Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why are you teaching me?

This is what MK asked me this weekend when he was about fifty feet from shore in his own kayak. We'd been out a few times last year in a two-man boat, with me doing almost all the paddling, but this was our first trip this year and his first time ever in a solo boat. There had been a fair bit of bumping against the dock on the way out, and when he did start paddling, the boat didn't go where he wanted it, which lead to a constant stream of instructions from me. Until, that is, he asked me why.

It was an excellent question. There he was, away from the shore, floating by himself. He was either going to figure it out or he wasn't.

"OK," I said. "You're right. I'm sorry. You paddle how you like. Just come over here."

"Why do I have to go over there?" he wanted to know. "Why can't I go this way?"

There was no reason, of course. So he paddled where he wanted to, getting better at it with each stroke. And I paddled, first at a short distance, and then where I wanted -- he can swim and was wearing a life jacket, after all. Then we joined each other again and paddled across the lake. By the end of an hour, I had to work hard to keep up with him.

It's a tricky thing, this parenting business. I want to be there to teach and to facilitate, so that he can learn things that don't come naturally. But what he learns without me teaching, he learns faster and better. I hope that, in these situations, which will be increasingly common, I have the sense to stop giving instructions and keep my boat at a distance even when he does specifically demand it.