Hoop Jumping and Birch Swinging


My head and heart are full.

It isn’t that on most days they aren’t, but the sense of fullness is different today. The difference is the result of something I’ve grappled with for many years — a by product of raising my sons. The result of years of observation, interaction, angst, and tribulation coming to a conclusion milestone by sometimes painful milestone.

My youngest finished his first year of high school today, and in a few weeks, will be 15. But he did not beat The Geometry Teacher. He received a “D” for his hoop-jumping efforts in her class. In this newly completed step toward the rest of his education, I’m left wondering so many things about what I have strongly held on to about learning and raising humans:

 Some humans are better at being trained to jump through hoops than others. In fact, some are so good at it—it’s the point of their existence. Their day revolves around how many hoops are lined up, how far apart they are, and whether each successive hoop is positioned higher than the last. Whether the person jumping next to them is quicker, or more graceful in their quest to finish first. It isn’t about what is at the end of the hoops they crave. It’s the hoops.

Some humans are more easily missed than others. Or skipped over—like one skips a step when jogging up a flight of stairs to get to the next floor more quickly. Their non-hoop jumping idiosyncrasies are not easily understood by others, and often difficult to tolerate. They are more than capable of jumping through the hoops than many others. Many. But they don’t seem interested. What they see in the world and think about from one day to the next is difficult to know. They are quiet about much that matters, and talk about things that don’t. Hoops are not one of the things they think or talk about.

They even bruise differently than most. They haven’t figured out how caught up in the hoop game most people are. So when a zealot moves a hoop at the last minute to trick them, it takes them a while to start the game again. They are only just beginning to understand, or,  if they do understand, have a tendency to forget that there are people on this earth who live to have power any way they can get it. It’s probably another reason that hoops don’t interest them. It’s all so petty.

I am not a mother of hoop jumpers. And I am routinely reminded of this fact.

I have diligently tried to raise my offspring to understand the construct of the world. But they are very content to think about, getting around to, considering, being involved, possibly participating, in life’s basic rules of engagement at their own pace. They construct their own hoops. Unfortunately, when you’re their mother, the hoops resemble hurdles. Large ones.

It’s not supposed to matter to me that so-and-so’s daughter is in “advanced this” or AP that. Or that this person’s son was recommended for such and such. That this acquaintance has a daughter that crosses all her T’s and dots all her I’s all the time. Sometimes those same people don’t understand how hard it is has been to let my children be who they are instead of what I want them to be. What I believe they can become. It’s not supposed to matter. But it does. It always has.

I’ve tried many years to act like not having a hoop circus at home doesn’t matter. I believe strongly that many have been duped about the educational system so many of us willingly send our children to each year. “All children can learn,” is what that system blithely professes. We have so willingly trusted that it will meet their every need beyond what we have worked to meet ourselves at home. But not every child fits into that system. It’s not supposed to matter. But it does. It always has.

I cringe every time I realize that my nobly held philosophy could be a sham by wanting more for my boys than they seem to want for themselves. I argue with myself that I don’t really want them to care. I swear I’m not interested in wanting them to want what society expects them to want. The way society expects it. The way the system acts like it’s structured to prepare them for.

How sad to have to admit that I want for my sons something I say I don’t believe in. I would never tell them because I have acted like a hoop jumper most of my life. And they probably figured that out a very long time ago.

One could do worse than be a mother of non-hoop jumpers. Perhaps my boys were born knowing that life is a birch and that their job on this earth is to teach me so that I will know, too.



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16 responses to “Hoop Jumping and Birch Swinging”

  1. I have never jumped through anyone’s hoop. Especially any having to do with mathematics. I have designed my life around identifying “hoops” and intentionally thumbing my nose at them. I’m not saying that anyone should be like me, but at the same time, I don;t feel like I turned out all that bad. Life is a wickedly beautiful experience, let the boys have at it, and gently nudge when and where you can. In the end, they will only ever be their own man, and they will love you dearly for not standing in their way.

  2. the domestic minx

    Your posts continually amaze me, Kellypea, not least because they always touch a nerve, often a raw one.
    I am a mother of non-hoop jumpers too, particularly my youngest son, who seems oblivious to, and incapable, of jumping or wishing to jump through societies “hurdles”.
    It has been a confronting experience, particularly as I am not a good hoop jumper myself – and yet have pushed them to do what I have always loathed.
    I, too, have spent much of my working life in Education, and seen it for what it is. To my boys, and my own disappointment.
    And wasn’t that a series of hoops!!!
    It is no surprise that I have no wish to return to it at present…
    The older I get, the less I want to jump on demand – let alone ask how high!

  3. Hey!

    I used the word “idiosyncrasies” in my last post as well!

    Great minds think alike, eh?

  4. This post made me think about how my son will always choose to walk around a hoop rather than go through it and I have always considered this to be a good thing..not everyone does but then not everyone matters.

