Emily and the High Dive: January 2008

I have been writing missives for the TDS newsletter – some more interesting than others – for the past seven years. Prior to coming to TDS, I wrote similar pieces during my eight years as head of a middle school in Maryland. Some of my favorites focused on my children. With their permission (more or less), I’ve decided to “open the vault” and share some of these stories in the weeks ahead. I hope you enjoy reading them half as much as I enjoyed writing them all those years ago.

For each of the past five weeks, I have taken my son Will (6 years) and my daughter Emily (4.75 years) to the Montgomery Aquatic Center on Sunday afternoon for a few hours of swimming. The activity is not dependent on the weather, and it tires them out. It’s also less stressful and far less frustrating than watching the Redskins. We enjoy tossing the football, diving for the plastic seahorse, and jumping off the diving board.

On each of the past five Sundays, Emily has climbed the steps to the 3-meter high dive, walked the entire length of the board, curled her toes over the edge, leaned forward, stared at the water roughly ten feet below her, looked at me, and listened to my words of encouragement. She has then proceeded to turn around, retrace her steps, and return to the lower board. A few weeks ago, she informed me on the way home that she would take the leap when she turned five. This made sense to me; another three months and a dozen trips up and down would allow her time to warm up to the idea. This past Sunday, she followed the same ritual, but this time with a different result. Much to my surprise, she reached the end of the board and kept walking, plunging into the water below. I cheered wildly, gave her a huge hug, told her I was proud of her, and then watched her jump eight more times – she had crossed the threshold.

Reflecting on these past five Sundays, I realize that the 3-meter plunge represented a significant hurdle, one that required the buildup of a good deal of courage. To be successful, Emily needed time for this to happen. While it seemed as though she was not making any progress, she was actually getting closer each week. Finally, the timing of her success was impossible for me to predict. (In fact, just seconds before she jumped, I quietly assured another parent that she wasn’t going anywhere.) I simply had to wait for it to happen.

In Middle School, our children face many hurdles which demand persistence and (at times) courage. Whether it’s mastering the arts of organization and time management, learning how to study efficiently and effectively for a history test, understanding Shakespeare, developing as an essay writer, or having the guts to try something new, some kids do not succeed the first (or second or third) time that they try. Furthermore, it can be difficult to verify that they are making progress, until it happens.

As parents, we need to have patience and remain supportive. [I’m sure this is easier when it’s a four-year-old jumping off a diving board as opposed to a 13-year old trying to “get” algebra.] We also need to recognize and celebrate the victories, even when they aren’t as obvious. Later that night, Emily reported that her hands and stomach hurt after each jump, probably because she entered the water at a 45-degree angle. I actually think that she kept going, at least in part, because I was so excited.

Doug Norry
Head of School