How can parents be so sure about some things but so confused about others? (And is that just a sadly cliched way of describing human nature…) Last Saturday I spent hours teaching a class about how to handle power struggles with kids, which I’m 100% confident about. I can see a child fighting and stop it in its tracks. I can make a decision and say, this is the way it is, period, end of story, move on. I’m really good at it.
For instance, that evening my son wanted a sleepover, then didn’t, kept his hostess up late so I could arrive to get him, and when I got there wanted to stay. Without thinking twice I said “Get your stuff, we’re leaving.” There was no way he was staying, I knew that! And I had no guilt or second thoughts about it.
But the next morning, I was consumed with doubt about letting my sons play sports. Two completely different topics, I know that, and probably why I can’t figure it out. My husband and I both wonder if it’s the right thing to do. The boys are torn. On one hand, they’re a bit bored and sometimes don’t even want to play (and are afraid of getting hit by baseballs, which has happened twice this year). On the other hand, they have so much fun when they make a great play or get a big hit, and of course they love extra time hanging out with their friends (AND don’t forget treats from the snack bar).
We are convinced that they have to finish the season they started, no question. But our doubt kicks in when we see the ADULTS BEHAVING BADLY as the season progresses. Here’s how it goes, every season, every sport. At first, all the teams are playing by the rules, just having a good time, even giving each other mercy when one team is down a few players or a team scores five runs in one inning.
As we get closer to the “playoffs” (a word I wish we wouldn’t even use at this age) real, actual bloodlust kicks in and people start to act like idiots. I try to stay out of it for my husband’s sake (he’s the co-coach). I sit way down at the end of the parent section with Michelle, hiding in the trees, cheering for the kids and making each other laugh.
But at the end of the game I hear reports of the father standing behind home plate telling his pitcher son to “Put this one down.” I want to walk up to the guy, bitch-slap him, and say, “Did you know that’s my seven-year-old son you’re talking about?!”
And there’s the problem. I can’t go around bitch-slapping people, even if they deserve it, because that would not be setting a good example for my children. So we try to teach them to rise above it. Is that the value of playing sports? Rising above bad behavior?
Then I go to Natalie’s kids’ music recital and I am so moved. There were about fifteen boys and girls of all ages and abilities and they were so brave. They went up on stage and played the best they could despite the stress of performing. There were the usual pauses and missed notes, and some were revelatory in their talent and some could barely raise their eyes to look at the crowd – but every one of those kids got a rousing ovation. You could feel the love in the room even when someone messed up. The audience was willing those kids on and supporting them completely no matter what happened.
In sports, I’m usually willing something to happen – the ball to fly off my son’s bat or for him to not miss a big catch. But I sit quietly as parents jeer and scream and allow – or even encourage – bad sportsmanship. Not too many people are willing success for all the kids on the field. And that’s the paradox of little league – we’re all about growing good people! But you know what? Not really.
So when Older said he wanted to join the drama club next year I thought, maybe that’s it. I was never cut out for sports and maybe despite his natural abilities, he’s not either. Drama club loves everyone. Maybe despite our best efforts to change it, the cycle continues: jocks and geeks, cheerleaders and band members. And the best we can do is walk away from the things that diminish us and find the places where we belong.
Dave and I debate the value of keeping them there – teamwork, exercise, learning a sport and maybe wanting to pursue it in the future. But we realize that as we are trying to teach them respect for others, and following the rules, and just behaving in general like civilized people, that there are so many people out there who are living the total opposite example. Grown adults who scream at seven-year-olds and rejoice in their defeat.
Did I mention that I hate youth sports? Back to the point – how can I be so sure I’m doing the right thing for my kid sometimes, and at other times be sure I’m doing the exact wrong thing. I guess I can only do my best. But I know one thing for sure – despite popular opinion to the contrary, the life lessons will NOT come from the ball field. Or maybe they will, and the lesson will be how to deal with awful people. And at what point do I accept that this is not the best thing for my sons, and move on to something like music lessons.