Monday, August 11, 2008

turning self pity into productive anger

I took the family out for a bike ride last weekend. Ryan is learning to ride with clipless pedals meaning that a few spills are a definite. Kate was on the trail-a-bike attached to my mountain bike. We were 6 miles into our 16 mile excursion when Ryan went down. We were on the Trumbull bike path and he was flying around a corner coming up on Kate and I way to fast. He couldn't pass because there were riders coming the opposite way, and because of the speed he was carrying, he couldn't slow up enough, so he slammed into Kate's rear wheel and went down.

He was crying as I jumped off the bike, but he was standing now and just had some scrapes on his knees and elbows. I did my best to calm him down as he cried and told me he wanted to go home. "Ryan, you are OK. That's very scary, what happened to you. But you are OK. We will head home, but you need to ride.", were my words to him. Lisa said to me "Maybe you should ride home and get the car and we'll wait here.", to which I replied "no, he's OK, he's just scared which is OK, but he can ride."

He got back on his bike feeling sorry for himself. As a father of a young boy, I wanted him to be tough and was angry at his self pity, yet I was also concerned for him and wanted to comfort him. Looking for pity and taking his frustration out on us, and mainly me, he rode pathetically slow, dropping way back as we made the six mile trek home. He stopped at one point saying "I don't think I can ride." I replied "Ryan, I know what it feels like to crash like you did. It's scary that's for sure. But you are fine." He said "no, my elbow is bleeding!" to which I responded "your legs are fine. You can ride." Lisa came up to me and said "Eric, he's only seven. Maybe you should go get the car." I knew he could ride and I felt it was important for him to. I have done everything I could to not put outside pressure on Ryan. He feels it anyways from me because he's very observant, and sees what I do. But I go out of my way to not pressure him. Yet, in this situation, I felt it was important for him to ride. Freudian or not, I believe that many of the habits we do have as adults are derived from experiences we encountered as children. This forms our character, and kids nowadays are getting soft because we are so over-protective. It's easy to do - any parent realizes there ultimate job in life is making sure their kids are safe and taken care of.

With 3 miles to go, the sulking was over, and now, it was turning to anger. For the last two miles, I let Ryan sit 50 feet or so off the back, riding his pathetically slow "I'll make you pay" pace, while Kate lectured me non-stop; "Daddy, he fell on the concrete you know. It wasn't grass, it was cement. You should go get the car. He's bleeding blood you know. That's not very nice. How would you like it if you fell and were bleeding and mommy didn't go get the car?"... Then, a blur came by on the left side, and I accelerated to follow. Ryan was now riding like a boy possessed and honestly it was hard staying with him. In fact, cyclists on the other side of the road were stopping to get a glance. He kept this up the whole way back to our house. I yelled out "Ryan, that was awesome! I can't believe how good you rode - I'm proud of you buddy!" I went on to try and explain to him one of life's lessons - that you can't give up when dealing with adversity, that there are going to be many times in life when he falls, blah, blah, blah. He was smiling now, proud of himself, although trying to hide it from Lisa, Kate and I.

It made me think about how anger can bring on some really interesting experiences when channeled correctly. Funny, I went through the same emotions as Ryan did when I raced Ironman Lake Placid in 2000. My shifter snapped off my bike with 70 miles left to ride, leaving me stuck in a very hard gear. At first I sulked asking "why me?", and then came the anger to which I used to my favor. Anger can be a good thing when used constructively - meaning in a positive, beneficial, and non-harmful way. That's the point of this post. Kids don't know any better and there emotions are so honest. If we, as adults can be this honest with ourselves, it can open up the door to some great things, and at the very least, allow us to toss out the rationalizing and justifying that exists so prevalently in our society.

I apologize for talking about my kids again in a post, and it won't become a habit. I just continue to learn from them which is humorous to me.



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