14 January 2012

Things Our Children Teach Us

After spending the day with my nearly 14 year old son (amazing how proximity to his birthday prompts me to admit he's not yet 14, though he seems far older), I went to bed amazed by his self awareness, depth of understanding, and perseverance. Again, hard to believe he's not yet 14.

Faced with enormous, high point projects, a basketball practice / game schedule that eats up all but one day a week, and the pressures of joining said team nearly half way into the season, it looked as though his nerves might get the best of him. It started first thing in the morning. A cloud of sheer overwhelming stress visibly hung over my son, pushing his shoulders and spirit down. Poor kid ended up coming down with a sore throat and headache, basically a cold to match his mood.

Despite mounds of work and pressing deadlines, we found ourselves presented with a rare opportunity to really connect. A opened up and shared avenues of thought surrounding spirituality and religion, concerns about school, and his fears about the basketball league he'd just joined. The team lost a few players to injuries, and Ahern found himself presented with an opportunity to try out for the team more than 2 months into the season. His first game with this group took place last night, and in the hours leading up to that, he shared the nearly paralyzing sense of fear he faced in taking this risk. What if the players don't accept him? What if the coach feels he made a mistake and selected the wrong player? What if he can't manage the practice / game schedule and his mounting homework load? What if he messes up and loses the game for his team? So much pressure building, constricting, until it surpasses any asthma attack he's experienced in the past.

I so enjoyed a chance to learn more about how he views the world, the incredibly deep and intelligent consideration he's given to organized religion, spirituality, and his own place in the universe. Still, as we continued to talk, my heart broke at the intensity of his struggle to find a place to fit in, to adjust and accommodate to all the demands placed on him, and the uncertainty that plagues his every move. I realized he needed the freedom to choose: to  quit, to commit, to make his life suit his dreams and desires rather than conform to anyone else's. In that moment, this freedom surrounded his decision to play with GC or not, and to feel good regardless of his decision. Sometimes we unwittingly add far too much pressure to our children's already full lives in our attempt to afford them opportunities and activities they've asked for. We forget, sometimes, to place the act of commitment in our kids' hands, and in our excitement, his dad and I'd done just that. Well, I forgot, I highly doubt his dad shares my support of our son's potential decision not to play, and I'd likely have to invite him to get over it.

As the afternoon wound down, he rested, finished homework, ate well, took a nap. When A enters the zone, there's no question where he's gone, or why. It's also best to just leave him there until he's ready to rejoin. A pleasant calm descended the house, we enjoyed a nice family dinner. Sister bear sensed the electric quality to the atmosphere, and the kids traded jokes and shared music and stories about their favorite artists. Over the next couple of hours, we managed to get ourselves ready with an absence of chaos and arguments, and left the house with minutes to spare.

I'm not a sporty person. I don't understand the rules of the games, unless we're talking swimming. Sure, I can follow plays and possess a basic sense of what's going on, but not much beyond that, nor have I felt the need to move beyond that basic understanding. Watching him play, I realized two things - has no idea the level of talent that he possesses, and I suddenly want to learn everything I can about basketball, game plays, and the difference between personal and technical fouls. Parents wondered allowed at the new player they'd yet meet, at the incredible plays he attempted, sometimes with success, other times nearly so.

I enjoyed a rare glimpse of my son as a whole person, and an even more rare invitation to witness the paralyzing fear he faces day in and day out. I sit here in awe of his tenacity, the courage he demonstrates by facing that fear head on and pushing through despite the imagined cost of failure. I hold a new found respect for the person my son continues to grow into, for his insight and willingness to take risks in order to grow. In the absence of outside intervention, or action on my desire to rush in and save him, he accepted his right to and responsibility of free will. Ultimately, he's decided to stick with basketball, and simultaneously put his full effort into school. I so admire his strength and perseverance, and feel emboldened to face my own demon's based and cultivated from fear.

It's amazing the things our children teach us, by example and otherwise.

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