After several gatherings focused on fine motor or mental activities, it seemed like time to do something significantly physical. We took the boys to Crux Rock Gym here in Eugene last week for some climbing time. A big thank you to the extra grown-ups that assisted. In addition to Caitlin and myself, we were also joined by Michael, Becky, Sonya, and Kelley. It was great to have so many grown-ups, because we were able to belay five boys at a time.
It was an excellent afternoon, and not just because I didn’t have to prepare anything! The outing with the boys once again confirmed to me that this endeavor is worthwhile. On one hand, these boys are already so lucky, they don’t seem to fit the description of kids who could really benefit from a club like this. After all, when I asked them during our opening circle, how many of them had ever rock climbed before, nearly all of them raised their hands. Hardly a deprived bunch. Their lives are rich with experiences already; they come from highly-supportive, engaged families. But what we’re providing for them with this group is something special. Here are some things I’ve been thinking about since that afternoon.
- The Daring Boys’ Club is creating a special community of peers and of trusted adults. Sure, they already have community through school, and they do several sports together too, but the DBC is unique. Because our activities vary, boys have an opportunity to really shine at different times. They are learning that they all have strengths in various areas. We’ve really started to see this as some boys shimmy up the wall in a few seconds and others work hard to get to the red line. Other gatherings however have featured that struggling climber taking the lead on creating an excellent catapult or navigating his way around the neighborhood with a compass. We often try to go around the circle at the end of our gathering and share something good we noticed about someone else that we worked with. I hope that the boys are beginning to see that they all have something to offer.
- Likewise, it’s valuable for them to experience struggle. To know that not everything will come easily, but it’s worth it to give something a try nonetheless and that supportive peers and grown-ups will be there for encouragement. I saw this as the boys engaged in friendly and appropriate competition. The wall that I was stationed at was a particularly difficult climb and I was about to move to a different wall after several boys had tried it and weren’t able to get very high. Then after proclaiming that I was going to move because this spot was too difficult, suddenly they all wanted to give it a try. And sure enough each climber attained a little higher goal then the previous one until it was fully mastered. But they were generally good-natured about it, giving their fellow climbers some pointers and guiding them with suggestions about holds or paths they had found most effective. That’s the best type of competition.
- Perhaps more importantly though, I’m really beginning to value the relationship that I’m building with them. Chances are most of these boys will continue through the next 10 years of school together. Their needs for safe exploration are just beginning! I want to believe that I’m helping contribute to a community of safe adults for them to turn to as bigger more daring opportunities arise (some good, others less than). Last week it was holding them high up against a climbing wall, and helping them get safely down. Eight years from now, it might be a phone call at night saying, “Hey can you come get me. I think I’m in a bad situation that I don’t want to be a part of.” Many of the boys in the group don’t have extended families in town. I like the idea of creating our own network of aunts and uncles to call on. As important as parents are, sometimes kids need to talk to a trusted grown-up who is not quite as close as a parent. I hope that we can build that network for our sons.
- Not only do I want a support network for our sons, but I also hope for other grown-ups (outside of family members) who will help them to be their best selves, people who see all that they have to offer and help them to channel it. One particular interaction brought this to mind during their climbing time. One of the boys is a very talented climber. He had impressed all of us with his ability to conquer any wall in very little time. Then he got to my wall. He was one of the first to try it and didn’t get very far. Not surprisingly he was a little tired at that point having already climbed up and down several other walls in record speed. He decided not to go very far up and declared it “hard.” That of course provided the healthy competition that I wrote about above. As he watched the other boys work their way up the wall, he struggled knowing how to respond to their success relative to his attempt. He dishonestly commented that he had also achieved that height or accomplished more or whatnot. Then, admirably corrected himself with a, “well I could have…” He wasn’t talking to anyone in particular and his verbal wrestling match was with honesty alone, as no one was challenging what he was saying. It was touching to watch him try to find the right way to respond to their success in his normal area of expertise when he hadn’t been successful (just that once). I watched him dance with his conscience for a while and then when I wasn’t belaying anyone, and I thought I could sneak a quiet conversation in, I called him over. I reassured him that we all recognized his climbing prowess. I asked him about his choice of words in responding to his peers’ success. His accomplishments could stand for themselves without embellishment, I assured him. I think (hope) that he felt ok about our conversation and felt that though I was holding him accountable, I was also supporting and appreciating him. I believe we need more grownups having these kinds of honest conversations with our kids. I certainly hope that people besides me will have them with my sons.
And so, though I found my unpracticed body quite tired after belaying boys for an hour and a half, and my neck needed a massage from staring hard at the ceiling for so long, I felt really good about what we are creating for our boys, and am motivated to keep this going. Our next adventure will be some acts of kindness. Stay tuned for what they do.
Here’s a link to some more photos of the boys climbing thanks to Caitlin.