Being Laid Back Stresses Me Out
For those of you who noticed, and thank you for noticing, I didn’t publish a post last week. In a very exciting turn of events I’ve been asked to put together a book proposal (!!) for this blog. Yay! It’s extremely exciting and truly what I hoped would happen and, as you can imagine, I’m hell bent on knocking it out of the park. With that in mind, I’ve decided to change my posting schedule to every other Monday while I finalize the proposal and, with any luck, write the book. I feel this way I can ensure that both mediums get the attention they deserve. Thank you for your interest. Please tell your friends, and subscribe if you’ve been enjoying it. Publishers love numbers and the more people I have reading, the better my chance at succeeding in the transition from on-line to on paper. Thanks a million!! Now onto the blog….
Last Saturday was Loch’s first ever t-ball game. He’s been taking t-ball every Tuesday for a month and this weekend was his first real game. Perhaps I should preface this by saying that Loch, though able to really crack a ball at our house, has yet to show any real aptitude for a particular sport, or to be completely fair, sports in general. Some boys I know are all over athletics. My nephew for one is like the mini-Shawn White of ball sports. You give that kid a ball and he astounds you. His abilities come naturally and he clearly loves it.
Loch on the other hand, God bless him, seems only mildly interested in physical activity at best. Now it could be an age thing or that he just hasn’t found his strength yet, but ever since he was a little dude – and all the kids would be climbing and running and jumping – he was happy to just hang out and chat and role play and do voices and songs. He would do activities if encouraged, but for the most part he was happy at a less physical level. However, at the recent parent teacher conference at his new preschool we were told – much to our ire and aniexty – that Loch was “fleshy”. We were like, huh??? Fleshy? The teacher tried to clarify her thought by going on to say he was “soft”. “Soft like fat???” No, apparently, soft like lack of muscle tone. Lack of muscle tone?? He just turned 4. How ripped is he supposed to be? She went on to say that he wasn’t catching balls or climbing as they’d like to see. She finalized her point by saying it was possible that Loch would never be a “fully physical person”. What now?! How the H do you know that? He’s flippin’ 4! We don’t know what kind of person he’s going to turn into. Why label him with that kind of stigma now? How does that benefit him in any way?
We were pretty angry in the weeks following that meeting. Personally, I’m of the opinion that unless there’s a real and glaring problem with a child that the parents are A: unaware of or B: not properly managing, to make broad assessments/assumptions about what might be wrong with your child or who your child might be in the future, is an unnecessary and futile endeavor at this age and only serves to stress everyone out. There’s too much pressure these days for our kids to be brilliant, little geniuses in everything and too much strain on their caregivers to ensure they turn out that way. In the world of standardized testing it’s like we’ve forgotten that kids develop at their own pace and until there is something worth dealing with – a clear developmental delay or behavioral issue – it doesn’t help to constantly compare them to their peers or try to match them to their appropriate “benchmark”. Having a sense of where your child is can be important as far as helping them grow and learn, but inferring there’s a problem if they aren’t all meeting certain “requirements” at exactly the same time, seems to cause more harm than good. The same teacher told one of my friends her 3 year old “wasn’t at all academic” and another that her child “might have developmental delays” and the kid is clearly fine. The more parents I spoke with, the more I realized we’d all been told something negative. It was as if the teachers were lookingfor issues just to make sure they didn’t miss anything. These people see our children between 6-9 hours a week. 6-9 hours a week with 3 and 4 year olds and you think you can clearly assess their future potential? Parents are already alarmists. Why make it worse?
That being said, I’m having a hard time taking my own advice or getting that teacher’s words out of my head. Even after I cross referenced with his morning teacher – who’s had him for 2 full years, 12 hours a week – and she told me that she felt the assessment was unnecessary and premature and Loch was a wonderfully active and well adjusted child, I still felt anxious. In my heart I knew he was fine, and quite frankly, probably just physically drained after being at another school all morning, but I still felt strained. No one wants to hear their child is lacking in any department. Plus, I’m aware that my child seems a little apathetic when it comes to physical things. Can he hit a ball? In our yard, sure. Yes. Well even. But also for about 10 minutes and then he’s bored. Does he run? Totally. Not like those kids who never stop running, but when he does do it, he actually does it really well. Does he ride a bike? Yep. With skill and strength. But he’s really only interested if you walk beside him so he can chat with you the whole time. He’s never been a climber or a swinger, which was good for my nerves – I never found him on top of any furniture – but bad for my anxiety as I’d watch kids clambering over him as he lay like a wet noodle over a piece of equipment calling for help.
