This story is by Nick Brender and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The oatmeal had raisins in it. I always put raisins in oatmeal. My wife liked to put other things in such as sliced apples, blueberries, and cherries. Although they are fruit, none of those stacked up to the raisin in oatmeal. My daughter sat across from me and enjoyed her own bowl of Dad’s raisin oatmeal. She knew when I cooked oatmeal it was raisin.
“Are you ready for ballet class?” I asked Ruby.
“I guess,” she said and immediately her composure changed to that of a grumpy first-grader. Just mentioning ballet class seemed to have this effect.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I hate going to ballet class,” Ruby whined.
“Do you hate dancing?”
“Do you hate performing in front of the large crowds during recitals?”
“No. I love that part actually.”
“You just hate the practicing then?”
“Yes. It’s so boring, and they make us use the barre, and I hate the barre,” she said.
I asked, “How would you know what to perform if you didn’t practice?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “They could just show us what to do before we go there, and then we could perform.”
“Ruby, no one wants to watch a ballet performance full of kids who didn’t practice. It is in the practicing that you learn how to perform well,” I said.
“I just hate it,” she said. “I just want to do the performance.”
“What would you rather do then if not ballet?” I asked.
“Nothing!” she said. Which was not really a response, but an indicator of her mood. If she had been in a positive mood then the same question would have led to actual answers. However, in this mood “nothing” became the default response. I knew this. Yet I took the bait.
“Well, you have to do something,” I said.
“Why? Why can’t I just stay home and play,” she whined.
“It’s not an option. Your mother and I have discussed it,” I said. “Honestly, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. Ballet is not ballet without the practice. Practicing is the most important part. You only practice one hour per week, indoors. There are many other activities that are much more difficult or done outside even when it rains. Life can be infinitely more difficult than ballet class, and you know I do not like whining.”
The argument was over, but the mood lingered on for the rest of the morning right up until class started. The last several weeks it felt like we’d had the same argument every Saturday morning. For some reason ballet practice had this effect on her. Perhaps I came from a different era or a different environment, but it is unfathomable for me to consider ballet practice one time per week indoors as hard. Especially considering how much she enjoyed ballet performances.
Two months later we were driving home from school. She was in her car seat behind the passenger seat. I glanced at her in the rear-view mirror and asked “Are you doing OK back there?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I signed you up for spring soccer today. Should be fun. It starts in March,” I said.
“Noooooooo!” she said. A small grin spread across my face.
“It will be outdoors,” I said.
“But you’ll warm up as you run around.”
“It rains a lot around here in the spring, but that’s OK. Rain doesn’t hurt anyone. You just play through it.”
“Oh, and I’m going to be your coach! Ha! How about that? No excuses for missing practice.”
This was beautiful. A real opportunity for doing something hard.
“You’re not excited about being on a soccer team?” I asked, in an effort to confront her rejection head on.
“No! I don’t want to play soccer,” she said.
“Yeah, I gathered that. You also don’t want to practice ballet. Now you’re going to try soccer. You’ll either really like it or, worst case, you’ll stop whining about ballet practice.” For me this was a win-win scenario. She would either enjoy it, or learn that ballet is not hard, and grow as a person. The latter was my objective as her father.
Later that year on the day of the third soccer practice I received a text from one of the other parents asking if there would still be practice, due to the rain. I thought it odd considering it rains all the time in the pacific northwest. Of course there would be practice! I thought back to my own childhood and I could not remember a time when rain ended a practice. Maybe once when there had been lightning, for safety reasons.
Driving to pick up Ruby I realized I forgot to grab her cleats. I also understood why parents were texting me. This was not a normal rainstorm. The rain was coming down hard. I could barely see the road at times. Even I was starting to get nervous about having a practice out in this weather. Maybe I should have read the forecast before I left.
The rain slowed down to almost normal rain levels by the time practice started. Half the kids did not show up. The field was muddy, wet, and slippery. This was going to be a lot of fun.
We did not follow my original practice plan. We played games. We scrimmaged with all the kids vs coach. We ran sprints on a section of turf used by the track team. We had fun, and I cut practice short. Everyone was wet. Our shoes were wet. Most of the girls’ shorts were wet and muddy where they had slipped at some point. Ruby was especially muddy due to her lack of cleats.
They were cold too. It was a perfectly miserable experience. This was exactly what I had in mind when signing up for spring soccer. What a great day!
“Well, that was an interesting practice don’t you think sweetie?” I asked Ruby while she was in her car seat as we left the practice field.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Did you have fun?” I asked.
“I did. I had fun. But I’m cold and my underwear is wet,” she said.
“Oh I’m sorry. That’s my fault. I was supposed to grab your cleats and I forgot. I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s OK, Dad. I still had fun. I was just scared to run that I might fall,” she said.
“I know. If you had run more you would be warmer right now. I was trying to get you to run more and play in the games,” I said.
“I was too scared I’d fall,” she said.
The next week was a beautiful week. The temperature had risen 10 degrees, and it felt like spring was here. During our practice the sun was out, it was dry, the whole team showed, and I remembered Ruby’s cleats. Practice went smoothly. The girls even came up with some games to play.
Driving home after practice I asked Ruby, “Did you enjoy practice today?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes! It was the best practice we’ve had,” she said.
“Really? What made it so great?” I asked.
“Everything. I liked all the games, and even just playing soccer was fun,” she said.
“I’m certainly glad to hear that,” I said. “Are you glad I signed you up for soccer then?”
“Yes of course! I love playing soccer.”
“Even the practices?”
“All of it.”
“You know you haven’t complained or whined about soccer since we started.”
“Why would I complain? It’s fun!”
I just laughed. “What about when soccer is over, do you want to go back to ballet?” I asked.
“No. I don’t think so. It’s not really fun like soccer,” she said.
“You know, Ruby, the most rewarding things are not always the easy things. I’m really proud of you,” I told her.
I looked in the rear-view mirror so I could see Ruby’s face. She was grinning and looking out the window. Her cleated feet kicked her seat to the beat of the music.