I am a joiner. I am never happier than when invited to participate in a group activity. My hand is always one of the quickest to raise when volunteers are needed. Even this year, nigh on twelve months into a five-hour daily commute and full-time job, I am just now learning to pull my hand back down and remind myself that I don't have to be a helper at every school activity. I'm still teaching children's liturgy at church, I'm still baking and icing ridiculous quantities of cupcakes for my son's "almost birthday" at school, I'm still keeping score and generally corralling the wildness on the bench during my son's baseball games. But believe me, I've cut back.
I am a joiner. In that, I am truly my mother's daughter. My mother, of the five children each spaced barely one year apart, with her full-time job, who still managed to be a Cub Scout den leader, a Girl Scout leader, president of the high school band parents organization. It gives me great pleasure to see that part of her live on in me. I am my mother's daughter.
This leads me to today's meltdown. I had forgotten that my son does not necessarily channel me or my mother. He is his own person. We tend to create narratives around our kids and who we think they are. JR is "kind boy." (This, of course, goes back to that first meeting in the orphanage when the orphanage director described him as "kind" and we thought, "how can an 11-month-old be kind?" Since then, though, every time that JR has acted with generosity and kindness to another we think "Aha! Of course, he is 'kind boy.'") JR is "athletic" (I can trace this to the first parent-teacher conference at his nursery school when the teachers raved about how well he could throw a ball at the age of 18 months. So every time he throws a ball, we think "Look at our athletic boy!") JR is "shy" or "slow to warm up," a description given us by his pediatrician to address his penchant for hiding behind us and not engaging with new people.
So I've created this idea in my head about our little boy who loves to do anything athletic and transformed it into little boy who wants to participate in every team sport available in our city for children his age. So naturally, when we got the email invitation for try-outs for the under 8 travel soccer team sponsored by our neighborhood recreation center, I was all over it. First, I scouted out the other likely participants from our social network (part of the JR narrative is that he only wants to participate in activities where he has at least one friend; making the choreographing of summer camps quite a challenge). Sure enough, one of his best friends, H, according to his parents, was going to try out, as were three of his classmates and a host of other kids he knows from baseball and church. So this morning, I wake JR up. We feed him breakfast, get him dressed, get ready to head down the street for try-outs.
Then the meltdown started. "I don't want to try out for soccer." "I don't want to play soccer" Dumbfounded (how could MY son not want to join something?) I entered into the fray. We battled, each of us becoming more entrenched in our positions. JR was unable to articulate the "why" of his position. "See, if you don't know why, then you have to try," I responded. Then he'd articulate a "why" and I would shoot it down. I put those litigation skills to use. Poor JR's Dad tried to appease both sides. That wasn't happening.
I withdrew, thinking I'd play my trump card. I'd check in with best friend's mom and once he knew for sure H was trying out, JR would cave. Except that H is not trying out today for travel soccer. He (like JR) has a baseball game today. He told his parents he wants a break. His parents are inclined to agree. After all, the boys are only seven (well, in JR's case, almost seven). There will be other, less intense, soccer available in the fall. In the greater scheme of things, the other mom reminds me, does it really matter if they don't do travel soccer this year? Is it really going to affect their overall athletic ability? Their enjoyment of the game?
Dad has taken JR off to visit with his grandmother for an hour or so before the baseball game. I'm ostensibly straightening up the kitchen and doing laundry. Instead, I'm writing in order to sort out my thoughts. How do I teach myself to step back (and to let my son step back)? We don't have to say yes to every invitation. We don't have to volunteer for every activity. And if my son says "I don't want to" and he's talking about playing a game, as opposed to doing homework or eating his vegetables, maybe I just need to let it go.
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