My Kid and Softball: A Conscious Uncoupling

never-give-up

Phil grew up in a world that centered around sports: Friday night football games and summers spent at the Little League field define much of his childhood.

When he said he wanted to sign Emma up for softball, I said, “Sure.  What did Emma say?”

“She’s got a great arm, she just needs to get there, you know, hear the chatter on the bench, feel those butterflies when she steps up to the plate, get into the zone, just her and the ball….”

Was this a monologue from Field of Dreams? “Uhh…Phil?”

He blinked, his reverie shattered. “What?”

“So she wants to do it?”

“Yeah, she’ll be happy when she gets there.”

Hmmm.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but….ok.  I’ll butt out of this one.

But it wasn’t long before I felt the need to butt back in.  When Emma was supposed to be finding her uniform for practice, she was reading a book.  She dragged her heels to the car while Phil bribed her with post-practice ice cream.  I held my breath as they pulled back in the driveway hours later, ice cream in hand but her face tense and blotchy from tears.

“What happened this time?” I said to Phil as Emma escaped to her room.

“She doesn’t like the pitching machine.  It makes her anxious.  She just needs to hang in there and get used to it.”

“Why?  Why does she need to get used to it? We just moved.  Does she really need one more thing to ‘get used to?’ Why don’t we try again next year?”

“Next year! Next year is too late!  The kids are gaining necessary skills and she is missing out! She’ll be behind!”

Behind what?  “Look, I’m just saying that maybe we took on too much too soon, that’s all.”

“So you mean QUIT!??  BRAUNS DON’T QUIT!”

Ahh, and there it was.  Phil’s tragic flaw: Tenacity.  It’s what I love most about him (because it keeps him married to me) but also the very thing that makes me want to bound, gag, and heavily sedate him.

Phil is part Tony Robbins, part honey badger. He has a mental catalogue of motivational sayings that often sneak into conversations:

  • “Always have your game face on.”
  • “What I lack in skill, I make up for in hustle.”
  • “Never leave your game on the field.”
  • “Turn a set back into a comeback.”
  • “YOU GOTTA WANT IT!!”
  • “Stick and Move”
  • “Brauns don’t say Can’t.”
  • “Brauns don’t say Quit.”

Well, I’m a Braun now, and I  say, “F**** this crazy softball sh*t.”

I get where Phil is coming from.  No parent wants to raise a quitter.  I think all the talk about Generation X or Y and the culture of “everyone gets a trophy” entitlement has made us hyper vigilant about cultivating integrity and a strong ethic in our kids.  I believe in hard work and commitment and discipline.  I think there is a place in life for blood, sweat and tears.  I see the value in extreme challenges that test our metal, bring us to our hairy edge, and unlock an inner strength we didn’t know we had.

But there is a ‘right time’ for those limit-pushing experiences.  And for my little 7 year old perfectionist who has moved three times in two years….that time is not now.

Through yoga, I have learned that, sometimes, the greatest strength is knowing when to pull back instead of push through – learning to identify the right kind of hard.  And sometimes the hardest thing as a parent is letting go of what we want for our kid and accepting what it is she actually needs.

In this article, David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, helped put this topic in perspective for me.  He says:

1. In the end it’s impossible to force them to participate. This will only develop anxiety that will make them reluctant to try new activities.

When I flashback to the extracurricular activities my parents “made me do for my own good,” I cringe.  These “character building” activities felt more like public humiliation to me.  In 9th grade my mother bribed encouraged me to join the chorus of the play “No No Nanette,” despite my complete lack of talent or experience in music theatre.  Her argument was:  “It will be nice to be part of a group – all that camaraderie!”

“But I don’t know how to tap dance.”

“Oh just fake it. You’ll blend in.”

Oh, I blended in alright – with the props and scenery changes back stage, which is basically where I ended up.  While my smiling comrades shuffle-ball-changed like Ginger Rogers, I just kind of…shuffled.  Every few minutes the director would shout into his megaphone: “EXCUSE ME!  WILL THE BLOND IN THE TENNIS SWEATER PLEASE MOVE BACK ANOTHER ROW?!”

Eventually, you run out of rows. And why was I wearing a tennis sweater to play practice? A clear indication I was in the wrong place.

LittleMissSunshine

2. Involve children in picking new activities rather than deciding for yourself.

I am not anti-activity.  Activities give some structure to the day, cultivate new experiences, and get the kids off the damn IPad.  I just think it needs to be the right activity – one that recharges rather than depletes. I asked Emma if she would prefer an art class to softball.   She said: “Yeah, that’s totally more my speed right now.”

3. Consider reluctance to be fatigue or need for more downtime.

Sometimes I forget that kids are…well, kids.  That they don’t have the words to articulate what they really want to say: “Hey!  I need a break!  I’m maxed out, here!”   I realize now that the sulking and temper tantrums and consistent “losing” of the softball uniform was her way of “saying” the same thing. Duh.

Yesterday, Emma said:

“Mom?

“Yes?”

“Thanks for letting me quit softball.  I feel, like, super relieved.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“Dad says Brauns don’t quit.”

“We made a decision. We consciously quit.”

“You’re so weird Mom. I’m going out to play.”

running