Falling Is Part of Learning

Within a span of thirty minutes, each child needed something on demand, urgently and time-consuming.

What’s next? I wondered.

After lacing my tennis shoes, I walked out to the garden and observed the powdery mildew spreading among my plants wondering if I spread it myself when I thought maybe they were just dirty. I remembered my reaction to the mushroom growing in seed trays in the spring: I felt a failure.

Two days ago, I cut my four-foot dahlia way back which means a while to wait before enough flowers will bloom for an arrangement. Making pesto today is out of the question.

The garden needs to rest.

I see powdery mildew on the dahlias, the basil, the pincushions, the coreopsis. The mildew forces my decision to slow down, focus back and reinvest.

Our spring garden honeymoon is over. Now it begs for more attention and labor. As the thought simmers, my four-year-old pulls his tricycle out of the garden of ornamental grasses. My older son tells of the time he rode his bike without training wheels and fell, hurting his knee.

“Falling is part of learning,” I said both automatically and with a glimmer of nostalgia for the days the children tried to teach themselves to roller skate.

The phrase applies to my life as it is now.

“Falling is part of learning.”

The baby reaches trying to grasp at the desired toy just one inch too far away. She rolls to the ground undeterred in her mission to get the blue plastic cup. The baby wriggles and rotates, seeking to move closer and closer, her frustration growing from the delayed gratification and never-ending struggle. A sympathetic sibling hoists her into a seated position and thrusts the toy into her lap.

Her mouth relaxes and her voice softens, cooing in her delight. She promptly moves the object to her mouth exploring it with her tongue. The cup slips from her unpracticed grasp. Quick as a cat after a mouse she darts, grasps and returns the object to her mouth.

That falling is part of learning applies to the smallest things, the insignificant things, the growing things, the living things, the global things.

Falling is part of learning. but what do we do when we have stopped thinking of it in this way? When we think that falling is not part of learning but a description of who we are at our core?

If I fall, then I have failed. I am a failure in…fill in the blank. I cannot do it.

Failure is simply a fall off the bicycle without training wheels, a season with a battle against powdery mildew, a malfunction in machinery that sends you to the ER with a potentially broken finger because the safety piece was missing but you didn’t know that because this was your first time doing drywall.

Falling is part of learning and as Greta Eskridge discussed with Sarah Mackenzie in a recent Read-Aloud Revival podcast episode, the misadventures make the best stories.

I do not regret these falls in my life.

Where my path turned, the drastic changes might look like a failure but, really, they were one more step along the journey.

When we fall, we learn new things.

We learn not to move like that or step in that spot or pull in that direction. We learn about how the machinery works; we learn better how to balance on the bicycle; we learn better how to move and breathe in these aging bodies of ours.

Learning is not simply a means to an end but a core part of the journey itself. The memories of a baby rolling around the floor losing her mind over the frustration of that toy just out of reach, the moments of comfort after falling off the bicycle, the excitement of a new venture, the sympathy we offer those just starting out in the process of falling. Falling is part of learning. And learning is part of life. And this life is worth living.

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