Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rookie Season

Okay, okay; so it's been a long time since I've posted on this blog. We've had a busy summer, with lots of travel, lots of guests in our house, and (unfortunately) lots of computer problems, all of which I plan to write about eventually. These events have, however, reduced my internet time to only what is necessary to run my class and keep my inbox from overflowing. I have lots of ideas for blog posts in my head, though, and so I've finally decided to get one of them written down.

One thing we've done this summer is introduce Daniel to organized sports. We signed him up for t-ball at the beginning of the summer, and even though he was the one playing I think I also learned a few things. For instance, we showed up to the first game with no lawn chairs or blanket or water bottles or snacks, and quickly learned that we would probably need to invest in all of these things. We learned not to park in the spot closest to the fields unless we would like to wait for the entire parking lot to empty before we can pull out. And I finally started to understand why parents can run into problems getting their entire family to sit at the table together for dinners: six o'clock game times for just one kid really threw off our nightly schedule; I can only imagine trying to work around two or three different kids' sports schedules.

Also, I learned that the term "organized sports" should be applied very loosely to the four-six age range. Daniel's first turn at bat ended with him running straight across the field, toward second base, while all the parents and coaches yelled, "No! Go THAT way!!" Most runners on base forgot to advance to the next base until the runner behind them came up and gave them a tap. There were two fielding styles: the wearing-glove-on-head-facing-the-wrong-way camp, and the fight-other-members-of-your-team-for-every-ball group. There were no outs or scores, and though this was probably a good thing, it removed most of the structure from the activity.

I also learned a lot about expectations adults impose on youth sports. I was surprised to see that many players consistently had both parents, all their siblings, and some aunts, uncles, and grandparents at their games. Daniel's coach seemed really alarmed that Daniel would sometimes want to use the pink Barbie bat, and would run over to take it from him, saying, "Oh no, Pal. You don't want that bat. Try this one (handing him the Hot Wheels bat). This is the POWER bat. This is the one you want." All pretty amusing considering this coach was otherwise fairly hands-off. A kid on one team we played was very competitive and aggressive, sneering at other kids and repeatedly announcing things like how his team was going to "cream" them (a real feat considering the no-score thing). Kyle and I looked at each other, wondering aloud what that kid's parents were like, and what he'd be like by the time he gets to high school.

Let me not, though, exclude myself from this review of parental expectations. See, I enrolled Daniel in t-ball with the expectation that he would get some exercise, have fun, and learn how to play a team sport. Apparently I also had an expectation that he would pay some attention to the game, so I have to admit that I was fairly disappointed to see his lack of focus or enthusiasm during play. He was always excited to go to t-ball, and always said he had fun, but honestly spent nearly all of game time staring off into space and/or sitting down in the field. He almost never ran, neither after hitting nor during one of his very few attempts to field the ball. Frequently he missed the fact that his team had changed from the hitting team to the fielding team or vice versa, until his coach or Kyle or I specifically got his attention and instructed him to go to or come in from the field. In fact, Kyle and I (and the coach) spent a lot of time at games calling to Daniel to "Put your glove on your hand, Buddy!" or "Turn around!" or "Pick up that ball! The one that landed right in front of you!" as he stared off into space.

Daniel was also obsessed with snacks, specifically whether there would be any after the game and if so what they would be. Unfortunately we appeared to have been randomly placed on the only team in the league that did not organize some sort of snack-bringing turns system and therefore rarely had anything after the games. During the last game, Daniel was sauntering from third base to home to end the last "inning" for his team when he stopped dead in his tracks to peer into a bag on the ground that held juice boxes and fruit snacks. No encouraging yells from the coach or parents could break the spell as he stood there, transfixed by the snacks, while the whole game waited for him.

And here's where I come in. On this occasion we had driven five hours back from Nebraska and left all the unpacking undone at home in order to make this game on time. Despite the fact that we had gone out to eat immediately before the game, Daniel had spent most of his time in the field mooching the sunflower seeds the coach had in his pocket instead of playing the game. I was so frustrated when Daniel stopped running the bases that I got up and loudly chastised him in front of the whole field while roughly dragging him to home base by his arm. Nothing like ending the season with a bang, right? Now I could have imagined it, but it did seem like some other parents were averting their eyes from me on the way out of that game, probably because I had acted like a total LUNATIC over four year-old t-ball.

And this is uncomfortable to admit about myself, that I am more competitive or aggressive than I'd like to be, and that this extends to the kids' behavior as well. I'm not saying that I expected Daniel to whack home runs and make double plays at every game, but I did expect that he would care enough to try and to pay attention and listen to the coach. It was frustrating and embarrassing to me some days to have the kid who didn't DO anything. And I don't think that this will be the last time Daniel and I will struggle with this as he continues through childhood. His temperament is just slow-to-warm up and very cautious, something that I've had to work to be patient with. On the one hand, I appreciate and respect this about him, and know that when he's older I'll be able to give him more independence, knowing he will not do things that are reckless. But on the other hand, I worry so much that his fears and hesitancy will cause him to miss out on great experiences or to have problems relating socially to other kids.

I thought of this again today when Daniel was riding his bike, another activity that we introduced this summer. For the most part he is perfectly content to ride in little circles, over and over, on our small driveway. After little crashes he needs to be coaxed or even bribed to get back on the bike rather than give it up "until he's five." Last week I was so excited when he asked to leave the driveway and go around the block, only to cringe as he forgot how to brake and wiped out in the first 50 feet, bumping his head and putting a nice deep scratch all down the driver's side of our neighbors' car.

Since this incident, Daniel has once again refused to leave the driveway, but today I was overcome with the sense that if I didn't make him go back out there he would never want to. So I asked him, then begged him, and then forced him to sit on the bike and walked him, screaming bloody murder, out into the street. Even writing that now makes me feel kind of like a jerk. But as I avoided our neighbors' questioning looks and pushed the bike down the street, I noticed that Daniel had started pedaling. And then he stopped screaming and followed my instructions to practice braking. Then he started smiling and even laughed when I said, "See? You're doing it!" And though there's no excuse for dragging him to home base at t-ball I wonder if sometimes looking like a totally deranged, aggressive parent will be necessary to get Daniel past whatever is holding him back.

The challenge for me is trying to figure out the difference between a constructive push and a destructive airing of my own frustration. And I wonder if all kids and all parents go through this kind of thing on the way to learning how to play baseball or ride a bike. I don't ever want to encourage Daniel to abandon his sensitivity or sweetness, but I also don't want him to lack courage. And though I am enjoying Daniel leaving babyhood and becoming a full-blown kid, I sometimes think of all the challenges ahead of us as parents and feel like I'm the one who is totally out of my league.