Circus and life skills

We’ve had two weeks of classes now, and things are going smoothly. Having class on two days a week instead of four is good from a driving and scheduling point of view, though the hours are a bit rough on the kids. We’ve re-introduced naps on Monday and Wednesday so that the kids can make it through the late hours and high demands of class.

K’s Multiple Trapeze II is going well. My goodness, that kid has good form. She is one of the very shortest kids in the class but is still perfectly capable of shimmying up to the top level of the equipment. Some fifteen or twenty feet up in the air, I think?

Both kids are taking Unicycle on Wednesday. I wish, I really do, that the instructors would make the kids do more work and less hanging around talking, but the class seems to work out okay regardless. I did have a word with M last night that five-minute pratfalls are a waste of everyone’s time, however.

M’s non-performing trampoline class is going well. We made sure to put him with the instructor he gets along with, and he is working really hard on his skills. It’s possible that M will perhaps be able to do a cartwheel by May, who knows?

K’s Acrobatics II class had taken a turn for the nit-picky and hardcore, a fact of which I APPROVE. Handsprings and forward and back walkovers are being learned, but the class is still focusing on perfecting form in cartwheel, somersault, and round-off.

Non-Performing Low Casting is fun. K is by FAR the shortest person in the class. Last night she worked with the instructor on just reaching the bar from the platform. By the end of class she could do it consistently.

As usual, I am watching the other classes while my kids are in class. There’s a Boy’s Aerial Development class that looks like an excruciating boot camp. These guys are exhausted by five minutes into class. But, if you want to do the straps act, or you want to be a catcher, well … You have to be insanely strong and fit. I also get to see Advance Team Wall Tramp. This seems to involve accidentally kicking each other in the head. Or, at least, the flyer in a given move accidentally kicking the catcher in the head. I also get to see a bit of Team Acrobatics III. It’s fascinating watching the kids who are *really* good at, say, a standing back flip, struggling with doing three flips in a row.

It’s a moving target, this “good enough” thing. There is no good enough in circus. You master one move, one skill, and there’s another waiting for you. There is always a person who can do something you can’t, there is always better. You could always be better.

The kids who are on Team are motivated by this. They are inspired to do better by their teammates calling out, “keep your legs together, tighter, tighter!” in a semi-innuendo-laden way. (These are teenagers, after all.) When they clock each other in the head they laugh and do mock-injury-limps and shake it off. And they applaud and cheer each other when a move is mastered. And then they get to work on the next thing.

Honestly, it reminds me of my work. I can always be doing my job better. There is no enough. There’s barely good enough, and there’s better, but there is always better to be had. Every day I work I do something that causes me to think, “Hnh, I coulda done that better.” And then I think, “okay, do it better next time.”

I think this is a valuable thing to learn, honestly. How to handle skills which are never mastered, but only gained. How to cope with an area in which you will never be done learning. Because that is life. That is adulthood. That is what it is to be a person — you’ve never DONE, you’ve never FINISHED, until you’re dead. There will forever and ever be some area or skill which you’ve never see before, never done before, and you won’t be sure how to proceed. Death of a loved one. Getting a promotion. Driving a manual transmission. Moving to a foreign country. Getting a dog. Replacing a water heater. And there will be things that you’ve done, but somehow that’s not really enough help when you do it again. Having a second kid. Burying both your parents. Renting your third apartment. Breaking up again. Re-writing your resume.

How do we teach this? How do I, as a parent, teach my kid that when she is living in Miami for graduate school she will not know what do do when her credit card number is stolen? How do I teach my kid that he won’t know what to say when one of his partners yells at him for being too huggy with another friend? And that this not-knowing is normal and dealable and not the end of the world. Life is constantly throwing The Next Thing at you, at us.

I can try to explain that, I guess. Try to make sure my kids have a wide range of skills and abilities, sure. But also, and perhaps more importantly, it’s my job to make sure they understand how to learn. How to make an attempt, how to ask people for help, how to listen to advice. Teach them to listen to the coach at circus, and watch the other kids when it’s their turn to get corrected. Watch the older kids and see what sorts of troubles they are having and how they handle those. To ask for help with a tricky move. To take chances and reach for the bar when it is really far out there, and to try again when you fall awkwardly and painfully into the mat.

I want my kids to understand that failure is a part of learning. That if you never fail, you aren’t growing. I want my kids to understand that rejection means you are reaching for something. I want them to learn now, when they are young and the stakes are low and there are mats under them.

I want to teach them how to not know what they are doing and go on anyway. That is a skill they will need their whole lives, regardless of how useful a back handspring may be.

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