camp I was busy with other things. We managed to practice Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday just didn’t happen and I was afraid inertia would take over (as it so often does with our family).

On Thursday I came home from running errands and Mary said, “Oh–by the way, I rode my bike while you were gone and I started all by myself.”

“You did? That’s great.”

“Yeah.”

“All by yourself?”

“Yeah.”

“Congratulations!”

“Thanks.”

It was sort of anti-climactic.

I realized I had been looking forward to watching her reach this milestone with my own eyes. (That is, watching it with my own eyes. It would have been difficult for her to reach it with my eyes.) I mean, I knew it was going to be awesome. Fourteen years old and riding her bike on her own for the first time! Do you know how long I’d been waiting for this? (About eight years.) I was proud and happy for her, but also a little sad because I’d missed the big moment.

Then I thought, “Maybe what she really needed was for me not to be there.”

Last month she went to Girls Camp. Because Mary has Asperger’s Syndrome and our stake’s policy is that all disabled campers have a parent at camp with them, I went to Girls Camp too. I ended up working in the kitchen, which was the best of all possible worlds (in a world where me skipping Girls Camp altogether isn’t possible). I was technically there, but I was also not there. Mary has had a hard time with camp in the past (and with church in general). Her first year she only lasted two days. This year she made it through the whole week, though there were few bumps here and there. She hated all the camp songs, especially “Mormon Boy” (that’s my girl), and she hated all the screaming. (Do all young women scream at camp? Ours do.) Occasionally she would just get annoyed with something and need to take a break. Throughout all this, I was slaving away in the kitchen, blissfully unaware of any problems except what I learned after the fact.

On Bishopric Night, after dinner, I got a break from the kitchen and went in search of her (since I hadn’t seen her all day). I found the cabin our ward was meeting in and saw her sitting by herself. Her hair had been braided in corn rows. (This is another way in which Girls Camp differs from Boy Scout camp, I’ve heard.) I asked how she was doing and she said she was fine, but she was a little worried about the bishop’s discussion because she had been to a bishop’s fireside the Sunday before camp started and gotten upset by something that was said and had to leave, which was embarrassing, and she was afraid the same thing would happen tonight. I said it was unlikely that the bishop would be talking about the same thing (she has some trigger topics–marriage, gender roles, gay rights, For The Strength Of Youth…just to name a few), but even if she did get upset, it was okay for her to leave the room. “I know,” she said, “but I just don’t want to.” Meaning that she didn’t want to have to. Not knowing what other advice or comfort I could give her and needing to get back to the kitchen so we could start prepping for tomorrow’s breakfast, I said, “It’ll be okay,” gave her a hug and walked out feeling lame and useless…and a little relieved that I’d be far away in the kitchen, whatever ended up going down.

Later that night I was deeply engaged in the seemingly futile task of sweeping the kitchen floor. (Are kitchen camp floors ever really clean?) Our YW president came in and said, “Rebecca, Mary gave the most amazing testimony in our meeting tonight.”

“Oh?”

“It was so beautiful and obviously heart-felt. You know, sometimes she has a hard time getting the words out and she’ll start and stop, but this time everything just flowed so naturally.”

“That’s good.”

“I wish you could have been there for it.”

“Me too,” I said.

Apparently it was a really good testimony–or at least a remarkable one because many people stopped by to tell me about it, and they were also sorry that I had missed it. It was a big deal. I was sorry that I had missed it, but I guessed it was my own fault. On the other hand, I thought, maybe if I had been there, I would have cramped her style. Maybe she wouldn’t have borne her testimony in front of me. Maybe it was better this way.

And something else occurred to me too: I can’t expect to be there for every one of my daughter’s milestones. I watched her take her first step and heard her say her first word, but the older she gets, the more independent she becomes–hopefully–and the less eye-witnessing I get to do. This is especially true for spiritual milestones. When my daughter has the most significant experiences of her life, I probably won’t be there. My mother wasn’t there for mine. And that was okay. Some of the most important things in life can’t be shared. They happen inside us. Sometimes they can’t even be explained.

Usually when people draw parallels between their parenting experience and the way God teaches and nurtures his earthly children, I feel a little eye-rolling coming on. Generally, I don’t recommend that mere mortals try parenting God-style, unless you want Child Protective Services visiting your home on a regular basis. But sometimes cutting the proverbial apron strings is the only thing to do. It’s hard, as a parent, to let go. That’s not a novel insight. Sometimes you have to let go and let the bad things happen. Other times you have to let go and let good things happen without you.

