Yesterday was the last day of my full-blown official modified bed rest (for now). Today, if the weather is good, I will be going in to work for a little bit. Wow, that feels so crazy as it has been a long time coming. The doctor said that even though the hematoma is still there, still the same size, it appears to be a thick clot and does not show any active bleeding. Given that my blood counts are stable, this hematoma is most likely stable (for now, likely to change still). There is still a threat that it could break free and cause another hemorrhage, but staying on MBR because of a possible ticking time bomb, has reached its limit. If I can safely get to 24 weeks (just 2 weeks from now), there would be a lot that can be done if that hemorrhage did happen and start an avalanche of other concerns besides just blood loss. Since I want to still work as long as I can, as our income depends on it (and because I am having nightmares where were are broke), I am going to try and get back into the office. I was told that if there is a bad storm, not to go…I need to be extra careful about ice and potential car accidents and falls, as that would certainly be bad news for that hematoma and you. I also can not go back on the court yet. That stinks as I love being on the court, but I know I want to do what is best for you even more. So this winter will be interesting. We will only go places as weather permits. We will stay near the hospital just in case. We are taking things one day at a time since each day you stay in me growing is all the better for you. The doctor is also watching how a rash I seem to have goes. Hopefully it is just dry, sensitive skin. Then there is the leaky feeling I just chalk up to pressure on my bladder. So, I was told that I could come back in for more blood work and tests, but that is already on my plate, so I will just wait for the tests that are scheduled a few weeks out. I am still a nervous mess as I just don’t feel you so much and I am hopeful that you will start busting out some dance moves for me. I continue to play your music through headphones on my belly.
So your dad just sent me an article from a business magazine that talked about 12 things that parents of successful kids have in common. It makes me happy to know he thinks about you throughout his busy workday. He and I are pretty good on all 12 aspects. However there is one that I know is much harder to instill in kids these days than before. The topic is GRIT. I will steal from the article here: “In 2013, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant for her uncovering of a powerful, success-driving personality trait called grit. Defined as a “tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals,” her research has correlated grit with educational attainment, grade-point average in Ivy League undergrads, retention in West Point cadets, and rank in the US National Spelling Bee. It’s about teaching kids to imagine — and commit — to a future they want to create” (BusinessInsider.com). So with this framing today’s topic, what can we do to help you develop this valuable personality trait?
In today’s instant-everything, 140 character tweet, snapchat, incredibly short attention span culture how does a kid “sustain interest and effort toward very long-term goals” as it is something that even teachers have moved away from at school? I have only been out of my teaching career for two years now and it was all so different from when I was a kid sitting in the desk. We are chunking things into smaller bits that seem to be more manageable for more learners. Sure that is good, but then so was the feeling of accomplishment I experienced as a senior in high school when I finally turned in a massive 34 page term paper that literally took me a term (semester) to write. That puppy took extreme sustained interest and effort, granted it was Tolkien and I couldn’t have been more passionate about my topic. As a coach and a teacher, I see how quickly kids today give up on things that are complicated and don’t provide instantaneous results. In reaction to this, teaching and coaching styles are shifting to short burst activities. Again, I value and have seen the benefits of this as it allows for kids to learn how to break large tasks into smaller goals. However, I don’t always see kids building the link from one mini-task to another. So they don’t really perceive the big picture. They just see one hoop and another hoop and they jump through as quickly as possible. One thing to make sure we do is reward the effort along the way. I remember when I went back to school for some classes I needed for my Secondary Ed Cert. I was ten years older than most of the other students. It floored me how this one girl constantly asked the professor if something we were discussing was going to be on the test. This student could only see the test, and was so focussed on it that she missed out on the thrill of dissecting literature and delving into wonderful discussion. For me, learning was fun as it meant so much more after having spent some time in a career. I came back to these classes and thrived because I had this better developed grit. I tore through novels and re-read for deeper analysis. I could focus on homework for hours. I loved the whole journey of the course (and most all of my courses) and got great grades because I had been so absorbed by the journey. I was rewarded with mastery and joy by the effort I put into the process and not merely chasing the final test grade.
I know there is ever-mounting pressure to get kids to be even more successful. The irony is, that in as hard as adults attempt to provide success stepping stones with the intent that success breeds success, such effort can not succeed. Rather, it is through the effort and analysis of encountering stumbling blocks that eventual success is gained. Reality “improvement” TV shows depict this quick turnaround success plot line: the house that went from a dump to a showpiece, the make-over of a girl from hum-drum to stunning, a restaurant on the verge of closing to making a grand re-opening. This makes for entertaining TV, but it is rarely ever as easy as one episode. Being able to recognize how real struggle tempers a character, and learning that working very hard for something is enriching just on its own needs to happen. Getting a trophy just for being a participant is not realistic, right? But we have allowed this pendulum swing to the “you are so wonderful at everything” because helicopter parents may think that their child’s failure is also their failure too. Having taught, there were projects I had assigned that clearly had a lot of parent help…and the kids who turned those in seldom seemed too excited about their work. Contrary to that, I had students turn in projects with a spark in their eyes. It was evident they were proud and eager for me to see what they had done. I am not saying that a parent can’t help with a project; I am thrilled when parents support students. However, there is just something so special about the kid who did the work for himself.
