We had a Situation last week.
One of those Situations that arise in parenting from time to time.
One of those Situations that seem Very Simple and Very Straight Forward with a Correct Path all lined out.
WOOHOO, in other words. A Situation with a Solution!
That is AWESOME. It’s the Best Kind of Situation to have! I mean, I’ve been doing this parenting gig a while now, and it’s Not Always that we’re handed the Right Thing to Do simultaneously with the Problem, you know?
So we had a Situation, AND I KNEW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT, so we moved quickly forward. Doing the Right Thing! Banner held high! Nobly pursuing our parenting goals!
Except I kept getting this squirmy feeling in my gut because every time I reminded myself that the Solution was clear and obvious, my heart said, “Yeah, but…”
It’s OK, though. DO NOT PANIC, friends. I shut those feelings down.
I obeyed the Right Way.
Until I didn’t.
Here’s what happened:
My kid is 9, and he’s asked all year to play lacrosse. We, being good and involved parents, managed not to miss the sign-up deadline like we did with soccer and swimming, so he was assigned a team. #ForTheParentingWin!
We bought All the Equipment as inexpensively as possible which still cost a few hundred dollars and made me want to gag. Still, the child was all padded up and was going to run around a field and whack other kids with a stick, so it felt kind of worth it. I come from the Scottish people, after all, inventors of golf and caber tossing and bar brawls, so the idea of a sport that combines chasing a small, white ball around a field while carrying a stick for hitting your opponents makes strange, beautiful sense to me.
We paid the the sign-up fees and the jersey fees, the registration fees and the official “U.S. Lacrosse” fees. We paid the We Forgot to Make Dinner in Time So Now We Have to Drive Through and Get You Crappy Food Before Practice fees, and we attended the practices and the jamborees and the clinics and the games.
Unfortunately, by week two, this child of mine started not wanting to attend practice or games, after all. I assumed he was bored or it was hard and uncomfortable, like learning any sport, so I said the Things You Say to Children Who Want to Give Up but Need to Learn the Importance of Follow-Through.
Buck up, I said.
And you made a commitment.
And you know what we Woolseys do? WE FOLLOW THROUGH. Which isn’t necessarily true but feels like an essential fiction to sell my children, like “we clean up after ourselves” and “there are no stupid questions.” Lies, but good ones, you know?
I made him keep playing and ignored the uneasiness I felt.
Because doy. DUH. THIS IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
On Saturday, I made him leave a birthday party early to attend his game. He was not happy with me, of course, but he lived, just as I predicted, and then, in the car on the way home, he said again, “I do not want to play lacrosse anymore, Mom. Please, please, please don’t make me go back.”
I don’t know what was different that time. I’m not really sure I can fully explain. I just felt like maybe I should shush on the Follow-Through Lecture and the Team Sports Are Good for You Diatribe and maybe, I dunno, listen to my kid. So I sat still and I said, “Why? Can you tell me why you don’t want to play the sport you really wanted to play a few weeks ago?”
Which is when he burst into tears, and so did his brother who’s on the same team, and I glanced and them in the rear view mirror, and they looked at each other like Do You Want to Tell Her, or Should I? and I thought, Uh oh. And then my kid told me he’s tired of being called stupid by another kid on the team, and tired of having that kid secretly push him when the coach isn’t looking, and tired of being told he’s the worst player ever, and he sucks and is also ugly and dumb and to shut up and get off the damn field.
Oh, I thought.
And his brother told me that was, in fact, what had happened. He corroborated the stories. He’d witnessed the small physical attacks and the large emotional and verbal ones. He’d told the kid to stop, a number of times, as had the kid who’d experienced them, and they were both just tired of handling it.
Over struggling with it.
I said all the right things. I swear. Like Thank You for Telling Me. And You Can ALWAYS Tell Me These Things. And I Will Talk to Your Coach.
And when my child begged again not to go back, I said We Will See What We Can Do. And We Don’t Just Let the Bullies Win. And This Isn’t a Reason to Quit Necessarily. And There Are Steps We Must Take. And You Will Learn Essential Life Lessons by Seeing This Through.
