My oldest son is learning how to whistle. He’s also learning how to snap his fingers. Also, the monkey bars. And riding a bike. And he wants to be good at them all, yesterday…
I keep telling him to be patient. That he just needs to practice. That he should be okay with failure, and it will come with time. But it doesn’t help. There are so many milestone to hit and everything is extremely urgent for a little boy.
It’s startling to be reminded of how many milestones there are for young children. Counting to 10 is a milestone. Learning your ABC’s is a milestone. Riding a bike, packing a good solid snowball, being able to catch a bouncy ball on the first bounce. When you’re small the milestones are small and closely packed. Each week brings a new life marker to traverse and each challenge at first insurmountable and then quickly passed by.
As we grow older, our milestones come further and further apart. High school to college. Your first job. Marriage. Kids. Retirement. We have a much more difficult time surmounting the obstacles that keep us from our goals and maybe we might never reach that next milestone.
It’s stressful and unpleasant.
Maybe we look back with nostalgia at our youth and how easy and commonplace the markers were to achieve.
But that would be a mirage as nostalgia always is. I can see in my son, the strain of the next milestone. Wanting to whistle, to draw, to read, to climb, to swing - is a tangible stress. It is no less unpleasant than my struggles reaching my larger and harder milestones. It is no shorter for him than it is for me - he just perceives time to be much slower than me.
So I keep whispering to him that I love him. That no matter what, we can come back tomorrow and try again. I tell him through the tears of frustration that it’s okay to fail - because I love him no matter what. I remind him of how long it took him to learn how to ride his scooter. How we went out, just him and I, into the summer sun and practiced and practiced till he could glide like a bird on wing. I remind him about how he had to slowly and painstakingly build up hard callouses on his hands so that he could conquer the monkey bars. Sometimes I help him. Sometimes I let him struggle. Sometimes I urge him on. Sometimes I dry his tears.
Most of all, I stand by him, as he tries his hardest.