Monday, February 16, 2009

just push her

There are tears coming from behind the cubbies. Earnest, gulping cries rising up over the top, the source unseen by all in the bleachers, but definitely not unheard. A mother makes her way to the edge of the mats, leaning over to assess the situation. She does not appear sympathetic. The cries grow louder, in spite of the flurry of activity going on around them. “Everyone else can do it! Why can’t I?,” the voice questions. “Oh, for crying out loud,” the woman replies, growing visibly agitated.

The child’s teacher confers with them, and talks them both over to the uneven bars located right in front of the bleachers where we are sitting. Her mom badgers her up on to the bar, the child still sobbing, her eyes ever downcast. She flips up onto the bar, her arms tight and her weight perched atop it. She swings her right leg up and threads it through her legs and freezes. Her mom lets out an “Oh jeeze,” throwing up her hands. The girl cries even louder.

The poor girl is afraid. It is evident. She is afraid, from her precarious perch, to tip forward and fall over the edge. “But I’ll be upside down,” she tells the teacher, who has graciously stayed after to help her. Her teacher reassures her. Her mother snorts and continues to badger her. The right leg comes down.

Mom bounces back and forth from the bleachers to the edge of the cubbies to “encourage” her six year old daughter. “I’m going to call your Dad and tell him you’re a quitter and a crybaby,” she yells from the bleachers, exasperated. I am mortified for this child. I am all for overcoming fear. But I am not at all for using shame as the motivator.

Mom begins to threaten. She’s going to call her dad and have him come get her so she can’t go to the sleepover. She’s not going to let her go to the meet tomorrow. She’s going to be grounded. If the child doesn’t do a mill-circle. She is obviously upsetting her daughter. She obviously doesn’t care, and continues nonetheless.

The teacher works with the girl for 30 minutes. The right leg comes up. She leans forward. She freezes. The right leg comes down. The scene is repeated multiple times. Mom is watching. Other kids are watching. At least ten other parents in the bleachers are watching. She is not flipping over the flippin’ bar. “Just push her,” a few of the moms joke. Her mother, however, is serious about it.

I know this child’s fear. I’ve never been perched atop a bar afraid of falling into the unknown, but I’ve stood frozen at the end of a diving board, afraid of being in over my head. I’ve cried the same tears of fear and embarrassment. I’ve had the teacher come along side me and tell me, “It’s okay—I’ll jump with you.” And then I’ve been pushed off the diving board, alone. But here’s the difference—instead of encouraging the hand behind me, my mother was furious. So much so that she demanded a refund and took us to private swim lessons. Would my mother have understood my fear? Probably not. Would she have wanted me to overcome it? Definitely. Would she have pushed me? Absolutely NOT.

They shame and pressure this poor child for an hour in front of God and everyone. “I just want her to get over her fear. I don’t want her to think she can cry and get out of stuff.” She laughs an awkward laugh—at least she has the decency to be self-conscious. Finally an older and wiser teacher takes over, working with the girl in increments. Putting a big foam block up under the bar, she gets the child to fall forward six inches, then finally a foot. But that is as far as she’s taking her tonight. “She is very afraid,” the teacher repeats over and over in her broken English, smiling but firmly shaking her head. The mother is not happy. It is evident she feels the teacher is a poor, gullible softie and has given in to the child’s tears. But the teacher knows what the mother obviously does not.

Fear isn’t overcome by pushing. Fear is overcome by coming along-side. Had my swimming teacher not broken my trust, had my teacher jumped with me as promised, my fear would have shrunken at least a size or two that day. Instead, she added shame and distrust to the mix, and the fear grew uncontrollably. This teacher knows better. It is a shame this mother does not.

I watch them leave, the daughter’s face downcast, but visibly relieved. The mother is finally silent if but for a moment, shaking her head as they put on coats and head out the door. I wonder what this small victory will cost this poor child. What promises will be broken? What privileges will be revoked? And all for what? But even more so, I wonder what this will cost her mother. What trust has been irrevocably lost between them? What impact will her words have on their relationship in both the days and years do come? And in the off chance she might ever be insightful enough to make the connection that her daughter’s teenage disdain for her might actually have just cause, would she, then, consider this night worth it? But, then again, that might be pushing the issue.


Anonymous said...

I hate those situations and I usually end up saying something to the 'adult' that I'm later embarrassed about but I have a hard time leaving it alone either. Rough night.

Angela said...

ahhh, that poor little girl...i just wanna give her a hug
Angela O