Comments

  1. Beautiful. Touching. Wonderful. Heartfelt. I will give more words and a more cohesive comment when it comes to me. Your daughter reminds me of myself. They didn’t diagnose things like Asperger’s when I was younger and I have declined people’s admonitions to be evaluated now as an adult. I am 32, and I have a tricycle so she is already ahead of me. She also seemed to handle Girl’s Camp better as well. :)

  2. Lovely. Thank you, Rebecca. It hits home.

  3. The title of this blog startled me, because I just finished reading another blog from today with the same title:

    http://ldswritermom.blogspot.com/2012/07/i-can-do-hard-things.html

    Was there a lesson yesterday or something? ;)

    I miss a lot of the “first” moments with my little ones because I’m at work, but it doesn’t bother me. I can see it for the first time myself later. I love your posts, Rebecca, particularly the parenthetical asides. =)

  4. M Dearest says:

    I have “grown” children. But this still made me cry, and answered some barely spoken prayers. Thanks.

  5. Wow, Rebecca. Beautiful.

  6. StillConfused says:

    I am 44 and never learned to ride a bike.

  7. I never learned to ride a bicycle but learned to ride a motorcycle at 17. It took 3 strong men (including one who would become my husband) to hold me up while I learned to balance and I went home with scrapes all over. The scars from some of them are still visible 45 years later. My parents were not pleased and I am sure if they had been there I would have quit after the first fall. I went on to race in TT races with my husband and actually won once or twice. Some people just need to be independent in order to function properly. It is great that you are willing to give your daughter that option.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Your stories about your daughter are always wonderful. (And a lot of women on the Bloggernacle have the same set of triggers…)

  9. This is beautiful. Thank you.

    My kids’ elementary school is named after a very influential educator who taught in this area for many years. Hanging in the lobby is her bike that she first learned to ride late in life, I think like in her 60s or 70s, to inspire the children that it is never to late to learn to do hard things. I like it.

  10. Chris Gordon says:

    On a day full of gender strife at BCC, what a lovely reflection. Thank you. :)

  11. Beautiful, RJ

  12. Hmmm, made me kind of think. There was an article in the last two days or so of Salt Lake Tribune that talked about an autistic youth participating in an international service project. He mentioned having had a firm foundation from growing up in a supportive church environment. I was glad for him, but kind of had to wonder because it seemed likely that this was a somewhat dramatic oversimplification of what the person in question actually experienced and what others like him may have experienced. I am on the autistic spectrum myself and sometimes had a rocky experience of growing up in the church. Not that the church as a group had any particular characteristics that made it more difficult but the problems that existed just kind of followed me around no matter where I was. I can remember once getting assigned to help with a cub scout day camp because it was known that there was a young scouter who was on the autistic spectrum as well and they wanted me to watch out for him. I actually caught one of the other adult leaders bullying him and had to find a way to help the boy find a socially appropriate exit to what was just being a rotten situation.

    Life isn’t easy, but we ultimately end up having to find out own way through it. I could only be there for a little bit of the time for that younger scout, and I spent most of my life pretty much fending for myself on autism related issues. I’m at just the right age range where the diagnostic criteria hadn’t expanded by the time I was in elementary school so nobody could understand the big picture till later when I was in college. At the end of the day its still my show and I am the one in control of my life. For some people who will be in community assisted living for more of their life they may not be as much in their own control. Not having someone always hovering over me allowed me more of that chance. There is something fundamentally personal about when I decide I’m going to push my limits and when I am going to hold back and play it safe for a while. Having those choices has allowed me to define more of who I am rather than having that identity molded by other people.

  13. themormonbrit says:

    This was great. Thank you.

  14. Pamela Hubbs says:

    I’m the mother of my 30 yr. old son w/ Asperger’s and this brings back memories. And life was still difficult even in the church. Lack of information on how to reach out was the problem. I’m proud of you and my son who also lives independently. Thank you for letting us know your personal thoughts, there is no learning without them. Everything you said is true.
    Pam

  15. This is a great post, Rebecca. Really hits home, as my kids are away for a few weeks having amazing experiences without me!

  16. Lovely, Rebecca. I enjoy your posts about your experiences with your daughter. Thanks for sharing and for doing so in the way you do.

  17. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. Someone pointed out that we had the same title on our blog posts yesterday and I’m sure glad I came over to read yours. :)

  18. Meldrum the Less says:

    Ah, summer time and camp stories.