One of my favorite stories as a coach comes from a girl who showed amazing grit. This girl was in a group lesson I taught prior to her junior year of trying out for Varsity. She did not make the team and was not devastated. Rather, she gave me the news and asked for private lessons. Moreover, she knew that her coach played at the club on Sundays. She begged me to do her lesson when he would be around so that he would know she was going to work and work at her game. Sure enough, we did lessons on a weekly basis with him a couple of courts away. She was not even close to one of the better players I had the privilege of coaching, but where other players maybe had more natural athleticism and skill, she abounded with grit. And her persistence carried her for a year. When she was a senior she tried out and made it, but not to a starting position. Nonetheless she was on the team and turned into a wonderful senior leader. In the many times I’ve retold her story, other players can be inspired by her hard work, but more importantly she demonstrated an amazing capacity to achieve a long-term goal. This life experience for her would undoubtedly transfer into other future endeavors, on and off a tennis court. Her drive was all her own and her reward was all the better for it. Additionally, the letdown of not making the team her junior year did not define her. The things she learned and her joy (that was clearly present in each lesson) was as valuable to her as the end result of making the team her senior year.
There are all kinds of stories out there about people who tried and failed over and over again until they had success. It is their ability to use their failures as guides forward, rather than the end of the story – that is what instills grit. We need to constantly celebrate these successful people for their hard work and perseverance that finally helped them accomplish their goal. It is so easy to think things should come easily. After all, if I want a mac-n-cheese I just add water to the instant cup and pop it in the microwave. Even the box of mac-n-cheese that was invented for instant pasta dinner fifty years ago is too much effort now. And prior to that, the effort to make something like mac-n-cheese was a more involved process than the box. Just because things have the ability to be attained easily doesn’t mean the convenience is necessarily good. Each generation thinks that the next has it easy and that makes “those kids” coddled, soft, and ill-prepared for the hard work of the real world. My generation, Gen X, was fully guilty of this. We were even called the “slacker” generation. Maybe I wasn’t out working from sun up to sun down on a farm, but I do believe that I worked hard in my own way. Now, when I tell students how different writing a research paper is for them, than it was in my pre-computer days, they look at me like I am a relic. Yes, we were limited to the books on hand in a specific library, and we could order a book delivered from a partner library, which may take a few days. Now, research is part of everyone’s lives. It is instant. It is global. It is easy. This can and should pay off in even better work, right? Studies are showing that we have become expert skimmers. When an internet search pulls up pages and pages of hits, we skim as fast as we can to get what info we need. But I can remember in having to thumb through book after book I would get lost in reading up on things too. My trips to the library was always opportunities to grow my brain even more, because I might be researching photosynthesis and also end up learning about photography. I still found what I needed, but I found more. This is getting off topic, but writing that senior year research paper that took months to do, forced me to travel to many different libraries (including a university), and had several drafts due where I was told something was wrong and by re-working it I was provided a chance to test my grit. That is what I remember most, even more than the grade I ended up with. I found that paper when were were unpacking the house this summer. It was a low A, but still a great paper.
There used to be a commercial, I don’t recall for what, but it showed a swim meet. As all of the final racers pushed to a close finish, teams began to celebrate. Yet one team waited patiently for their last swimmer to make it back. The little child was disabled, but each and every kid waited and cheered for him. He finished and I remember crying each time that ad caught me off guard. The commercial was so effective because anyone could see the grit it took for that kid to power through his lap. It wasn’t about winning, and no one could say that last place team lost, their accomplishment was in the effort. I wish I could remember that ad better.
Beyond that essay, I have been tested in many ways. I would like to say that grit got me through all of my trials, but that is not the case. I know I have wimped out on things too. I can be a hard worker one moment and sometimes a softy in the next. But knowing that I have been, and that I am capable of working hard at something is good. Also knowing that I come from extremely hard-working and determined people reminds me that such strength is possible for me. I am not proud of the times I caved and took an easy out, but those times serve as a strong point of comparison to the other times when I worked really hard and experienced the positive gains I made for such effort.
So today I will be going to work after more than a month of being on modified bed rest. I will work for a part of the day and then get back home. It seems easy, but there is some level of risk in heading back out. We will have Polar Vortex wind chills, but pregnant ladies have made it through harsh winters long before my attempt. So, one day at a time and one foot in front of the other. Last night I enjoyed a warm and pretty fire in the fireplace (courtesy of your Dad). Even better, I think I felt a flip and a kick from you as maybe you liked the comfort and warmth of that moment. Alright, baby boy, let’s bundle up good. It is minus 15 out there and we need to get our day on!