I don’t know if I’m ready for this. So far, our five year old has been in one activity: soccer. It was just a six-week program, once a week for an hour, and we did it for three separate sessions: twice outdoors and once indoors. When he wanted my mom to take him, which was almost always because he likes her more than he likes me they are very close, she took him. I got to stay home with the baby and make supper or do laundry and wait for him to come home. When he graciously allowed me to accompany him to soccer, I felt honored. And then I felt the old anxiety creeping back in.
I worry about everything. (My husband and mother would tell you that I make things harder and more complicated, but I like to think that I just worry.) Because I’ve always felt the need to make other people happy and to make other people comfortable – the last thing I like to do is inconvenience someone or make them have to wait for me – I worry about how my children are behaving in public and interacting with those around them. I also have very high standards and know that I’m teaching my children manners and patience and how to follow directions, (being a teacher means that I really do take that whole idea of these-children-have-to-be-out-in-society-so-let’s-make-them-as-respectful-and-obedient-as-possible to heart) and I worry when they don’t live up to my expectations.
I don’t rule with an iron fist (although my they’re-our-grandchildren-so-we-spoil-them-rotten parents would disagree), but I get anxious when I see our five year old not listening to the coach. Or not watching what the other kids are doing and following suit. Didn’t you think that you should stop playing with your soccer ball when all of the other kids did? I worry about the perception that others have of him as a child, of me as a parent, and of us as a family. I don’t want to seem like a sham of a mother or a passive parent who bows to every whim of her hooligans.
I enjoy getting compliments from the pediatrician, waitresses, family friends, and others about our children: their behavior, manners, patience, etc. It’s not about being able to brag or about telling them how wonderful they are at every turn; it’s about raising boys who contribute to society rather than make society want to lock them away until they’re 25.
So, I remind our older son that it’s polite to listen with both ears and pay attention. I play-act with him so he knows how to handle certain situations and people. I question him about what to do if he sees other kids doing certain things. And, then I worry that I’m not letting him figure things out for himself. And I worry that if he encounters something that isn’t exactly as we practiced, he won’t know what to do: kind of like stage fright in real life. So, I’m happy to say that I’ve backed off and relaxed… a little.
But, I know all of our hard work is working because he attended a graduation party with my parents a few weekends ago and encountered his first bully. The kid was three years older and one head taller and he wanted to shoot my son with a water gun but not allow him to return fire. My mom, a veteran elementary teacher, stood back and let the situation play out. She may not always honor my wishes of not allowing him to have soda or not buying him a toy every time the opportunity arises, but she knows how to handle kids and their confrontations. When the kid shot my son for a second time and screamed in his face because he returned fire, my son told him that he shouldn’t shoot him if he didn’t want to get wet in return. Way to go, kiddo! When the kid told my son that he’d “get it” if he shot him again, my son made a fist and punched his own hand. Not the best warning, but he got his point across that he was going to stand his ground. When the kid shoved my son as hard as he could, my son punched him on the shoulder. I don’t advocate fighting or violence. But, I’m proud that he stood up for himself. This boy who only has had his voice for a little more than a year stood up to a bully. We’re already working on the no-hands part. But, for being five years old dealing with an eight-year-old bully in the best way he knew how, I think he did okay for himself.
And yet, I worry about attending organized sporting events. It’s really ridiculous, what goes on in my mind. I don’t expect him to be the most athletic or the “best one out there.” But, I do want him to give it his all and enjoy himself and handle himself appropriately. I always tell him to do his best and have fun and to remember that I love him. That’s it for my pre-practice speech. In my head, it goes on for ten minutes: Listen to everything your coach tells you. Watch what the other kids are doing. Make sure your listening ears are on. Run as fast as you can. It’s okay if the other kids pass the ball to each other and you have to wait for awhile. If that kid puts his hands on you again, tell him not to do it. Relax and wait for them to pass the ball to you. Don’t whine. Be aggressive… And I sit at practice on the edge of my chair, knuckles white from gripping the armrest because I want him to be himself and have fun and do it right. And I envy the other parents who sit there, relaxed and smiling, just enjoying watching their kids be kids.
And now, we’ve signed up for a beginners tumbling class. At a dance studio. With other moms who I’m sure know the routine and the instructor and where to park and where to sit and how to dress their kids… and all of the other things that I’ve been worrying about since we signed him up to attend. At least I know he won’t be the only boy there. But, this brings back horrible memories of when I was five years old and my mom signed me up for dance class with this same instructor (no joke) and I didn’t even get out of the minivan. I didn’t want to dance and I didn’t know how to do it, and somewhere in that five-year-old brain of mine I knew that I wouldn’t fit in or be graceful in this body of mine.
And I want to stop. I don’t want my son to be like me. I don’t want him to worry at every turn and try to anticipate every possible situation that could be a challenge or a problem. I don’t want to turn him into an anxiety-filled worrywart because I’ve made him that way. I want him to say, “I’m starting tumbling tonight!” and see only possibility and fun and new friends ahead of him. I’ll handle all of the other stuff.
He can just have fun, being a kid. And that makes me jealous and happy at the same time. What the Hell?
Update: We both survived the first night of tumbling class. I loved it as much as he did because the instructor is a genius. The parents hang out downstairs in a very lovely waiting area while the kids play and learn upstairs. And, there’s WiFi! It’s an anxious mother’s dream. I really should take her some wine and chocolate as a thank-you gift. Wait. She probably doesn’t do wine and chocolate since she’s a dance and tumbling instructor…
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