    Your daughter has accomplished a great feat getting through LDS girl’s camp. My daughter never did make it. Academically she was saludictorian with 750 to 780 on her SATs, was awarded both an academic and music scholarship to a southern ivy league university and was extremely outgoing (leader of the Mormon girl posse) with numerous friends in and out of the church. She exceeded my expectations in every way. She was, however, sent home from LDS girl’s camp her first year so angry and screwed up and dripping with teen angst (to the point of slapping her nosy aunt in the face while riding to church) that we didn’t make her go again. It took weeks to detox her. I could not understand how my mult-talented together kid who had been to numerous camps of several varieties previously could not handle LDS girl’s camp.

    Initially, I thought she was the problem and in sore need of some serious consequences. But my wife, after snooping around the other girls and their parents, came to a different conclusion. We raised her with mostly an internal compass and LDS girl’s camp was an exaggerated exercise about following external compasses. Still, I could not comprehend how decent, devoted and compassionate adult women in my ward could turn into such controlling and hateful, obnoxious monsters as was reported happening at camp.

    As if that was not enough. The most disturbing development that came out of her only year at LDS girl’s camp involved the Priesthood leadership. A rather socially inept single guy in his mid 30’s on the high counsel was their main chaperone. Daughter claimed he was hiding in bushes most of the time and taking lots of pictures of the younger girls not the high school age girls; pictures of them taking off their overly modest shirts and pants to go swimming in their overly modest swimsuits, pictures of little girls hugging each other, pictures of little girls asleep in their tents wearing pajamas covering neck, wrist, ankles and everything between. She stole his camera and threw it in the swamp with him chasing her. (Not what got her sent home since he didn’t report this theft, although running around camp late at night generally was part of it.)

    She convinced me he was a pervert (hebephile? -attracted to early developing adolescents) but there was nothing we could do without any evidence. In retailation I suggested that she and her friends first and foremost, never be alone with him. But then to otherwise treat him (as a gang together) with exaggerated, romantic interest every time they saw him. Jumping up and down, screaming in delight his name or cute nick name, blowing him kisses, asking him for his autograph or phone number, and softly touching his arm or running fingers through his hair. I calculated that a normal adult LDS male his age would be mildly amused by these perplexing foyer antics of 12-13 year olds and not react too strongly. Maybe at most tell them to knock it off. But as I suspected, priesthood leader sans camera would come completely unglued and turn beet-red in the face and run wildly away from them as they chased him around the church screaming. He moved after only a few weeks of this irreverent treatment.

    The final push might have been a little ditty composed by the musical one in his honor:

    I hope you take me to the temple,
    When I have grown a foot or two.
    I hope by then I will be ready,
    To cook and clean and sew (or snicker, snicker, dare we say it – screw) ,
    Like Mormon housewives do.

    They sang it over and over and over to him. I hope the girls did the right thing. Maybe he learned a thing or two and will at least confine his “hobby” to his own private world in the future. I dread reading his name in the papers some day. Be grateful for the blessings that you have received and realize that some of the trials are blessings in disguise.

  19. Meldrum The Less I think you might be mistaken. The lowest score one can get on their SATs is 600. Did you mean she got 1750-1780?

    Re:Girls Camp it wasn’t so terribly bad for me, but admittedly we didn’t have any perverts there–at least not ones who were open about it. I personally would not have tempted the devil by blowing kisses and singing borderline lewd songs, but I am open to the possibility that I just do things differently. What made the girls decide to take this potentially dangerous route?

  20. I love this post, Rebecca!

  21. it's a series of tubes says:

    Meldrum The Less I think you might be mistaken. The lowest score one can get on their SATs is 600. Did you mean she got 1750-1780?

    Each component of the SAT (either the old, 2-component version or the newer 3-component version) is worth a maximum of 800 points. I read Meldrum as saying she received scores in the high 700s in each component – a fantastic achievement.

  22. Oh I see that makes sense then. I thought he meant overall score. Your explanation makes much more sense.

  23. I really like your message.

    It is a different thought than the old cliche footprints in the sand we have had drilled in our minds. Sometimes, when there is one set of footprints, it is because we do things on our own, and God let’s us, even if we stumble along the way. It is one way we grow.

    Thanks for sharing.

  24. Count me as another one surprised by the title- I just blogged about this same thing today (though reached by a very different path). It’s a hard but happy conclusion.

  25. KevinM footprints makes me groan so hard that it strains my vocal chords. I know that is not what you are saying, but it is such dreck, imo. It is on the same level as “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” puke puke puke

  26. #25 When in fact, He _did_ say it will be easy.

    Alma 37:44
    Matthew 11:30

    (Thanks to David W., many moons ago)

  27. (oops, I meant David J.)

