I recently heard someone remark about living in the Puget Sound region: “If you can’t handle the winters, you don’t deserve the summers.”
It sounds a bit harsh, but as a Puget Sound native, I can agree with it somewhat.
These long months of gray, hours of darkness and wet — it’s amazing how quickly we can forget the miserable weather when we’re walking along the water’s edge in shirtsleeves, under a blue August sky.
Some years ago, when my sons were much younger, we went on a bicycle ride, on a trail off Interstate 90. It was probably 10 miles or so, each way — not too long. But it was in the middle of February, and part way through the skies opened up. It was a cold rain, the kind that made your bare hands sting. We were on our way back when our eldest son (who was probably 13 at the time) threw his bike down onto the ground and announced that he was refusing to go any further.
Of course, we had no choice but to keep going. We weren’t planning to carry him out, and the rain didn’t look like it was stopping anytime soon. It would be dark before long, we told him.
In the end, we coaxed him back on his bike. We focused on the fact that the car was waiting for us at the end, and we walked through the guideposts that were between us and the end — the bridge, the waterfall, the tree with the giant roots. We would all finish together, but he had to do the riding himself. By seeing the end game, and the pathway to get there, he was able to turn himself around. He just needed a little hope.
Igniting this kind of hope in our youth is what Bainbridge Youth Services strives to do. In the coming months, these articles will explore different aspects of how hope can be learned and shared. It’s about setting goals and finding pathways — pathways that must be seen as attainable — with individuals as guides rather than “fixers,” like bystanders cheering on marathon runners.
Many of us have found ourselves struggling in these winter months, some of us more than others.
Like my son, we want to throw down the bike and just be done with it. The light at the end of the tunnel, or the trail, seems so far off that we can’t imagine how we can possibly get there.
I remember a good friend from my college days — a friend who struggled mightily with depression — described the experience as something akin to being at the bottom of a deep, dark hole, “where you can’t even see the light/opening at the top, much less a ladder to climb out.”
We recognize then that hope illuminates; it shows the ladder, a staircase, footholds, helpers along the way. It lights the way out.
So how can we help build this sense of “hope” in our youth?
Part of this is letting our kids experience failure. As parents it’s so natural to want to pick them up when they’ve fallen, and carry them those last miles down to the warmth of the car. We often think that by “fixing” things for them, they will be strong and ready to stand on the next step, eager to face the next challenge that comes their way.
When we do that, though, we are using our own strength, skills and experience to take that struggle away from them. We are not allowing them to experience that failure and struggle with it. They are not being given the opportunity to develop their own strength, skills and experience that will help them get through the many challenges that still await them.
Experiencing failure — and recovery — allows us to not only see that light at the end of the tunnel, but it allows us to discover that we truly have control over the pathways/goals/actions necessary to find our way out. That’s how children learn and grasp the incredible power they have within them to steer toward their own destinies. When we bail our kids out time and again, the only hope they have is that when things go awry, their “rescuer” will be there for them. They haven’t experienced what it took to “fix” the problem the first time (and times thereafter) because someone else did it for them. It just “happened.” When we hoist them up out of that hole, we might have saved them that one fall, but we’re merely crossing our fingers that they will not turn around tumble down another one.
Like most of us, my own life has been a series of stumbles and falls, and moments in which the light was barely discernible. And within those were those moments that weighed so heavy on me I didn’t think I’d be able to climb out. I thank goodness every day that the light was there for me, though, and that I could see the various ways to save myself. That I could hear those voices of encouragement.
Many of us grow stronger with each ascent, becoming more adept at navigation each time. But I know there are others who simply grow weary of it all, getting more and more exhausted with each fall. It is those people we must shine even brighter for, and shout encouragement at the top of our lungs.
Our youth are certainly aware of the immediate challenges and expectations in their lives: testing, sports, music practice, homework, grades, social pressure. But they may not always be sure of what awaits them as they drive the roadway into the years beyond: College, career, family and adult relationships — and this lack of sureness only piles on the stress they are already feeling.
As parents, in our determination to prepare them for the future we imagine for them, we might seek to take that steering wheel from them, to work the gas and the brakes, ensuring they get to the “right” destination easily and safely. And they will either fight with us to navigate their own route or give up and let us take them to the end, park the car and expect them to settle where we’ve taken them. We know, of course, that when we do all the work, the passenger might not know how to get there when we’re not there to drive them.
To cultivate hope, we need to ensure that our kids, and we, are able to:
• Find and articulate short and long-term goals, and the pathways to get there;
• Discover the ability to see many ways out of a struggle;
• Recognize and recall those difficult moments when we persevered and succeeded;
• Find the value in each day; and
• Embrace the worthiness of ourselves.
We at BYS will continue to do our part to keep that light illuminated, and help our young people find those guideposts so they will be able to reach that outcome on their own — ready to tackle any journey ahead of them with confidence and tenacity.
Warren Read is an author, associate principal of Sakai Intermediate School and serves on the board of Bainbridge Youth Services.