Monday, February 18, 2008


The right tools for the job

I had a couple of experiences recently where my mind started banging on to itself about how important it was to have the right tools for the job. One literally was quite literal - the other was a just a tad metaphorical. I do this to myself occasionally - come over all profound and introspective. Occasionally I even blog about it. (Who am I kidding?.. these days anything that happens gets a mental run-through as a blog post. I'm not sure that it's a particularly worthy or healthy pastime, but there you go. My sad, crazy life.)

I possibly mentioned that I had #3 daughter's school swimming carnival the other week. I pulled a pretty good con on her, I must confess. (I'm not sure if it's just that I've finally figured out how to do it after having been through the experience of the other two before her, or just that she is more pliable to my suggestions and emotional blackmail!):

"I'll come to the swimming carnival if you go in everything."

It might sound harsh, but my point was that, courtesy of swimming in a one-hour swimming squad, once a week, year round, she had the ability. I didn't give a toss whether she got any places, I just wanted her to take part. To have a go. And after fighting through a lot of rubbish in the past with the other two who were capable enough (to win the races even) but who baulked in various years at having a go at either the 100m freestyle, or the 200m IM, (And then being embarrassed when they only went in it because a friend would, and then they flogged said friend by 50m...) I was a bit over the whole cajoling thing. (Feeling sorry for the third child her yet?)

To Zoe's credit, she said "OK". (She must have really, really wanted me there!) And she set out on the day to do just that, even though it was raining, and she shivered in the marshalling area between races, with me running back and forth with a polar-fleece jacket. The only one I really had to do any sweet talking for was the 200m medley. Sure, 200m is a long way, especially after being in all the other events - and this was like doing each of the other events put together without stopping! But I pointed out to her that she didn't even have to try to go fast, but just go in it to see if she could do it. "We don't try to win our bike rides, do we? We just go in them to go the distance."

And so she did! I was so proud of her! And as she was the only junior girl (10 yrs & under) to do so, she won it! And by coming first in that, and one other race, and getting a couple of seconds, she emerged from the day as Junior Girls Champion.

Even she came up with the line: "You've gotta be in it to win it!" Smart girl!

My other two also did well at their swimming through primary school. - particularly #2. She has a beautiful swimming style that she could have taken places had she had the inclination to train 5 days a week! (*But she didn't and doesn't and that is ok.)

But the rest of it? As I reflected on my childhood, where I never got ribbons in any kind of race, I am convinced that, through "giving" my kids the year round swimming squad classes, we have given all three some very handy tools. They can very competently swim the length of an Olympic pool. (A few times even!) And as a two-for-the-price-of-one offer, they also get the aerobic fitness that these classes give them. (So apart from not being totally knackered from going in every swimming event at school, they get the cross-training type of fitness that has allowed them all to be able to run round a cross country track, and do OK at that as well.)

So they have picked up a few sporting ribbons (and trophies) along the way, which has to do wonders for their self confidence and self image. They are the sort that some parents grumble about, I suppose. Those bloody 'high achievers'. Thing is, they wouldn't be up there if they hadn't been given the tools with which to do so in the first place. And the right attitude to use those skills. You can't throw a kid in the pool and expect them to successfully swim the length of it through sheer willpower alone! (And trust me, I have seen parents do that!)

When I've had to work a bit on the 'attitude' part, hearing parents say to their kids who want to go in everything "Are you sure? It might be a bit much..." makes me shake my head and wonder what message they are trying to give their kids. Give up if it seems a bit hard?

While I often batter myself about the head (metaphorically speaking of course!) about many aspects of my parenting, this is one area I think we're getting right somehow. It has been disappointing to see the eldest, once in high school, give up the swimming and running that she achieved in, but at least she has had the choice. And those tools are in her repertoire now for whenever she needs them down the track. She knows how to use them now. The rest is up to her.

The following day I had my literal 'tools for the job' experience which got me going on my whole tools analogy in the first place.

I went bike riding with a group of cycling friends. One of the girls, Cheryl, is training herself up to do the Great Escapade - this year's version of the Big Ride, only a tad longer. (You can read all about it on her cycling blog that she has set up on it.)

