517. Struggle and Triumph

Last year, Laura, who was eight years old, was at recess, watching children climb to the top of a metal structure. As successful children got to the top, some stayed there for a while and looked around, and some immediately slid down the pole they’d climbed up. Either way, it looked like fun. It was proof that you could do what had once seemed impossible. And the view up there could make you feel powerful. Laura wanted to do it, and when it was her turn, she began the ascent.
It wasn’t easy for her. She needed strength in her arms and legs, knowledge of when and how to use each for this task, and confidence. As she tried to climb, other children were shouting encouragement and advice. I watched Laura’s face as these children shouted, and I suspected that she wanted them to stop distracting her with their words. As much as she may have appreciated their intentions, she wanted to concentrate on the climbing. All of her friends’ words of encouragement and advice made it harder to concentrate.
I asked Laura whether she wanted children to stop talking to her as she was climbing, and she nodded. I explained this to her cheering squad, and they stopped shouting. Some even stopped watching. I guess either they didn’t want to watch without shouting, or they thought that their watching would distract her as their shouting had. I wanted to add my two cents to the already lofty pile of supportive words she’d gotten. I wanted to tell her that it was better to use her legs more and her arms less – that legs are better than arms at supporting and moving the weight of the body. I also wanted to tell her that I knew she could do it. But I kept all that inside, sat quietly, and watched.
Laura spent about ten minutes trying. She had already seen some of her friends seem to slide right up to the top. Those ten minutes must have seemed, to Laura, like an eternity. Her arms were getting tired, and the look on her face showed a mixture of discouragement and determination. Recess ended. Laura slid down the pole and went in with the rest of the class. She hadn’t been defeated, though – just interrupted. She was going to get to the top.
I don’t know whether she ever made it last year, but this year, nine year old Laura enjoys climbing to the top of that structure. I think she distinctly remembers how difficult it used to be, and I think it means a lot to her that it’s not so difficult for her any more. I’m proud of her. Maybe other children will see
her up there and hope they’ll be able to get up there some day. Knowing Laura, I think she’ll try to help them learn if they want help. And if I have trouble doing what I know I can do, maybe sometimes I’ll think of Laura, sitting up there, triumphant after all.

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