Grace, No Dunking, And Capable Kids

Ever since I got worked up enough to write my last post “Protecting the Children”, I’ve been on a bit of a tear about it in my mind. It’s so hard to toe the line between teaching kids how to move through life and making sure you aren’t handing them responsibilities too big for small shoulders. It’s a constant struggle, a constant question, and I’m never completely sure I’m doing it right. But below is another example, taken from the kids’ swim lessons the past two weeks, of what I mean about teaching and supporting children through challenges versus just protecting them. It also hits on another topic that means more and more to me as my children get older–grace.

The swim lessons are meant to be one on one, but because the twins are only three years old and they’ve been away from swim since the pandemic, the director of the program suggested they share a teacher for a bit and see how it went. Well, predictably, Ukiah wanted to get in the pool and go while Emil didn’t want to get in the pool at all. So when winter session ended, I requested a separate teacher for my go-getter so he could have more time in the water.

On the first lesson of Spring session, we met Ukiah’s new swim teacher. All seemed well for most of the half hour, but toward the end, I saw the new guy dunk Ukiah, who came up yelling (in an angry way, not a distressed or frightened way) only to be dunked under again.

I immediately started making my way around the pool, keeping my eyes on them as I went. Ukiah was mad and new guy was talking to another adult in the next lane of the pool, not really paying attention. When he did finally look down, Ukiah yelled that he wanted to go back to the edge. New guy essentially blew him off before trying to cajole him into staying with zero success, eventually giving in and heading to the side of the pool where I was standing.

By the time they made it to the edge, the lesson was over and all three of my kiddos were getting out of the cold pool begging for their towels while the teachers started cleaning up all the toys and floaties. I got everyone dry and clean and dressed and as I buckled Ukiah into the car, I asked how he liked his new teacher. He replied that he didn’t (no surprise there) and he wanted to go back to his original teacher with Emil.

I looked him in the eyes while he said it, then I nodded and asked him why. I knew the answer, but I wanted to see if he could and would verbalize it. He replied that the new teacher kept dunking him and he didn’t like being dunked. Once it was clear he could say it himself, I asked him if the new teacher stopped dunking him, would he be willing to give him another chance. He said he would.

This is the crux of it for me. This is a change I want to see in the world. It’s not easy to watch your child have something happen to them that they don’t want. And it’s not easy to watch your child yell at someone who isn’t listening to them. I don’t think anyone would fault me if I’d told that instructor right then that the lesson was over and that I would be requesting a new teacher for my son. In fact, some will fault me because I didn’t! And if Ukiah were less inclined to stand up for himself or had more trouble putting his concerns into words, I might have chosen to handle it for him while he watched. But knowing my boy and knowing that he will encounter many more people and situations in life where he isn’t being listened to, I chose to be his back-up while he handled it himself.

The next week, as we drove to swim, we talked about what he wanted to say, I explained I’d be there with him and that if the new teacher didn’t listen, I would make sure he got someone who did and if no one else was available, he could go back to sharing teachers with Emil. When we arrived and the new teacher walked up, Ukiah said exactly what he’d practiced,

“I don’t like it when you dunk me and I don’t want you to dunk me anymore.”

The new instructor was clearly caught off-guard and a little uncomfortable. His eye brows went up and he looked at me for help, but I didn’t say anything, just waited. After a beat, he looked back down at Ukiah and said,

“I’m sorry, buddy, I won’t dunk you anymore. We’ll find other cool stuff to do today.”

And they did!

I couldn’t have been prouder of Ukiah nor could I have hoped for a better response from his instructor. I love that he apologized then backed up that apology with his actions. After the lesson, Ukiah was happy and excited to go again next week. Even more importantly, he managed a conflict in his own life with his own words. He didn’t need me to do it for him, he just needed me to show him how.

As for grace, one of my wishes for the world we’ll hand over to our kids someday is that we cancel cancel culture. The term “cancel culture” is really just another way of saying “zero tolerance” which is really just another way of saying “There is no hope of forgiveness or growth here.” I don’t want my children cancelled when they’re wrong or make mistakes and they will make mistakes! I want them to have the opportunity to learn from them, to be forgiven, and to grow and change for the better.

So thank you for coming to my “ted talk” with no real punch line because parenting never wraps up and each new situation comes with it’s own set of factors to be considered. All I know is that if I want my children to live in a world full of grace, they’re going to have to know how to give it.

3 thoughts on “Grace, No Dunking, And Capable Kids

  1. Jacob Bynum

    It’s amazing to hear this epic tale and follow Ukiah on his journey through young life. I know you realize that his developing communication skills are already far more advanced than many people my age and older. There are still a great many who refuse to even attempt transferring feelings into words. Laurie and I still struggle with this on occasion. You are raising some amazing people Jesse. I can’t help but think it’s at least partially due to your own amazingness. (Carl too of course, but I don’t want to give him a big head.) Can’t wait for June!

    Liked by 1 person

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