Clara is studying the flute. She practices at home in the evenings. She gets in 15 or 20 minutes of work, on average, every day. There are days when she’s not into it. She gets frustrated.
“Remember,” I say by way of encouragement. “Anything worth doing is going to be hard sometimes.” Clara sighs and slumps her shoulders—the way ten year-olds do when Dad is giving one of his pep talks. Then she takes a deep breath and plunges back in.
These buckle-down moments make me combustible with pride. She’d rather be doing anything else besides slogging through elementary flute compositions that are, by cruel design, just above her skill level. Her persistence is inspiring.
If only I could remember to take my own advice: everything worth doing is hard.
Paddy is six. He’s shown a remarkable ability to master new skills. In fact, he learned to ride a bike in a single day. One morning he just decided he wanted to do it. He got the bike of out of the garage, strapped on his helmet, and got down to business.
I was glad it happened that way. Teaching someone to ride a bike isn’t easy. The first few times Clara tried were such failures that she almost turned against the idea. “I don’t care if I ever learn,” she said when I asked if she wanted to give it another shot.
After some falling, some crying, and some “Everything Worth Doing Is Hard” pep talks from Dad, Clara eventually got the hang of it. But with Paddy, there were no bumps, no bruises, no tears, no frustration, he just jumped on that bike and started riding.
Some things come easy for people. It’s a fact. My older sister can learn languages the way I can eat a pizza—rapidly. I know a guy who is so coordinated that within minutes of learning a new sport he can dominate even long-time players.
But here’s another fact: we all have our challenges. Having things come too easy can itself be a challenge. Often those who are first out of the blocks find it hard to keep up the pace. Then they get down on themselves. Success requires discipline. When things come too easy, discipline doesn’t develop.
Worse, when things come too easy, we may not appreciate how hard they can be for others.
Magdalena has Down syndrome. She struggles with a whole host of cognitive and motor delays that mark her as different from her peers and classmates—even from her siblings. She’s two years older than Paddy, but still needs training wheels on her bike. It would take far more than 15 or 20 minutes of nightly practice for Magdalena to learn to play the flute.
We’ve often spoken with Clara and Paddy about how to deal with reactions to Magdalena. We know they will meet people—especially curious, uninhibited children—who don’t have much experience with Down syndrome. Lots of people don’t know what it is or aren’t sure how to address it directly.
We’ve told them that a good place to start is by saying that it takes Magdalena a little longer to learn how to do certain things. What comes easy for you and me can be a challenge for Magdalena.
And we all have our challenges.
In part to honor how hard kids like Magdalena work, I’m going to the March for Life this year in Washington, D.C. I’ve always wanted to go, but found it hard to fit into my schedule. Something always got in the way. Last year it was the weather. The year before it was work. The year before . . . who knows?
This year, though, I’m going. I know it’ll be hard to get up early and get on that cold bus. But everything worth doing is hard.
By Matthew Hennessey
Matthew Hennessey and his family are parishioners of St. Aloysius in New Canaan. Follow Matt on Twitter @matthennessey.