  28. FHL exactly! That’s why ridiculous stuff like that bugs me.

  29. EOR, I hear ya. (I threw up in my mouth just a little bit)

  30. Meldrum the Less says:

    Tempting the devil:

    First these pervs are weak not strong.

    Safety in numbers, hard to molest 9 girls in the foyer all at once.Doesn’t increase their risk if he catches them alone, that risk is already high.

    The guy with a paraphilia objectifies the subjects of their interest so they can control them.

    When the subjects do the opposite and are both interested in return and out of control it blows their minds. They are threatened and escape. Normal people don’t feel threatened.

    It worked. He moved.

    Certain life experiences when I was young led me to an understanding of how these pervs think. I used this understanding and put the girls up to it.

    For the record, SAT scores were 750-780 x 3 or 2300 range. Amazed me.

  31. Meldrum the Less says:

    Important omissions:

    1.Call the police if you have any evidence of the sort of activity I describe above. I didn’t think we had enough evidence. I almost did anyway even though this would have been exceeding disruptive.

    2. I discussed my concerns with the bishop. He told me that the first sign of apostasy was accusing church leaders of wrong doing. Of course, the stake president could not be wrong selecting this chaperone. Such a person would never be on a high counsel. This was all a clever little girl trying to retailate for geting punished for her actions and naive parents ignoring their children’s misbehavior.

  32. Rebecca- beautiful post.

  33. Regarding comments 31 and 18, your clarification does fill in some blanks. I’m curious though, how did the Bishop make it all a matter of one girls credibility when from your description there were 9 girls who willingly participated in the planned counter action. It sounded like he had been rather open about all of his over interested photography and there should have been multiple witnesses even without the camera. Did I just miss something?

  34. Meldrum the Less says:

    #33

    I will attempt to clarify and probably further confuse.

    All of the girls, according to daughter, felt he was at least a bit creepy. (Group think.)
    Only a few remembered being photographed and not that much. (No crime here.)
    Daughter (nickname “Coyote” at the time) saw him hiding in the bushes by the lake taking pictures, stole his digital camera that night, scrolled through the images and saw more pictures she didn’t like as described and got rid of it. (Her 12 year old word alone against his).

    Young girls don’t need much of an excuse to tease or harass an authority figure. My little counteraction was only with daughter who then got her friends to help do it. A good test? Pehaps. Perhaps he moved for other reasons.

    I also admit that I could have been quite wrong; the evidence was zilch, else I would have gone to the police. Bishops are disinclined to investigate possible crimes to look for more trouble. They have enough and tend to try and smooth out trouble which is good in most cases. It seemed ridiculous reporting the facts to the police: my sweet little coyote stole a camera and the owner didn’t report it and that makes him a pervert? Why invite legal trouble? (Unless he initiates it which would have been the normal course of action if he were innocent). Then we pay for the camera and little coyote gets her tail trimmed and has to take the money out of her earnings from teaching music lessons, maybe have to go to juvie and get community service. Hopefully not go to “bootie camp.”

    I want to emphasis this point. I might have made a mistake here. Go to the police if you find any real evidence.

    This also brought to mind another episode with him. It was about 1 month prior to girl’s camp when we were at a weekend ward scout camp out. I was suspicious of him being not quite right even then. Nothing reliable or specific, just sort of like radar. I was putting on this rough and ready tough guy act and telling stories around the campfire. Other adults were snickering but the boys were buying into it. I made up one about Porter Rockwell cutting a man’s throat for molesting a young woman. (This is my uncorrelated way of telling the boys what might happen to them if they don’t mind their manners around women.) I can recall he had the infernal camera around his neck then and he looked sort of like the deer-in-the-head lights during the story and suddenly went to his tent.The boys were saying: What is wrong with that guy? It was not that scary of a story with a pretty good message.

    Hey, it was long after midnight and who could blame him?

    Lesson two is take no chances. Two deep same gender leadership at every activity. Priesthood guarding girls is not good enough. Ridiculous actually. Background checks might help but somebody still has to catch them the first time.

    Congradulations again to daughter of Rebecca for doing something hard where others have failed.

  35. Once again, I’m late to the party. And once again, I’m real proud of what you’re doing with our name. Carry on.

  36. Great post RJ.

    As an aside for anybody having trouble getting kids to ride bikes, we found the best method is to unscrew the pedals and set the seat so they can easily touch ground with tippy toes. That way the kid is still in control while learning to balance, but doesn’t have to worry about pedals getting in the way. Let them tool around like that for a while and pretty soon they will be asking for the pedals back. Once you screw the pedals back on they tend to just ride, since they have already got the balancing figured out.

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