Ever since the weather turned, Jay and I have been spending time outside each morning before the day gets going. Yesterday we went outside and found a Frisbee lying in our driveway -- almost certainly left behind by the 8- and 12-year-old boys who live next door.
Jay picked up the Frisbee and wanted to throw it. I told him I preferred we kick the soccer ball back and forth, which is actually fun as long as I position Jay uphill from me. But Jay was stuck on the Frisbee.
He's encountered Frisbees a few times before. He doesn't take naturally to them. Yesterday morning he tried a few times to throw it like it was a baseball, and once to push it through the air like a shot-put. A badly thrown Frisbee is just an ugly sight to behold -- and no fun to be on the receiving end of. After a few more minutes of his dead-duck throws, I gently raised the issue of the soccer ball again. He still wasn't interested.
The obvious question at this point is: Why don't you just teach him how to throw a Frisbee? And I thought about that as we stood in the driveway. When it comes to teaching the boys small skills like throwing a Frisbee, my default response tends to fall into one of two categories: "They're too young to be able to do that" or "They'll figure it out on their own."
Now, I don't think these are necessarily good attitudes to take. In one niggling corner of my brain, I'm aware that often they're just a cover for laziness. After all, it takes more effort to teach a kid something than to sit back, watch them fail, and trust fate and time to set things right.
So I decided yesterday morning to try and teach Jay to throw a Frisbee. I wasn't confident it would work, but I had also begun to feel too guilty not to try.
First I worked on his grip. He'd been holding the Frisbee with four fingers on top. I showed him how to turn his hand over so that he had four fingers on the bottom of the Frisbee. Then I guided his wrist into the backhand position. I turned his shoulders so they pointed in the direction he wanted to throw in. And then, standing over him, I guided his arm through the throwing motion: Bring it back, sweep it forward, let go right HERE!
Jay's first throw was better than I'd expected. But after the short-term muscle memory of doing it with me wore off, he went back to doing it the wrong way. So I guided him through the motions again. Then again. And again.
By the end of 20 minutes he'd gotten pretty good at getting his body into the right position. His throws were erratic (one almost decapitated Wally, who was actually sitting a couple feet to the side of and behind Jay), but every now and again he'd throw it straight with enough spin to sustain flight for as far as ten feet.
Jay hadn't turned into an Ultimate Frisbee pro in a morning (and believe it or not, there is now such a thing as a professional Ultimate player), but he'd made a believer out of me: As we walked inside, I knew that if we practiced every day it wouldn't be long before he had it down.
Kids grow up so gradually, and how they turn out depends on so many variables that are beyond a parent's control. It's hard, on a day-to-day basis, to make out specific ways in which I influence Jay. He's so uniquely his own person that it's easy to think he's going to be who he's going to be regardless of what I do.
But then there are other times, like yesterday morning, when the forks in the road are clearer. Yesterday Jay could have learned to throw a Frisbee or he could have not, and which path he took was entirely up to me. It's a good reminder, I think, that what's true about teaching Jay to throw a Frisbee is probably true about many of the more consequential things I might teach him as his dad.