In praise of late bloomers

I love late bloomers, all varieties. My grandpa took up painting just a couple of years ago and sends us watercolor treasures, scenes from Italy and France and Utah. I linger over articles about authors late to the publishing world, taking small shards of hope from their against-all-odds optimism.

My kids didn't get teeth until they were 9 months old and that was perfectly fine with me. Sam's now almost nine years (next month) and he's only lost a couple of teeth, the two almost invisible ones in the bottom center. {Poor boy, he's going to be in 4th grade with the gappy front tooth smile, up to 5 years later than some of his friends.} And Maddy still cherishes her doll Emily with the fidelity of a mother, long after dolls have lost their cool for most of her friends. Everything in its time, I think to myself, privately happy to extend the moments of childhood and allow them their own timetables.

With that in mind, please do not be shocked when I tell you something.

Sam just mastered riding a bike.

Are you still reading this? Are you not shocked with the depths of neglect this boy has had to suffer at the hands of his parents? Truthfully, we've tried. For the past several summers we've taken him out. But, used to the ease that some things have come to him, he didn't like it, dug in his heels and refused. You know that saying about horses and water and drinking? Try young boys and bicycles and riding. Then, we had waited too long and Sam didn't want to be seen learning how to ride a bike, he wanted to do it without the pain of trial, mistakes, and potential embarrassment.

Hmmm. I recognized this trait. And it worried me. I recognized it from my own life, from times when I stayed in the boat rather than learn how to water ski in front of people, countless other times when fear of other's opinions trumped fun and experience and trial and error and joy, for crying out loud.

But I also recognized it from my own reading. In my research work* I have been drawn to interesting findings by Carol Dweck on the developmental importance of failure and persistence in the face of barriers. She's found that, more important than believing that you're smart is believing you're hard working or able to work to become better. She's also looked at the effects of different kinds of praise (from parents and teachers), discovering that praise about traits (being smart, beautiful, naturally athletic) means less (and is in fact at times counter-productive) than praise about effort. In short, the difference is whether you think that your abilities are inborn or developed because it influences your philosophy about whether effort is worth it.

This lack of bike-riding was a splinter in Sam's view of himself. He stayed home from the scout bike rodeo and avoided playing with bike-happy friends. For a while, Sam seemed to think people either could bike or they couldn't and there wasn't much point in trying. But this week, with the aid of a positive and patient dad and much negotiation, he agreed to work at it for ten tries. And then, mid-week, he started rolling his bike out to the front of the house on the sly, doggedly working solo on that tricky starting moment where you lift both feet to the pedals and push. Today he's zipping around the neighborhood, all glee and I-did-it-ness.

Yeah, I love those inspiring, audacious, late-bloomers--octogenarian novice painters, middle-age debut authors, and especially nine-year-old bike riders.

*just if you're curious: my proposed work is focusing on early interaction patterns between infants/toddlers and parents that influence these self views and subsequent motivations/curiosity/persistence/resilience.