Parenting

When your kids are capable of more than you know

Sonia Mendes underestimated her daughter's ability to tackle a new challenge — and she won't make that mistake again.

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Elissa tries out her roller-skates. Photo: Sonia Mendes

Follow along as Ottawa-based Sportsnet host/reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters Elissa and Lily. This week, his wife Sonia chimes in.

I have something to confess: it’s always irked me just a little that my mom thinks of my older sister as “the adventurous one.”

It’s inevitable; whenever we get to reminiscing about our childhoods, Mom’s memories always seem to emphasize how incredibly active Joanne was when she was growing up. As a child, she climbed trees and swung from a rope in the hayloft of a barn. In school, she played every imaginable team sport, rode her bike everywhere and learned to kayak.

It might have something to do with the fact that my sister spent her first 10 years on a farm, whereas I grew up in the city. Or it might have something to do with a touch of sibling rivalry — I can admit that. But at the end of the day, I always felt like I fell a bit short in the physical activity category.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been active, too. As a kid, I took swimming and skating lessons, loved riding my bike and developed the beginnings of a life-long love of running. But to be fair, compared to my sister I was probably a little more into reading than climbing trees, and I was definitely too shy to try out for school sports teams.

Parents intuitively know the strengths of their children, but as a kid it can be hard to feel like you’ve been put in a box. Ironically, I recently had my very own “Hey kettle — you’re black!” moment with my own two daughters.

A good friend and I had taken our daughters to an indoor play zone in Ottawa that featured a small roller-skating area. The roller-skates were the funky, retro kind — a white boot with pink wheels and laces for the girls. I thought it was cool and was excited for my girls to lace up, but my oldest, Elissa, seemed to be stubbornly against even giving it a try.

Read more: Encouraging exercise >

Inwardly, I was frustrated that my nine-year-old daughter wouldn’t keep an open mind to this new activity. I had so much fun roller-skating as a kid and I wanted her to experience it. I couldn’t help thinking that she was overly cautious with physical activities to the point that it held her back from a fun, new experience. Her five-year-old sister, on the other hand, would undoubtedly love being on roller skates; in my mind I could just picture my youngest cruising around on her skates with a big grin on her face.

In reality, however, the scene unfolded quite differently than I had imagined. I had brought along pads for both girls, just in case — by some miracle — Elissa changed her mind. And lo and behold, she did! I got both kids suited up, and Lily was the first to venture out.

But instead of taking roller-skating in stride, my youngest clung to the support railing and had no patience to try and straighten up to balance herself. When she slipped to the mat, her attitude plummeted right down with her; she flailed and fussed and had no interest in putting in her best effort.

Elissa, on the other hand, turned out to be a shooting star on skates. She did a 180-degree turn in her attitude, strapped on those knee pads and took to the rink. Soon, she was dismissing my efforts to help her and venturing right out into the middle of the roller rink.

It suddenly struck me that I had inadvertently underestimated my daughter’s ability to rise to the occasion. Elissa had come around to trying a new activity, in her own time and on her own terms. And at the end of the day, no matter how old we are, we all want the chance to do just that.

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