I Don't Like It -- I Love It!
Our five-year-old son, Ax, has a knack for being extremely cute. When I first found out we were having a boy baby I was a little confused about how that had happened, and what would I do with a boy? Put it in a blue tutu? It turns out that no, that’s not the thing I do. What I do is I let him wear whatever he wants to wear, which these days tends to be sweatpants and t-shirts with extreme sports images on them, or superhero logos. It’s not my taste. It’s not what I imagined. I imagined more gingham, maybe linen, or for winter something tweed with suede elbow patches. More bow ties, less Batman.
Ax is extremely attracted to sticks, anything stick-like, and insects, and vehicles, especially rescue vehicles that light up and make loud noises. He also likes big rocks, shoes that light up, and clothing that glows in the dark. I did not promote any of that. It just is.
The other day I picked him up early from preschool to go to tennis clinic. Normally Ax is into it but that day he didn’t want to go. He said it was “too hot,” which it wasn’t. When I told him I was willing to get him a cool drink and some cooler tennis clothes so he could stop wearing his sweatpants he looked down at his lap, pouted, and shook his head no. That wasn’t it.
I breathed in and out and I said, as tenderly as possible, “I can tell you really don’t want to go today and I’ve made suggestions about how to stay cooler on the court. Is there another reason you don’t want to go?”
And he said, after what seemed like a very long while of just sitting there with me pretending to be patient, “I’m not as good at the warm-ups as the other kids.”
And I’m thinking, “Oh you sweet poor child I will never make you go to tennis again! Never!!!!” And then I’m thinking, “Wait, no, I mean, ‘Man up, you wus, get in there and show those 6-year-old little effers what you’re made of! No pain no gain!’”
But I read this book, The Conscious Parent, so I didn’t actually SAY those things, or anything like them right away. Instead I breathed in as well as out and noticed that what I was really thinking, was, “Do not screw this up, Sascha. What you say, in this moment, right now will either turn your kid into a healthy, well-adjusted, secure, self-loving human with the courage and persistence to move forward through obstacles, or a self-loathing neurotic perfectionist, or a drug addict/sex addict/food addict still living on your couch thirty years from now. Now get in there and parent! Go!”
And so I waded in slow. What I said was, “Oh. You feel like you’re not as good as the other kids?”
And he said, “Yeah because when the other kids throw the ball up in the air it goes right back to them but my ball goes all over the place and never comes back and I have to chase it all around.” And he waved his hands all around to demonstrate the chaotic movement of the ball. And it was true. He did seem to spend more time chasing the ball than the other kids did.
Of course I don’t ever play catch with him which I know is probably the number one way to get better at catch, and I could beat myself up for that. And we also have not gotten him any Mandarin lessons, or Ballet, or anything else lessons. And the only time he has worn something woven was at the pictures for my sister Delish’s wedding after which we gave him several cookies and let him wear a batman shirt to the reception.
But we do spend quite a bit of time articulating our emotions and connecting. And after he made his shameful confession about not being as good at catch as the other kids I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. “Oh,” I said, “Well that’s ok they probably have had more practice at it than you have, or maybe they’re just naturally better at it than you are. I’m sure there are things like art and building and climbing that you are better at than they are. I’m not going to make you go, but we did buy you these sessions already and it’s kind of my job as a parent to encourage you to keep doing stuff so if you want to you’ll get better at it. If you don’t go you definitely won’t improve but if you do go you might improve, and it also might just be fun. If you’re interested in still going I would like to take you.”
And just like that he decided he wanted to go and we were not even late after all that conscious communicating. And he did spend a bunch of time chasing balls, and chatting with the coaches, and fiddling with his Spiderman sweatpants which to me seemed way too warm for the day. And after class when I asked him if he liked it okay he said, “I didn’t like it – I loved it!” Go figure.