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On a rare weeknight in which K had nothing to do — no musical practice, no piano lessons, no voice lessons, no homework — she dug up a pom-pom animals craft kit she had gotten for her birthday in July.

There were illustrated instructions, but…of course, things like this are always confusing the first time (ever try to read a sewing pattern? Keep your seam-ripper nearby!)  I figured it would end in frustration and anger, and it did.

When I asked what happened to the pig she was working on, she said it got all tangled up and she put it away. She quit.

*sigh*

I find this happens a lot with her. She’s a perfectionist. This is not a good thing as it means if she can do something perfectly, she often doesn’t want to do it at all. Or bother trying because that involves the risk of failing (i.e. imperfection).

I knew that if I let that pink tangle of yarn sit shoved in that box, it would never see the light of day again. She’d never try to make another pig…or any pom-pom animal. She’d tried once. She failed. She was done. It was too hard. Done.

When she gives up on things, I always ask, “If you don’t try and keep trying, how will you ever learn to do anything? Hoping and wishing doesn’t work.”

Sometimes I can get her to try again. Sometimes I can’t.

The ukulele she wanted so badly for Christmas sits zipped in its case. She halfheartedly tried to play on Christmas Day. She immediately learned she wasn’t a musical prodigy and so, to my knowledge, hasn’t picked it up since.

Tenacity. Grit. Staying power. Dedication. Perseverance. Whatever you want to call it, I’ve found that teaching kids to stick with something is one of the hardest lessons to teach.

The pom-pom pig presented an opportunity.

“Kelly, you can’t give up on something that easily,” I said. “Bring it here. We’ll do it together.”

I patiently (and if you know me…you know this is miraculous) untangled the wadded up bundle of pink yarn, while K sat beside me. I followed the instructions and just when I was about to tie up my bundle, it slid off the end of the fork I was using to wrap it.

Again, I spent five minutes unraveling and untangling. I started over, being more careful this time to stay away from the top tines of the fork and holding my finger over the yarn so it wouldn’t slip off again. Because I had learned something from my failure.

This is how it works. You try. You fail. You learn. You try again.

Writing. Playing instruments. Making crafts. Sewing. Careers. Algebra. Running marathons. Life.

I’m finding it’s a very difficult concept to explain to kids, but a much easier one to demonstrate. Even more so with a low-stakes project like a fuzzy pink yarn pig.

I had to take L to swim practice, so I couldn’t help K finish the pig, but we did most of the hard part (making the pom) together before I left.

Ten minutes later she texted me this:

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Today a pom-pom pig. Tomorrow maybe an algebra equation. Five years from now an overwhelming college project. Fifteen years from now…who knows?

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About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.

“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”