I made my seven year old go to his gymnastics class tonight, though he insisted over and over he did not want to go and would not participate. In the beginning, he was excited and interested, but now the classes have become harder. Once we got there, he did join in after the coach called out “Hey Buddy!” to him. He couldn’t resist the invitation.
He showed an interest in gym, baseball, Boy Scouts and always, at some point, he wants to quit, but we make him finish. Especially when it gets hard. I believe that accomplishment is staying with whatever you are doing precisely because it has gotten hard. The hard work is supposed to pay off in the end. At the very least, we expect that all our effort will make the task easier. But I also believe the task never gets easier. Contrary to instinct and hope, it actually gets harder.
This idea upsets my writing students because they want to believe that, at some point in the semester, writing will get easier. Some parts of it will: they will feel more confident in their commas. They will learn they always have to make a point. They will know what a paragraph is and when to break for a new one. But so much gets harder. Their ideas become more complex the more they try to explain them. What was black and white two days ago —capital punishment or abortion—becomes complicated once they start talking to other people, reading books and wondering what’s right and what’s wrong. Their sentences become longer to reflect their complex thinking and suddenly they’re not so sure what makes a good sentence. How many verbs can go into a single sentence. How to credit other people’s ideas. And when. Where their thinking ends and someone else’s begins. No, writing doesn’t get easier at all.
At the end of his class, my son is upset. The coach had asked them to do an exercise he couldn’t do. I tell him it’s good to be challenged. A year ago I couldn’t run two blocks, now I run two miles. I always have things I can’t do, I say, and I practice. I hope he will look up at me and say, “You’re right, Mom. I’ll try again next time!” But he doesn’t. He’s practically in tears. So I buy him some Starbursts for the ride home and he eats them in the van, listening to Stevie Wonder. The wind dries the sweat on his forehead. He worked hard and found his limit. It made him angry, embarrassed and frightened. I will make him go back. I will ask him to keep working and make no promises that things will get easier. The effort will pay off, not with less work, but with the gift of more.
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