On World Children’s Day – How a poolside encounter reminded me what truly counts

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On World Children’s Day, let me share about a recent poolside encounter.

A couple of weeks ago, I overheard an interesting conversation between a male who looked to be in his late 50’s and a young boy about my son’s age of 12.

The exchange took place at a neighbourhood pool where I go for my weekly swims.

The boy had just completed his, and was about to get out of the pool. However, he paused momentarily to say hello to the man who had just gotten into the pool with another male friend.

Though clearly not related, the boy and the man were obviously well acquainted with one another; probably regulars at the pool or neighbors who see each other often.

The man asked the boy how many laps he had completed, to which the boy replied 18.

Then came the man’s next question: “18? Why not 20?”

Right there and then, I almost wanted to dive in and sucker punch the bloke!

Children’s Day — the gift that keeps on giving

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As a stay home dad, it’s ironic I only found out this week that today is World Children’s Day. It happened while I was researching what to write for International Men’s Day (which, coincidentally, was celebrated yesterday).

Guess I’ve gotten so used to celebrating our local version every first Friday of October it never occurred to me there was one collectively shared by the whole world. Or at the very least by UNICEF, courtesy of the UN General Assembly which first commemorated it in 1954. Back then it was called Universal Children’s Day.

In fact, this year there were several hints for me that Children’s Day wasn’t going to just happen on a single day here in October and then disappear quietly into the night. For my C kept receiving presents non-stop from his school teachers and school corporate sponsors, almost on a weekly basis (sometimes more than once a week!).

All through October and into November!

At one point we as a family were even musing about how Children’s Day felt like “a gift that keeps on giving!”

But as any parent who looks back over the years spent watching and caring for their children would tell you, children truly are “gifts that keep on giving.”

Which was probably why I felt an almost visceral urge to sucker punch that old punk at the pool for his scathing comment.

“Son, it doesn’t matter whether you did 18, 20 or even 300 laps!”

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Come to think of it, the fella was probably only slightly older than I am (sometimes I forget that I too am now in my 50’s!). So I wouldn’t exactly be disrespecting the elderly if I really wanted to teach him a lesson that day. It’ll be more like a man-to-man exchange or show-down.

Now just for the record, I didn’t do it of course. Please. I do know better than to make a public scene. Plus, though I’ve seen these guys a few times before, we don’t know each other from Adam. So sucker punching would hardly be appropriate as a first impression, wouldn’t you say?

Yet the reason I felt so strongly that moment to give him a piece of my mind was simple. To me, the first answer in response to that boy’s stated achievement should be a congratulatory one, not a “why-didn’t-you-do-more?” accusation.

For the longest time, I’ve been wanting my son to come swim with me regularly. Unfortunately it’s just not his thang. I’m lucky to even get him to join me on rare occasions. And when he does, I’ll be lucky again to get him to swim more than two or three laps!

So to overhear this boy tell that man he did 18 laps non-stop? Let’s just say I wouldn’t mind adopting the boy on the spot!

Had it been me he told, I would have (if Covid safe distancing measures were lifted), patted him on the back and said “Well done!”

And if we were well-acquainted, I would have told him that even if he did 20 or even 300 laps, the key is how he felt after the feat. Accomplishments, at the end of the day, isn’t a numbers game. It’s the feeling it generates in the person who completed the act, however much or little it may mean to the rest of the world.

“Higher. Further. Faster.” Enough already!

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In a scene from the film Captain Marvel, Brie Larson’s character Carol Danvers (a fighter pilot who later became Captain Marvel) was walking out of the hangar with her best bud Monica Rambeau on the way to their next mission.

When Monica asked Carol if she was ready, her reply was one so in step with centuries of human narrative: “Higher. Faster. Further!”

Which is my problem as both a parent, and a guy.

I know what I’m about to say flies against convention, but on this World Children’s Day, my wish is to put an end to this toxic statement once and for all. Simply because it has been to me the single greatest piece of lie the world has pushed on our kids since the dawn of time.

Sure, I get it. Many throughout history have successfully pushed themselves to higher and higher levels of achievements in all arenas of life, from sports to sports medicine; science to science fiction.

After all, it’s the stuff of dreams. It’s why we have Olympic golds, Oscar awards and Nobel prizes. It’s why we keep urging our children to dream big and reach for the stars.

But at what cost?

On Children’s Day, let’s meet and love them where they are

sports players hugging
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It’s time to stop this.

We need to propagate a different, better narrative. We should learn to meet our kids where they are first, celebrate that moment, however small that moment may be. And from the joy that exchange brings, gently hug, love and affirm the child.

I guarantee you the child will, of his or her own accord, automatically seek to one-up on the last feat, spurred by our affirmation of their capability.

Yes I hear you. You’re likely thinking “well isn’t that the same thing that man in the pool was trying to do?”

It probably was.

The difference though was the “posture” he adopted.

Do we encourage someone by brushing aside what was done and pointing instead to a goal further off? Or do we stop to acknowledge, hold that moment for the kid in mutual celebration, then stand back and watch as the kid’s intrinsic motivation leads him to initiate his next goal?

As a dad to a son with autism, I’ve learned that encouraging him to try new things, more goals, doesn’t work if I push the “higher further faster” script at him. It only comes across as him having to work harder to win my affection because nothing he does seems to ever be good enough.

So on this World Children’s Day, I hope more men, more dads, can affirm their children by holding the moment, saying “18? That’s great!” rather than “18? Why not 20?”

[PS For the record, having seen him a few times at the pool, I can tell you that man has never done more than a few laps himself — so busy is he chatting with his friend most of the time — while yours truly here does 20 every time without stop. So he’s one to talk huh?]

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