I realize it’s an “everyone in his own time”, “don’t worry”, “he’s going to be who he’s going to be” type of a thing, but I’m feeling the pressure, and trying to pretend I’m not only makes it worse.
So, his first t-ball game was this weekend. I’m not sure if he’s loving t-ball – the coach is harsh and shouldn’t be working with 3-5 year olds – but for the most part he’s excited, so we go. Frankly, we’d go even if he wasn’t excited as I’m trying to instill a non-quitter mentality, though I’m not completely sure I chose exactly the right place to teach this (see: Coach). Anyway, up until last week we were working on skills – throwing, hitting, catching – and now we’re starting to play games. Loch’s a pretty good thrower (when he’s paying attention) and a pretty good hitter (when he’s not phoning it in). His catching is abysmal but so is everyone else’s so it seems on par. There are some kids (like my nephew) who are already good. They come with their big brothers and their own bats and seem to handle the skills like little pros. Whether it’s a product of working at home with their families or just natural dexterity, I’m not sure, but it must feel pretty amazing to be the parent of a child who is clearly excelling. It’s how I’ve always felt with Loch’s verbal and conversational skills but sports abilities happen in a more public forum and are more easily comparable, so it feels different somehow. We show up for opening day and find the kids we practice with have been split into 2 teams. 11 kids – including all the “ringers” – are the Angels, and Loch and two minuscule 3-year olds boys are the Cardinals. It was ridiculous. 3 kids to what would soon grow to 12, and hopelessly mismatched in the skills department. As I stood there smiling at my son I started to fester.
Opening day started with all the teams from the league present. T-ball, Softball, Baseball. 3-16 year olds with our little guys looking cute and tiny compared to the big kids. We did a lot of nice things. Pledge of allegiance. National anthem. Speech about the importance of little league by an old major leaguer. It was lovely and totally Americana, but I was still preoccupied with the size of Loch’s team. By the time he ran up to run the bases in front of the cheering crowd and the announcer said, “Where’s the rest of your team?” I was crawling out of my skin. Good question announcer guy. Where were they? Why were the teams so drastically uneven in both size and ability? Even if the rest of his team showed up before the game started, what kind of parents just skip the opening ceremony? Are they even going to care or help? Loch, who’s already not sure he wants to do this, is going to either A: be unable to play, or B: lose miserably and think the game isn’t fun. I found myself looking at Sean to express my anxiety and then looking at Loch and saying, “Isn’t this great? You’re going to have the best time!” I’d bitch to my mother, and then turn and smile and cheer my baby so he had no idea I was upset. It was exhausting.
Right before we were scheduled to begin, 5 kids showed up. No uniforms. No gloves. One was sick. We waited for them to get changed and join Loch and the other Cardinals. Now keep in mind seeing that we’ve only worked on skills, most of these kids have no idea how to actually play the game. They hit the ball and the coach yells “Run!” and they run forwards after their ball. Why wouldn’t they? No one’s taught them any different. They get on first base and there’s another hit and they run randomly across the diamond. It’s chaos. I’m not going to lie, it’s kinda hard to watch. At the last practice I actually left the stands to join the assistant coaches (read: Dads) on the field because it was too distressing to watch these little people flailing around, not having a clue what’s going on. And before I come off like some freakish sport’s mom, I’d like to say that parents are encouraged to help, so I wasn’t out of my mind going out there. But there I am panting with my stupid lung disease, running the bases with the kids. Explaining where to go. Running after the ball that’s gone through 4 kid’s legs in a row and is now in the outfield. So, keeping that last “practice” in mind, and looking at Loch’s delapatated team, I was expecting this whole thing to be a disaster. Sean, in his infinite wisdom and optimism, told me to relax. He reminded me that it was just a t-ball game and the point was just to have fun. I smiled at him and then turned to my mom and said, “Relaxing gives me anxiety.”
The game started with Loch’s team up to bat. He hit it and, having practiced at home, ran right to first base. Yay! Sean was was at the T helping the second kid, and when he hit it, he ran to first and Loch went to second. The third kid came up – one of the 3 girls on Loch’s team – and got a great hit so Loch was now on third. There was a little confusion when the second batter ran to the pitcher’s mound instead of second base but it was quickly sorted out and we moved on. As the fourth hitter ran to first and my son rounded for home all my anxiety lifted. Everything in his little body exuded joy. I could kill myself that I’d given my camera to my mom. As he crossed home plate, he turned around, jumped in the air and pumped his fist as high as he could. Looking at him you would have thought he’d won the World Series. He was so thrilled. And in that moment I realized he didn’t care that he had limited skills, or a rag tag team, or even that he didn’t really understand the game. He was just having fun. Learning about teamwork and sports and being outside and working with others. He was happy, and wasn’t that why I signed him up in the first place? Whether he grows up to be sporty or not, isn’t the point for my child to have fun?
