Passion (day 4)

 

Anger drove my effort

propelling me through the stretching and warmups,

giving me an energy that even I didn’t know I possessed.

Every daisy chain lap we repeated

added fuel to my fire of hatred

burning against both the coach and the sport of running itself.

 

After what seemed like an eternity,

warmups ended.

 

Searching out the eyes of the other five,

it was plain to see

we all knew what was next…

 

the determination of our fate and destiny.

 

We once again joined up and slowly made our way over to the bench.

“Girls. Do you know why you are here?”

All of us refused to meet his eyes,

knowing that any connection

meant that he had power over us.

Inside I clenched everything I could clench

and willed myself not to cry.

“Jenny? Why are you here today?”

What? He was now asking me a personal question?!?

Who does he think he is?

I couldn’t even answer that question for myself,

let alone to a man that I hated with every fiber of my being.

So I stood

and waited

and waited.

I assumed that he would move on

but instead,

I heard him ask again

“Jenny. Why are you here today? Rachel, why are you here?

April?”

We all stood in silence. A team within a team.

Standing in solidarity

and refusing to break.

Time passed by

and still we stood.

 

Finally, just as I thought my legs were going to give out underneath me

from being locked in place for so long,

his gruff voice spoke again.

But something was different.

There was something softer,

something that made me

momentarily step out of defense mode

and catch his piercing brown eyes taking each of us in.

For fear of him noticing my gaze,

I quickly fixed my eyes back on the cinders below my feet

 

 

After a deep inhale of breath,

his words began to break the silence,

and what he said in the next few minutes

was the beginning of my love story.

Not with the coach

but with the sport of running.

 

“Girls. I know that right now, you are angry.

You are frustrated.

Embarrassed.

Ready to quit.

Many, if not all of you, have never ran track before.

You came out to see what it was all about

but then life got in the way.

School ended, time passed faster than expected

and you didn’t make it out the door on time.

You were late.

But…

you already knew that.

That isn’t why you are standing here right now.

You are standing here because,

even though life got in the way

you still came. You could have chosen to stay in the locker room.

You could have chosen to call your parents to pick you up.

But you didn’t.

Each of you made the decision to push onward

and finish what you hadn’t even yet begun.

That takes strength

and courage

and that is the reason you are standing here right now.

Today, each of you showed your character,

you showed me that you don’t believe in giving up.”
The feet around me began to shuffle and before I knew it,

I was looking up

and caught his eye.

I couldn’t help myself,

it was almost as if he had heard all of my inner struggles

and yet affirmed me for the agonizing decision I had to make

not even an hour in the past.

Slowly, I felt a tear well up in my eye

and slowly trickle down my cheek

but this time

I was’t ashamed.

I knew that tear symbolized all the effort

it had taken to get me out to that very spot

and I realized that somehow

he knew it as well.

 

I don’t remember the rest of what coach said at that point

except that he chose the six of us

to lead the team.

We were made captains,

a group of nobodies,

of stragglers

that really had no business being out on the track that day.

Coach saw through that and affirmed in us

abilities that none of us would have ever discovered on our own.

 

Although it wasn’t always easy (I never understood the necessity of a mile warmup!)

I grew to love track that year.

Running became my outlet,

and even when I didn’t place at a meet

I knew that there was always

at least one person believing in me.

 

Every time I began to doubt my abilities

or my worthiness to the team,

I would replay his words in my head.

If he believed in me,

I owed it to him to at least try to believe in myself.

He gave me a purpose,

and through his leadership,

a lifelong passion of mine was born

giving me an identity which I still carry today;

I am a runner

and I really and truly

owe it all to him.

 

We need to lower the bar a little…

I just got home from my 6th grade daughter’s Invention Convention.  This “convention” is actually an annual statewide competition aimed at inspiring children to find solutions to everyday problems. According to the website, “Invention Convention envisions a day when EVERY child in Ohio has the chance to follow their natural curiosity, invent creative solutions to problems, and be inspired to achieve their highest level of personal accomplishment. Through these efforts, Ohio’s future will be brighter and its workforce more capable and productive.” On the surface, it sounds absolutely wonderful- I mean… what parent wouldn’t want their child engaged in critical thinking and utilizing STEM skills to  design and implement products to make a brighter future?

Parents that have to “win at all costs” is who… the parents that, instead of allowing their child to do all of the work, live vicariously through them and design a developmentally impossible product in the “name” of their child.  This was my daughters third year participating, and I must say, each year more and more parents cross the line. All too often, the projects with parent CEOs come out on top, and in turn, set unreasonable expectations, discouraging those students who completed the actual project as intended (or was it truly intended that way?) I mean seriously, there were projects “created by third graders”  worthy of MacArthur genius grants! (what 3rd grader do you know that uses liquid nitrogen and thermal coils?!? Yeah… me either!)

Parents, it is time to step back and let your kids stretch their own minds and utilize the creative thinking skills they are developing in school. There is a huge difference in “supporting” and becoming the CEO of their project. Supporting them means listening to them, responding to the struggles and frustrations they are having, but not taking over and completing the entire project for them. Contests such as this are designed to give children a chance to shine… allow them their moment- your time has passed. What benefit is there for your child if they win but yet did little in the actual creation? In my opinion, it sends a message that their ideas aren’t good enough but my ideas as a parent are. I know that is NOT the message I want to send to my daughter.

Tonite I stood back and watched, listening to other students attempt to pitch products that they clearly did not design. They stumbled through words that were inaccessible in their vocabulary and looked to parents to help clarify their meaning. Their products were amazing… things that could truly end up being awarded millions on shark tank some day. But, they clearly were not developed by the young students that were posing as the inventors.

In contrast, my heart swelled with pride for all of those students that put their entire heart into their invention. I wanted to go around and award my favorites to the ones with the crooked signs, glue splattered display boards, handwritten product guides, and developmentally appropriate inventions. These are the kids that are the real winners in my book… they are the ones that will come away from this project with a growth in knowledge and understanding of a developmental process that will stay with them throughout their lives.

From determining a need, brainstorming a solution, designing a product and the actual production of their invention, these two girls learned to work as CEOs, project managers, laborers, editors, and even janitors by the end of the project. In the process, they learned to use their critical thinking skills to adapt and amend and even eventually scrap one item from their product line. They burnt fingers on hot glue guns, misspelled a few words, glued tears on their trifold, reattached gems on their display right before their presentation, and ultimately, grew closer as friends. This is what this contest should really be about… and thankfully these two “got it.”

I am so proud of the invention that my daughter and her friend created, and although they were not chosen as winners, this project developed more within each of them than any medal or trophy ever could have. Tonite I allowed myself time to take it all in as I observed two confident girls, now turned inventors, rise to the occasion. They expertly explained their invention, their step-by-step process and garnered interest from numerous spectators. Afterwards, both supported the other inventors, congratulated the winners and complimented many others. They were the epitome of a team… with the entire gymnasium as their teammates.