When I saw Samantha’s registration for another session of our Run Club, I was surprised. “Why on Earth would she come back if she hated it so much?” I thought. Then I realized her parents probably are making her do it again.
Samantha is as astute as she is beautiful. She is a gravitational force that pulls everything around her right into the middle of her third grade drama. Everyone becomes involved in her crying or screaming or stomping or simply laying down and refusing to get up. She would be able to singlehandedly derail an entire practice if the Coaches did not intervene before the inevitable showdown. I am very patient and tolerant, but Samantha tested even my limits.
I would think about Samantha long after practice was over. She wasn’t this tornado on purpose; she was a child reacting to whatever her world brought her. A world I had no information on and no business meddling into. My business was to make sure that every child who attended class at the same time as her got a full practice with the attention they needed.
The new session came and it was the first day of practice. It started with the expected “I hate running.” Samatha would run with her head down, dragging her feet as if one of them weighed ten thousand pounds. “You see,” she would yell out from the middle of the field, “I can’t run.” She placed her hands on her head and looked on to the sky wailing in misery. I kid you not. The drama was real.
Children are incredible. They show us what pure humanity is about, they act by instinct long before any bias surfaces. And the children around Samantha could not stand to hear their friend crying. They would stop their run and go console her which at the end of the day, is what she wanted. Attention. Good or bad, but attention. The other kids would hug her, try to pull her to her feet, even carry her, but she just remained a limber rag doll, not taking a step on her own.
I had to intervene; the other children have nothing to do with Samantha’s performance and yet were sacrificing their practice to help her.
I called a pow-wow after that lap, and in a circle we talked about what was going on.
“You guys love Samantha don’t you?”
“You don’t like to see her cry or be upset do you?”
“NO. But she always cries.”
“Well,” I said. “You are not helping her.”
I stood up in front of Samantha who was sitting cris-cross applesauce and looking down.
I asked the group: “Is Samantha able to walk?”
“Then she has to walk. You can help her get up, but you cannot walk FOR her. She needs to do that herself.”
I extended my hand, and Samantha remained sitting, looking down, ignoring my gesture.
I went behind her and tried to carry her up much like her friends did and she flopped down again like wet spaghetti.
“You see,” I told the group. “I can’t help her if she doesn’t want to be helped.” I can’t MAKE her stand up and walk if she doesn’t want to do it. I cannot walk for her. I can extend my hand to help her up, but she needs to grab it.”
I remained with my hand extended and she remained looking down.
I told her: “you are strong and you are fierce, but I can’t do this for you. If you want help, I can help you but you need to grab my hand.”
She wouldn’t move.
I asked the group what could I do? And one of the children said I could carry her.
“I could,” I answered. “But can I carry her all class, every class?”
“No.” They replied.
“That’s right. And she is perfectly capable of walking.”
I stood in front of Samantha who was still sitting with her head down.
“Here is my hand Samantha. I am here to help you but not do it for you. Take it and I will help you to your feet or leave it, but we are moving on with class.”
Samantha took my hand, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and hugged her fiercely. Though still dramatic she continued on with the rest of class.
In order to empower someone, you cannot do for them what they can already do for themselves. To empower a child, you extend your hand and hope they grab on so you can pull them up. To empower is to help only when it is really needed.
Do you know what Samantha did the following week?
She ran a mile, on her own, without drama and no one had to help her. She ran it more consistently than many of the other children in class.
And do you know what she did the week after that?
She laid on the grass, saying she couldn’t move. The other kids went ahead and did their own training and she spent most of the class there.
It’s progress …. And I celebrate every small victory.
I wonder what today will bring.