As a parent it’s easy to forget that stuff. Even after my epiphany at the ball game, I found myself frustrated later that afternoon when Loch went to a birthday party that included swimming. Knowing I couldn’t take him in the water myself – a trauma for his ex-lifeguard mama who now gets too tired – I took along his speedo swim jacket to ensure his safety. It’s not a life jacket per say but a floatation device that, should you be paddling and kicking, will keep you above the water. He was dying to swim, but as soon as he was in the pool he was clutching at the wall and crying for help. He’s taken lessons on and off since he was 1, and for the past 5 months he’s been in lessons every single week. I’ve seen him swim clear across a pool unassisted more times that I can count. But here he is on the edge of the pool – wearing a floaty – totally panicked and crying. Now, if I truly believed he was scared to his core – the way he is of dogs – I’d feel differently. But I could tell that this was more a matter of getting attention and a lack of focus. He’s got a bit of a focus problem. He’s so interested in the world that he tends to get distracted when he’s not totally engaged. His skiing instructor told us he was “a gifted and natural skier when he wanted to be” but when he was distracted he lost all apparent skill.
This is what I was witnessing in the pool. I talked to him at the edge, and when he finally accepted that his vest would keep him up, he started having fun. It was lovely to see him kicking and paddling around the pool. To watch him interacting with his pals in the water and really enjoying the day, but there was a part of me that had to keep reminding myself not to feel disappointed he was in the vest, not keeping up with his friends swimming on their own. I know he’ll eventually learn and that it’s important he’s happy and confident in the water first, but it’s so hard not to want to speed things along. Mentally I know pushing him won’t help, frankly it’ll probably just hinder, but the voice inside my head is screaming “I was swimming at 4. Why isn’t he? What am I doing wrong?!”
Being laid back and relaxed is not my natural state. My resting anxiety level floats somewhere between aware and amped. I can enjoy a beach vacation and I’m happy to chill and read a book but my way of interacting with the world rests more in a state of alertness. I’m quite quick to get peeved. I have little patience for mismanaged situations (the team dichotomies) or dense people (people who screw up their jobs due to lack of effort or brain power), and as someone who’s always worked hard to see results, being a parent is an interesting challenge in learning not to push my child to be where I’d like him to be, but accept – within reason – where he is without pressure.
I realize that people like me are often tough to be around. We get riled up and need to “fix” situations, or learn to accept them, and that can be difficult for us. I see the strain my anxiety puts on my husband and I truly make an effort to tamp it down. The thing is, as much as I’d like to let more things roll off my back – and parenthood has really required me to embrace this – I would never want to be a “relaxed” person. The world can’t be all chilled out, don’t worry, hakuna matata type people. Nothing would ever get done. I’m not saying I couldn’t use a lifetime supply of chill pills. I’m just saying I wouldn’t want to be on them all the time. Stress can be either an instigator to accomplishment or it can weigh you down. For the most part I’m the former.
There’s an old saying, if you want something done, give it to a busy person. I believe that. But what you have to keep in mind is highly functioning people also tend to be a little wired. It’s a trade off.
Is there a happy medium? Probably. Do I wish I had it? I guess. But, I’m used to being like this, and I only feel bad about it when I’m compared to more laid back people. Who would there be to say the things you’re too embarrassed to say, or handle the situation you wish was different but didn’t want to make waves, without my kind of person? Who would send back your uncooked fish or get your drink order corrected? Who would make sure all the kids got a turn, or get you a second opinion at the hospital where the doctor on call appears to be half asleep and making bad decisions? It’s people like me that do that. The stressed out, high strung, tightly wound people. We’re the people who say no to the terrible hotel room. Someone will take that room, and they’ll pay the same amount as the people not looking at the the air conditioning ducts, but that person won’t be me, and if you hang out with me, it won’t be you either. In the grand scheme of things does my son’s team really matter? No. But I’ve paid and signed up for the full experience and if it isn’t that, you can take your “no big deal/hang loose/who cares” mentality back to Hawaii or Coachella because I’m not buying.
If that game on Saturday had turned out differently and Loch’s team had gotten clobbered been unable to play, my strain would have impelled me to speak and I believe ultimately everyone would’ve been better for it. But as it was, everything turned out just fine and I could, in all honesty, relax and enjoy.
I just have to hope that’s good enough.
Because it’s the best that I can do.