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Caren Chesler Headshot

Are You Pushing Your Kid to Play Sports?

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Lisa Stokes via Getty Images

"I don't want to skate," my 3-year-old son said, kicking the tip of his skate blade against the rubber flooring.

"Why? I thought you liked skating?" I said.

"It's boring," my son said, boldly.

I had an English teacher in high school, a short little man with a lisp, who, when students would proclaim something was boring, would say, "Bored people are boring." At the time, I thought he was being wise, saying that if you were bored, it had something to do with what was inside you and that you could change it. In retrospect, I think he was just annoyed with the arrogance of youth and was just calling us "boring" out of spite.

I wasn't going to call my son boring, but I was getting annoyed. I'd enrolled him in ice skating lessons two months ago after we'd gone skating with friends and he'd enjoyed it. I wanted him to be involved in some activity, any activity, not so he could go to the Olympics or an intramural hockey team, but so he could have a feeling of achievement. He doesn't run very fast, and I see it frustrates him. I wanted to show him that sometimes people aren't good at one thing but they're good at another. I was giving him something to be good at.

It took some cajoling and repetition, but I convinced Eddie to rejoin his class on the ice. He made his way over to them holding on to the wall. He hadn't held the wall since early on in his lessons, and it surprised me. I wondered if he was saying he was bored because he was afraid. Maybe that is how we learn a skill -- not linearly, but in a series of loops, where just as someone is about to move forward two steps, they go one-and-a-half steps back out of fear.

The skating teacher tried to pry Eddie off the wall, but he held his grip. She then backed away and held her hands out, asking him to skate toward her. He was reluctant at first, but slowly let go of the wall and began marching in her direction, arms out like an airplane, knees bent, just as he'd been taught. She backed up a bit, and he moved toward her again, but he then fell on his butt. Bam! He looked over toward me.

"Everybody falls," I said.

The teacher helped him up, but I knew he wasn't happy about it. He began skating toward me. He was done.

The class only had two children in it, and Eddie was one of them. The other was a 2 1/2-year-old named Zachery. As Eddie skated away from the class, Zachery stood on the ice in a big black helmet, his skates bowing out to the sides, yelling, "Eh-dee! Eh-dee! Eh-dee!" I thought, if anything is going to get my son to rejoin his class, it's this kid. He really, really wanted Eddie to come back. But no chance. Eddie turned around and walked away on his skates, leaving Zachery screaming his name across the ice for a solid five minutes while my son stood at the edge of the rink, kicking his skate blade against the wall and I stood in the opening where he would get out.

"Stay on the ice until the lesson is over. I don't want you to come off yet," I said.

"But I don't like ice skating. I want to go home," he said.

"You're not coming off the ice until your lesson is over," I said. "When your cousin, Cade, wants to skate with you, you're not going to be able to skate. When Uncle Steven wants to skate with you, you're not going to be able to. Is that what you want?"

I must sound like such an a**hole, I thought. One of the other mothers who had been standing next to me watching her own child skate in another class turned and walked away. There's a fine line between scoffing and giving someone privacy.

As Eddie continued to stand at the entrance to the ice, I turned around and walked away, thinking maybe if he couldn't see me, he might rejoin his class. I inched farther and farther away from the rink, so that I was now out of my son's field of vision, but he just stood there at the entrance to the rink. He knew I was still in the vicinity, even if he couldn't see me. I decided to take it a step further. I walked right in front of him and said, "OK, I'm going outside for a few minutes. Go back to your class. It's be over soon. Go on. Go." I gave him the shoo-ing motion with my hand, as if I was brushing him across the ice toward his class, and then I walked out the door of the rink area and out into the hallway.

I stood outside the door for several minutes. Through a window in the door, I could see through to the ice. I could see my son's helmet and his two hands on the glass barrier that surrounded the rink as he just stood there. It was one of those parenting moments where I had no idea, whatsoever, what I was doing and whether it was the right -- or a very wrong -- approach. It was potentially a pivotal moment in my son's life that will either have helped him through some block or created one for which he'll seek therapy. Regardless, I'd already started something, and if I was going to move forward in the direction I'd chosen, it didn't help to just stand there staring at him through the glass. Either I was committed to this silly exercise or I wasn't. I turned my back to the ice and started to watch two rink employees trying to lift sheets of linoleum tile with a pry bar so that they could replace them with the more traditional rubber tiles that fit together like puzzle pieces. The two men had gotten halfway across the floor but were stuck on one particular tile. They hit the pry bar several times with a hammer to wedge it further under the tile, but every time they would then try to peel the tile upward and off the floor, it wouldn't budge.

"This one is never, ever going to come up," said the younger of the two men, clearly frustrated.

I turned around and walked back into the rink. My son was still standing at the entrance to the ice.

"Go out there," I said, pointing to his class. "Go on."

"I'm just watching," he said and turned around and started to walk on his skates slowly toward the group. As he got closer to them, I could see the teacher turn around and talk to him. I then heard my son's voice across the ice. "I'm just watching." As the instructor tried to engage him in the lesson, he yelled, "I'm just watching!"

He stood in the middle of the ice for a few minutes and then headed back toward me. Small as it was, he'd made an effort. If I pushed him anymore, I thought I might wind up doing some long-term damage. It would certainly make it harder to bring him back for his lesson next week.

As we left the rink, I saw that the two workmen were finally able to pry off the stubborn piece of linoleum and were now halfway done getting off the old floor. I wondered if maybe the learning process isn't like loops, but rather like clearing a clog in a plumbing pipe. Some will see a block and quit while others will keep slamming into it, like a battering ram, until they break through. I hope my son turns out to be the latter. Because it seems that like Oedipus, one can't change fate. I'd sent my son to skating lessons to give him a feeling of achievement, and inadvertently, I'd fostered his sense of failure.