Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Lania Knight's essay, "Drink Me," and Christie Megill's essay, "Books Bind Us." We invited readers to tell us about gifts their children have given them. Below is Yamini Pathak's response.
A Freedom to Fail
by Yamini Pathak
"K is terrible at gymnastics," I confessed to my friend Lena.
I was worried after watching my first-born fail at handstands week after week in his gymnastics class. All the other six-year-olds seemed to invert themselves, climb the rope up to the ceiling, and swing on the parallel bars with the greatest of ease while mine struggled through each activity. His teacher never seemed to mind and patiently guided him at each step but I suffered agonies as I imagined him feeling shamed before his peers.
Yet my son came running up to me afterwards with a shining face, declaring each class to be "the best ever!" When I suggested stopping gymnastics in favor of a different activity like art or music, he categorically refused the offer.
Lena gave me a wonderful piece of advice that I have never forgotten.
"For goodness sake, give him the freedom to enjoy doing something he loves! He doesn't always have to excel. Let him experience joy without attachment to the outcome."
So I did, in spite of the lingering doubts born out of my own perfectionist nature. All my life I have beaten myself up for being less than perfect. I spent hours checking and double checking my work in the office. Throughout my life I've had recurring nightmares about showing up for an exam only to realize I have studied the wrong topic. I never signed up for any activity where I knew I wasn't going to be successful. I would never dance at parties, even with my best friends, for fear of looking ridiculous.
My son demonstrates to me time and time again, that you can take pleasure in simply giving something a shot. You can feel proud of yourself for conquering your fear and showing up. I've realized he has an innate wisdom about his own discomfort and doesn't need me to step in and protect him every single time he appears to be struggling. He asks for help when he needs it.
Inspired by his fearless capacity for joy, I signed up for Zumba classes at the local gym last year. In spite of two left feet, I find that the exercise, music, and laughter provide a terrific boost of energy to my day. I have reached out to find writers' groups in my community and share my less-than-perfect writing with well-meaning strangers-turned-friends. It brings me great satisfaction when I, in turn, provide input to help others in the group improve their art. Letting go of this need for perfection has opened doors that I previously never had the courage to knock on.
As for my little boy, he finally executed a perfect handstand during his very last class. Not that it mattered all that much to him.
Yamini Pathak is a former software engineer who has recently started writing poetry and short fiction. Born in India, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. She writes about parenting, education and books on her blog. Her articles have been published in the Indian newspaper The Hindu, and on Noodle.com.