The tools? I do carry a spare tube, and some tyre levers, but I'll confess that I've never had to change a bike tube, solo, on the road. Usually I'm with Marc - on our tandems - and so, seeing he is far more competent than me, and time is usually of the essence, he will just change the tube, I'll hand him anything he needs, then off we go again.

I had also never had a flat on my road bike in the 800km I'd clocked up since buying it last year!

That dream run was bound to come to an end, and I've been kind of expecting it to happen as I've been getting out a bit riding with others but without my attendant bike mechanic. Dreading it is more the word, because while I knew the theory of changing a tube, I knew I'd be 'hell slow' at doing it, and inclined to getting very flustered if anyone with expertise was hanging over me.

Well, that day I got FOUR flats! I was all ready to tackle my first one, but we had in our group a knight in shining armour - a very experienced cyclist - who happens to have taken a shine to Cheryl, and has become her unofficial coach and mentor. Naturally with his experience, he can change a bike tube in around 2 minutes. He zoomed up to me, took ove (looked at my pump, and used his own) changed it, and had me back on the bike before I knew what I was doing.

When I got the second flat about 10km later, I'd slowed behind the group, and, as I'd depleted my supply of spare tubes [ie. 'tube. singular'], I pulled out my mobile and rang Marc with the idea of getting him to duck out of work, and either buy me a new tube on the way, or just pick me up.

The knight in shining armour had other ideas - and a cache of spare tubes - as he whizzed back, put a new one in and put me on the bike again. On the other end of the phone I was getting instructions from Marc on how to check for glass or wire in the tyre, but I had to tell him it was out of my hands!

I got yet another flat a few kilometres later, but the gallant knight took over and put yet another tube in. There was a thunderstorm approaching, and with Cheryl trying to achieve a PB of 100km in one day, time was of the essence. But with the fourth flat I deliberately fell behind, and said to those who had stopped with me 'Enough is enough. You guys keep going, and I'll call Marc to come and get me.'

As you'll see if you read Cheryl's write-up, Marc later found the culprit buried in the tyre. A teensy weensy bit of glass. Those tubes would have just kept going down all day and all night!

But where am I going with this little anecdote? Well, while it was all very nice to be looked after - and I rely on my own personal knight in shining armour just about every other time I go riding - I knew that for me to be relatively self-sufficient with this cycling business, that I needed to get myself set up with the right tools for the job. (ie. more tubes, patching kit, for starters). And the skills to use them. And enough attitude next time to send the group off ahead while I manage my tube-changing learning curve myself!

Since then I've had another tube changing and 'sharp object in tyre checking lesson' from my live-in bike mechanic, and also learnt how to patch a tube. Next time I ride I'll be setting out with the right tools, the skills to use them, AND the right attitude.

After all, if I expect my kids to use the tools they have been given, then so should I.


Oh, I don't know - you were prepared - you had a tube and some tools, you were in a pack with an expert AND you had a mobile phone to call Marc!

I agree with you that preparing our children for life sometimes includes lessons where they must go above and beyond - but we also need to teach ourselves to give kudos where it is due.

As well as the self-beathing, give yourself a pat on the back - you survived but more importantly YOU TOOK PART in the first place.
Great post Trace.I wrote a post yesterday on my big bike ride 20 years ago. I like to hear your experiences.

Congratulations to your daughter -well done. I know some parents whinge that some kids win all the prizes/races but what do they expect if their child doesn't train.

My eldest did swim squad a few times a week - and he did okay at his local school swim carnival and got to the next level too.
He was 'encouraged' to take part too my me or else he wouldn't have. He also got senior boy champion in last year at primary.The high school has over 200 kids in his grade and many great swimmers from the local area so he won't even consider it now and he gave up swim squad too.
You are right about it giving them the tools and then they learn to use it wisely.
I think you the right things - you had the tools too - the glass was unfortunate.
Good for you for encouraging them Tracey. Just had a similar conversation with a friend when she heard Boy #1 was not too keen on his judo lessons. "You are good to make him go" she said. "If my daughter complained, I would just stop taking her." He's 4 (as is her daughter). And guess what? By lesson 4, he loved it - which he would never have had the chance to find out if he quit the week before. Sometimes you just have to 'encourage' them when they want to give up...

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