Nov 072006

I think I understand now why so many parents refuse to let their children participate in team sports. It’s not just that they don’t want to see them get hurt, although that’s certainly a factor. It’s not just the cost, from the financial perspective or the amount of time you have to invest, but that’s a factor as well. No, I think the real reason that many parents don’t put their kids into team sports is because they don’t want to see them fail.

It’s hard. I think, in the grand scheme of things, it’s the hardest thing I’ve had to come to grips with as a parent.

Most of you know that my kid is pretty damned talented. Yes, I realize that bragging on your kid is quite the thing to do, and even adding the “but in his case it’s true” is cliche and tired as well, his case it’s true. Academically, he’s consistently at the top of his class. He just took a reading assessment test and the results said that his reading comprehension is at college levels. He’s gotten the “Citizen of the Month” award three times. He’s on the student patrol. He’s friendly, compassionate, and bright. No, he’s not always perfect, but in many ways he’s pretty much the ideal kid.

Up until recently, he was also pretty good at baseball. When he went up to the plate, the other team would shout “big hitter” and move further back into the outfield.

Not this season.

There are three games left in the season, and he hasn’t gotten a single hit.

Not one.

To say this has been fairly devastating to him is an understatement. Every time he strikes out he comes off the field and has to fight back the tears. He’s angry and frustrated. He doesn’t understand what the problem is, and neither do we. He’s doing what the coaches tell him to. In practice, he’s executing perfectly in “soft toss” and doing well in the batting cage. When he gets to the plate, though, he just seems to choke.

As a parent, my instinct is to remove him from this situation. To protect him from that hurt and frustration. I realize, of course, this would be the absolute worst thing to do. I know the life lesson he’s learning, and it’s an important one. Instead I sit on the bleachers, and I cheer for him, and I give him a hug after the game and tell him that he did his best and not to give up. It hurts, watching him go through that, but I know that if I were to “save” him from it now it would hurt more later.

I’m supposed to prepare him for life, you see.

It’s hard, though.

Last night, it got a little harder. After striking out the first time billified (his step-father) went over to give him some pointers and calm him down. I didn’t go with. I could see very clearly he was having a hard time hiding the tears, and I know that’s embarassing for him, so I didn’t want to make him feel like a scene was being made in front of the other kids. After the next inning, before he went up again, he signaled me to come over. I thought, perhaps, he wanted a snack or a drink. When I got there, though, his eyes were still glassy. He got that very formal, “I’m trying to be an adult and rational and say something that could sound mean but isn’t voice” and asked me a favor.

“When I go up to bat, can you not cheer for me please? Not unless I get a hit. I hear you cheer and it puts extra pressure on me. Just wait until I actually get a hit, ok?”

I told him I would, trying pretty hard to hide how shocked I was but what he asked.

“That’s ok, right? You’re not mad at me?”

I assured him I was not, and told him I was proud of him for trying his best, and went back to the bleachers.

He struck out again. I stayed quiet.

I know that Alex isn’t unique in this. That there are times people don’t want encouragement. They don’t want the extra pressure of your expectations behind them when they are already afraid to fail. This isn’t some kind of unheard of phenomenon. It doesn’t make it sting any less, though, especially when you consider that the cheering was supposed to help take away the sting of failure – not make it worse.

We talked after. I encouraged him to continue trying his best, and told him that as long as he was doing so I would always be proud of him. As always, he bounced back very quickly from his frustrations on the field last night. Within minutes of getting home was playing Halo with J., carrying on as if nothing bad had happened at all.

I didn’t shake what he said off so easily. I still haven’t, obviously, or I wouldn’t be angsting so much about it today.

Yeah, this part of being a parent is hard. Watching them struggle. Watching them fail. Wost of all, being powerless to do anything about it. All the while learning that sometimes the encouragment you are trying to give them is just making it worse, and they need to do it on their own.

It was a lot easier when he was a baby, I’ll tell you that much.

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