Have you ever heard a word or phrase that seemingly “stuck” with you? That conversation that you psychologically cannot turn loose? The words are obviously meant to marinate, but the “why” isn’t apparent in the moment. I had this experience a few months ago when I ran into a former coach at our youngest daughter’s Upward game.
You’d need a bit of background to appreciate what transpired in what was a brief, but transformational, conversation. Our daughter has been a cheerleader in our Upward sports league for a few years, but one year she decided that she really wanted to play basketball. Mind you, she’s never touched a basketball before. I was also a bit nervous about her running with the predominately male teams, even those where the boys were equally unskilled with the ball. Our youngest is more of a “girly” girl, and I saw the potential for what might happen the first time she got shoved harshly or knocked down. Though I had doubts that she would enjoy the physical contact associated with basketball, I did seize the opportunity to enroll her in Upward’s mini-basketball camp. This would allow her to experience basketball without the commitment (read $$) for a 6-week stint that we would have all dreaded.
Less than 10 minutes into the mini-camp, I saw the tears fall. She’s in line to complete the first drill with a group of boys who, though they possess varying levels of skill, are all more prepared than she to do what is being asked of them. “I can’t do it!” “I don’t know how to do this!” “I don’t want to do it!” She’s wailing to a coach, who is consoling her as she explains that she’s not played basketball before. I’m resisting the urge to be Mom-to-the-rescue and lovingly usher her to the car, relieved to check this experience off the list. In the meantime, the coach takes her to the side and begins with a dribbling lesson. He was so patient and encouraging until our daughter came home excited about the next basketball season. “I’m going to work all summer long so that I’ll be ready!” His commitment was that, if she worked on her dribbling skills, he’d put her on his team and help her continue to build her skills.
When fall came, I asked our daughter if she wanted to play basketball in addition to cheerleading. She quietly said, “No, I don’t want to play basketball.” I didn’t press it too hard given the increased fees. It worked out well; that same man didn’t return to coach during the season. However, I did see him briefly during one of the games. He explained in details that I no longer recall why he didn’t coach during the season, and I began to explain that the youngest didn’t stay consistent with her practices as the summer wore on, and that she’d decided not to play basketball in the fall. His comment was, “That’s okay…” and from there, he began to talk about how our lives are a set of experiences that may or may not translate into long-lasting changes (or something like that), but that at least we can say that we tried whatever was the task of the moment. Though my life bore witness to this very fact, I confess that I’d never thought about the kids’ activities in that way. My husband and I were far more intentional in what we introduced into their lives, and we generally invested in activities that would have longer-term value. As one example, dance was never a consideration as a career in our minds; it does, however, teach discipline, self-respect, self-love, and an appreciation of the grace and gentleness that accompanies the culture of dance. The fact that their years of classes might hold the potential for college scholarships wasn’t a bad deal, either. I fully realize that we perhaps sound anal-retentive to some, but time and money are precious commodities around here, so we’ve never haphazardly allowed any new venture into an already jam-packed schedule. Instead, we’ve evaluated each opportunity in terms of its ability to lift Jesus and grow more intimate with Him, and to come against low self-esteem and low self-worth.
So, I’m still thinking about this set of experiences concept when a dear friend and I have this same conversation just a couple of weeks ago. She’s sharing this wonderful epiphany about who she is, who she’s not, and growing comfortable with each of those realities, when she spoke of her own goals when homeschooling her children. Her words were, “All I’ve ever wanted to do was to give our kids a set of experiences that they could use…” (There was other eloquence behind this but the uncanny-ness of hearing those exact words a second time struck me such that I don’t remember the rest…)
When I’m in the throes of planning for the kids’ education, I cannot help but reflect upon my own experiences, especially now that two of our kids are in high school. I thought at times that I did not receive a good education, as I would define it. I worked hard at what I was given to do and reached for more than what was required of me to do. I graduated salutatorian with a 3.96 GPA. But I was so far behind many of my classmates from other states when I went away to college. It frustrates me now because had I realized how under-prepared I was for higher education, I might have made different decisions in terms of my major. Then again, God knew all of my shortcomings and used them to develop toughness and persistence, so who am I to question His plan? Nevertheless, I now find myself not far from 50 (a recent birthday puts me that much more in touch with my ever-encroaching mortality) and committed to developing myself as a scholar. In short, though I was not given the best formal education, I am determined to get the best informal education my time and attentiveness can afford.
Ultimately, this is the goal for our kids. I sat during spring break and planned, to the best of my abilities, the rest of our school year. I listed every planned interruption, gave us some days off for holidays, recital preparation, etc. I fought frustration and angst as I thought about how close our older daughter is to leaving this home and forging her own path. It occurs to me that not all of my plans will become reality. She might not have the opportunity to read every book I had planned in these remaining 12 or so months with her. I can see right now that there is coursework that will go uncompleted. All my own insecurities began to surface about how prepared is she—really. That’s when the purpose of these words began to sink in.
All I can give our kids is a set of experiences–experiences that will hopefully, prayerfully, plant seeds of passion and desire for more within them. Books create experiences. Trips are experiences. Conversations are experiences. Competitions are experiences. Relationships are experiences.
Not unlike any parent, I am at times in awe of our kids’ conversations based upon some of what we’ve studied here at home; I am also stunned sometimes by statements they make when it’s obvious that the brain wasn’t engaged when the mouth opened. “You remember when we talked about that?” I’ll say, totally dumfounded. “Oh, yeeeeaaaahhhhh,” is the general response. Oi. But at the day’s end, whatever is their education leaving this home, with its peaks and valleys, may their set of experiences create in them a hunger for more experiences. That would define a good education.