But my heart response kept getting louder.
Louder than my head response.
And I started to wonder why I was so invested in my boy continuing to play.
I went over all the conventional Head Reasons:
- We have to teach our kids follow-through.
- We have to teach our kids never to quit.
- Everyone knows team sports are THE KEY to learning cooperation and camaraderie and working together.
- WORK ETHIC. Hello!
- Get back on the horse, kid! There will always be bullies. Always. We cannot let them dictate our moves.
- If our kids don’t learn these lessons now, when the pressures are relatively small and short lived, they will think they can quit anything uncomfortable, for the rest of their lives, and their entire adulthood will be ruined.
Then I told those reasons to take a back seat for a minute so I could listen to the heart, which is, of course, when it all fell apart, because Oh, the Heart, friends. She had Things to Say. Things like:
- You tell your kids they can tell you anything, any time, and bring their hurts to you to hold gently and carefully, but do you to plan to honor what they say by listening deep and long and hard without pre-drawn conclusions?
- You tell your kids they are brilliant, and they can solve problems. Do you plan to insist on your solutions? Or consider theirs?
- Are you going to build trust with your kid and teach him that we are here for each other in this family? Or are you going to sell him the usual cultural lie that Being Independent and Following Through and Never Quitting and are more important than Community and Grace and the Reality that we all Try and Quit and Somehow, Eventually, Miraculously Try Again which is the Magic in this Mess and the Miracle, always.
- You tell your kids that Kindness and Goodness, Gentleness and Faithfulness, and Loving Their Neighbors as Themselves are more important than Anything Else, including Achievement and Popularity and Winning and Grades — because if you have Success but have failed to Love, what is the worth in any of your “achievements?” — but you’re kind of worshiping at the Altar of Athletics on this one, Beth, and at the Altar of Bucking Up. Is that where you were hoping to go with this?
- And even though team sports are a fantastic way to learn to cooperate and work together, do you really think that a kid who has 4 siblings and who navigates playgrounds and school and church and has no other opportunities to learn them?
- He’s nine. Nine, Mama. Nine years old. Give him a break.
I spent some time considering.
I weighed the Head and the Heart.
I contacted the coach – thanking him for his volunteer service because no teacher or coach who gives and gives and gives to our kids deserves to have his ass handed to him — and recognized that Handling Bullying is a real bummer part of the job, but noting he needed to know anyway.
And then I laid it all out for the boys. All of it. What I thought I was supposed to say, and why I was uncomfortable with that simplistic answer. What the Head said, and what the Heart said. And I asked them to collaborate with me. To experiment — because it’s always a grand experiment anyway — in Listening and Loving each other well.
They heard me out.
I heard them out.
They still wanted to quit.
And I decided to respect their choice to no longer subject themselves to that situation.
To respect their senses of self and boundaries, and, well, camaraderie, working together, and follow-through on quitting the heck out of lacrosse.
The Head is somewhat bewildered by this whole decision.
The Heart, though, is glad.
The boys listened to a Brand New Lecture: “Do not get too excited, gentlemen. Sometimes we are going Make a Parenting Call You DO NOT LIKE, you know. This is INEVITABLE. What’s more, is we’re going to Make a Parenting Call You Do Not Like AND sometimes we are going to be Very Wrong AND you will still have to Abide by It. That is going to SUCK. But we will try to Listen First and Love Well, OK? That is our promise to you. Our commitment. Listen. Love. And get it Right. And Fail Utterly. And Try Again. Eventually. Which is Magic and Mess and Grace and Grime and Weird and Wild and aren’t we lucky we get to live it? Aren’t we the luckiest to live this human, divine life together?”
Am I confident I made the right decision? I AM NOT. Complete confidence in parenting — or in life — is for people who are delusional. But I am confident I’ve made the best decision I know how to make in this situation with the information I have right now. With the well-being of my child at heart. With the utmost I can do for his spirit in both the short and long terms. And that, my friends, is all any of us can honestly do. Listen and Love. Succeed and Fail. And Try Again, Always. Eventually. But Always. Which is the Miracle.