  5. Kelly, Great post. Hoops, those silly hoops. Yeah it’s a pressure that many contend with in their life. I never did well with hoop jumping myself. Maybe because I get terribly distracted or just don’t see the point. Dunno. In any case, we’ve been homeschooling and enjoying raising our kids to love to learn. (I actually don’t think they yet know hoops exist. Shhhh, nobody tell them). I’m hoping by the time they do it really won’t matter because they will be doing things in life based on passion and purpose. By God’s grace. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  6. loripea

    I get the whole “hoop” thing. I have 3 rows of hoops at staggering intervals and I push my kids through them. Some require lots of pushing and others not as much. At some point the pushing took up all of my time and I took down my own set of hoops. I am not sure if pushing them into want I want them to be is actually who they were intended to be and I do question my motives. But, until I find the answer, I’ll keep pushing and work on making them gentle pushes. Give yourself and the RT a big hug from me.

  7. Minx — I hear the commiseration in your voice and nod back to you knowing — especially since you’ve worked in that edu-world. It’s an odd mix, isn’t it? Spending more time with others’ children than your own.

    Dave — I guess that I can say I’m succeeding at what I profess to believe, and that so is the RT at his non-hoop-jumping-ness. The “D” points wildly at The Geometry Teacher’s circus.

    Hey Goat Lady! Yes, there’s something to be said for what I’ll call my rebellion on raising sons who are different and standing up for them, appreciating them for who they are.

    I’m a bit out of gas, though, and taking the opportunity to cry in my soup. I’ll be over it soon.

    Hi Phil, I’m not surprised your kids don’t know about those nasty hoops. Good on you! I know lots of families who are home schooling now and work very hard to provide their children the best education they can. The RT and I have always felt we’d be much better off traveling, seeing the remnants of history, learning about different cultures, and just getting rid of the institutional box. *sigh*

    Lormo — I passed the hug along to the RT who is a great hugger still. He wanted to know why the hug and I just told him Aunt Nancy’s thinking about you — that’s all. Gentle hugs, gentle pushes.

    Paisley, I could never get one of those darn things to go ’round and ’round like it was supposed to. I tried and tried. Odd. And I believe Gibran’s words do closely parallel what I believe my role as mother has been — a believer that people have it in them to be who they are. That my role is to guide and support. To appreciate their gifts. Has that been easy? Nope.

  8. Hey Mark — Okay, so what I was originally going to refer to is idiosyncratic proclivities…That works, too — don’t you think? Oh great one… 🙂

  9. earlene

    Beautiful. My heart squeezes for you and especially the beautiful people that are your sons.
    When I should’ve been pushing my kids I was so busy keeping my head above water and looking for my future.
    I provided the necessary and it was left to them to achieve.
    I was very lucky. They managed to pull it off and become very successful people.

  10. Well, as a mother of an 11 year old boy, I have come to learn, there are things he WILL jump through hoops to get to, (like the Wii) and things he will not move an inch on. (like studying)

    I push him to do the required or “right” things in life (like don’t play with matches, stay away from drugs, and hey maybe say please and thank you.)

    But, I don’t think that any of that other “stuff” matters. (for now, or just yet.) I really just want my son to be happy -even when he is an adult.

    (but, then again, there is a side of me that would cringe (or hang myself) if my son decided he was happiest as ya know like a serial killer or something….

    Don’t stress kellypea.

  11. paisley

    well i for one,, found the only hoops i thoroughly enjoyed engaging swinging around my midsection,,, all others i either ignored,,, or very plainly didn’t see….

    “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
    Gibran, Kahlil (1883-1931)

  12. Never was much of a hoop jumper myself.

    I’m not a parent, so it’s hard to comment.

    I was pretty lucky to have a rather diverse group of high school teachers, only a couple expected hoop jumping. The two hoop jumping requirers were the most rigid human beings I had yet to meet.

    I think they both died early.

  13. Amy

    Hey Kell –
    Even with my two little punks, I mean sweet little boys, I see how different they both are and that we need to accept them for their differences and love them just they way they are. And with some of the obstacles we have encountered already in their short lives – I have found that pushing them to do what I want them to do or think they should be doing is not worth too much – they seem to figure it out on their own, on their own time, their own way. I hope to teach them to jump & move to the beat their own hoops and follow their dreams and passions; raise them to be two confident, caring, thoughtful, respectful, loving, funny adults. ( I will be coming back to you on advice in a few years once they start to figure out that I do not have all the answers and the world as they know doesn’t relolve around them or me.)

    This was a very nice & thoughtful entry! Thanks!

  14. Mel, I’m convinced more that ever now that I’ve had a chance to step back, that no one is ever going to have the balls to change our educational system to meet the needs of the kids who aren’t fitting. The factory mentality will always keep them from it — well, and a strong dose of the, “Well, it worked for me,” mentality. I think our choice of Montessori for so many years was my way to find something different.

  15. Well, The Boy is definitely not a hoop jumper. It bothered me at first…which is very odd, because I am not a hoop jumper by nature either.
    Home schooling has enabled us to sit back and watch the futility of the hoop jumping of others…while we discover why it is so hot on Venus and bake muffins to learn fractions. It’s pretty nice. Screw the hoops!

    So sorry about RT’s D. I have been in his shoes. Difficult teachers – Pfffbbbt!

  16. […] I rationalized that my youngest needed me, and after raising three boys while spending more time with other people’s children, it felt like a gift to be home with at least one of them.  He was still in school and in need of some gentle but focused guidance to see him through high school — i.e., How to Survive The Geometry Teacher and Live to Tell About It – or not. […]

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