Thursday, May 02, 2013

Either I've Emotionally Scarred My Oldest Kid, or He's Learned a Valuable Life Lesson

My oldest kid, the Boy, is nearly nine.

Which, by the way: huh?  Am I really on the cusp of buying deodorant for one of my kids?

Anyway, he's not very athletically inclined.  Don't get me wrong -- the kid is lean, and loves to run around, and he's certainly not clumsy.  He just doesn't seem to want to play an organized sport.  

Herm.  Come to think of it, I was the same way, actually.  I never felt a burning desire to go out for a team, but I was capable.  I never embarrassed myself on the field or the court.  Ooh, except for tennis.  My best friend was very good at tennis, and she would beg me to practice with her. I hit the ball out of the gigantic tennis cage Every. Single. Time.  She actually got better practice out of hitting the ball against a wall than she did with me.

He tried theater when he was four (did not enjoy) and soccer when he was six, which was just okay. His soccer friends moved on from the rec league to a travel league, and the Boy didn't want to do that. He didn't want to play baseball or basketball, and we vetoed football because we did not want him to be squashed by the ten-year-olds who can shave.  We've looked at some community college classes for kids, but they seem primarily designed (schedule-wise) for home-schooled kids.

And then!  Then our local rec sports created a youth track team.  Bingo!  He likes to run and, while there's a team aspect to it, the players run individually.  Seemed like a good fit, right?  It would be a time suck -- 3 practices a week, plus the occasional meet.  But it would be worth it, because he would be Out There Doing Something.  The Boy agreed, enthusiastically, to sign up.

He liked it for the first week.  The second week was OK too.  That third week, though?  Oof.  The third week involved a meet.  And waiting, waiting, waiting for his one event at that meet.  So much waiting, in fact, that I did not get to seem him race because after two hours of waiting for his event, I had to bail and the Girl and the Little Guy back home so that they would not continuing torturing the other parents with their (understandable) whining about sitting in the cold aluminum stands.

After the meet, the Boy declared that he wanted to quit track.

This is the first time we've really had to deal with quitting. With theater and soccer, he just didn't go back after he finished out his first season. Track, though, was something he didn't want to spend another night doing. 

Personally, I struggle with the concept of quitting. It was part of the fabric of my upbringing that You Don't Quit.  My mother had deep dark conversations with my father at the dinner table about her work grievances, and she stayed at that job for twenty years. So maybe it's actually part of the fabric of my DNA, and not just my upbringing.

Anyway, I don't want my kids burdened with unnecessary tenacity.  Jobs, and relationships for that matter, are not indentured servitude.  You can walk away from something you don't enjoy. But there's a respectable way to go about doing it.  There are gradations, of course.  You don't quit a job because you had one bad conversation with your boss.  Or maybe you do?  I don't know.  Remember: I am not good a quitting.

The deal was this: he would be allowed to quit track if HE was the one who did the quitting.  I would not quit for him, and his father would not quit for him.  If he wanted to stop going to track, then he would actually need to share this information with his coach.

I didn't make this deal as some passive-aggressive way to get him to stick with track.  Frankly, the administration of my family life is a lot easier without track practice lumped into it.

No, the intent here was for him to learn how to be his own agent of change, even if it means (potentially) hurting someone's feelings. You need to rehearse that stuff in your childhood just as much as you do reading, math, and manners.  Mostly, I don't want him to grow up thinking it's cool to slink away and leave people mystified as to where he went.  Or worse, have authority figures (Mom and Dad) handle uncomfortable stuff for him.

So, last night, and the end of practice, he ambled over to his coach and said, "Um, I want to thank you for being my coach, and for teaching me about running, but I'm not going to come to track anymore."

"Oh," his coach said. "Okay. Are you going to do something else?"

"No," the Boy said, "I just wanted to spend more time at home."

"Okay, well, you're a good runner, and good luck.  Give me a high five!"

They high-fived, and that was it.  I think it should be noted that we did not script this out for him.  He came up with that on his own.

After he and my husband came home, and the Boy ran over to a neighborhood friend's house for an hour.  That's all he wants right now:  unencumbered time. I'm good with that.

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