Today, I ask both kids, for anything they do, to consider 5 questions. The questions have changed a bit, shifted in their complexity from when they were younger, but the idea behind them has been consistent since Sharkbait was in preschool and Chickadee was in kindergarten (now they are in the 4th and 6th grades, so it been a while). And sometimes I still make them tell me their answers…

But when I started, it was because Chickadee overheard a gym parent berating an older gymnast and was all wide-eyed and horrified as she grabbed her snack and drink. Goodness knows as someone who used to coach and teach lessons, I CANNOT STAND bullying sports parents, but I also don’t like being a bitch in front of my kids, so I walked up to her and asked if she was okay, and she said “I hope you never talk to me like that about something I love to do, just because I made a mistake.”

I looked at the dad, still ranting at a 10 or 11-year-old, who was trying to hold back tears and save some face in front of teammates and other parents and tiny kids that just want to do cartwheels.  And at the point where he grabbed his daughter by the shoulders to do the shaking-yell-in-the-face manuver that I was only too familiar with from my own childhood trauma, I grabbed both of Chickadee’s little hands and steered her a bit so she wasn’t looking at the dad and I more-or-less said this:

S__________, the ONLY thing this mother cares about when it comes to the activities you participate in is this:

First of all, are you working hard? I mean, you look like you are working hard, your hair looks like a scarecrow and you’re all red in the face like you ran around or something…what, were you working out?

Second, did you do the best that you could do? I mean, sometimes we just do stuff automatically…but when you do your best, you should think about all of the things that it takes to make something really good.  Nothing will ever be perfect because there’s always room for improvement, but as long as you give it your best shot according to what you are able to do, that’s what I care about as a parent.

Number three–Are you listening to your coach? It’s not my job to tell you how to do your gymnastics right, that’s your coach’s job.  She’s in charge of you, she has the expertise on this. I will encourage you, I will cheer for you, I will ask you to show off your skills so I can take picutres for grandma, I will be sad when you fall down, and I will kiss your boo-boos when you get hurt…but I’m just a spectator here.  I will never humiliate you by yelling at you in front of everyone, because that’s a bad example, whether its leadership or parenting.

Four, are you learning from what you are doing wrong? If you find 100 ways to fall down and learn something about how to be better from each and every one of them, I am MORE proud than if you’d gotten it right the first time and the second and 98 more.  Its a lot harder to get back up and try again when something is hard than when its easy.

And fifth, are you having fun?  This isn’t a job. You aren’t making a living here. Even if you want to be an Olympic gymnast someday, and I’d rather you didn’t, but if you did, you are a kid and this is an activity for exercise and play.  This should be fun.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have days where its work and hard and it hurts, but if you don’t get joy from flipping and flying in the air, then there’s no point to making you keep doing this once you’ve fulfilled your commitments.

And I said it loud.  Heck, for parts of it, I looked right at the dad…and at others, I looked at his daugher, because at that point she was looking at ME wide-eyed and perhaps a bit vaguely horrified.  The father, of course, was looking at me like he’d have shot me if only he had a gun in his Mercedes.  By then, the coaches (one of them, the owner) had come to see what was making everyone stare in our direction and call the girls (both of them to their respective practice), and the dad huffed off like any bully whose bullying has been foiled.  After class, I got a quiet thanks from the owner, who had heard what had happened and at least the end of what had been said.  For the next year, anytime I walked in with my kid, he walked out.

Afterwards, I wrote down what a paraphrased version of what I said because I thought it was something I wanted to keep telling them…which I have, though the wording has changed a bit.  I was reminded of this occasion though, because happened to be cleaning out some papers last week and found what I’d written it down upon!

I find myself coming back to this, now that I am about to complete a major milestone in my life, two years (plus some, in procrastination and preparation) in the making, and complete graduate school.

The Evolution of the 5 Questions

1) Did you do the best that you could do at the time? Let face it, somedays the best we can give is not our best. For that matter, somedays, “the best that I could do at the time” was not a damn thing… But overall, I’d like to think I do (there is no try, only do) the best we can that day, and the next day, and the next. AFAIC, that’s what I expect from the kids too–do the best you can do and move forward, no recriminations for a bad day, but no excuses either.

2) Did you work hard? …I used to ask if the kids if they worked their hardest, but let’s be honest, the words we use to explain things matter. No one is physically or mentally able to do 110% or even 100%, 24/7. Adults don’t do it, so the idea that it should be expected of a child is ridiculously hypocritical. Kids shouldn’t have expectations put on them by adults that adults can’t even bothered to achieve.

3) Did you look for the wisdom of those around you? When they were little, I asked them “Did you listen to your teacher/coach/etc.?” Its a question about teaching them that different people are athourities about different things, about behavior towards people with different expertises, in addition to value. But now that they are older, I want them to consider what else they can learn by paying attention to their surroundings, by seeing all people as potential contributors, and by considering all points of view, even those they might not agree with.  If you look for wisdom, you won’t always find it, but you will still learn something.

4) Did you find something of value from the experience? The earlier and simpler preK-1st/2nd grade version of this when they were little was “did you have fun?” As well all know, however, life is not all fun and games.  Part of growing up is learning that shitty things can still be valuable, that difficult things can be valueable, that painful (physical or mentally) things can be valueable. Its up to us to find the value in the things we have to do as much as in the things we want to do.

5) Did you learn from your mistakes and failures? And honestly, they know this is the most important question of the 5, because its the one that I expect a fully-formed and thoughtful answer on…and its one I’m not afraid to share with them. I think its our job as parents to model how we want them to be, but also to discuss when we don’t always live up to that ourselves and why.  I’m a big believer in parental fallibility–a parent should be honest about when they did something wrong, even in their role as a parent.  I think it makes your parenting more effective and I think it helps your kids respect you more as a human being that loves them and is doing their best rather than some untouchable paragon.


….And so, I can honestly say, yes.  I did the best that I was able. I worked hard. I learned a LOT, some of which was full of incredible wisdom. I found much of value, though right now my brain is mushy enough that I can’t remember it all.  And yes, I (mostly) learned from my mistakes and failures (except maybe the one of procrastination, because that is where true creativity lays, my friends…where it lays and where it lies…).

And now, not quite 1400 in the afternoon, it is time for a glass of wine.