Monday, March 18, 2013

How to Become Beach Glass

For what seems like the 200th weekend in a row, our major activity was watching the children play sports. Of course I also managed to log some hours at my part-time job as a maid, laundress, waitress, and unpaid slave laborer, but those activities hardly seem worth of mention. It would be like me telling you that I breathed a lot over the weekend.

The Boy had an early baseball game on Saturday morning and the biggest excitement off the field was when a foul ball sailed over the fence and hit a spectator right in the stomach. Luckily, he was fine. He happened to be texting at the time of the impact, and darned if he didn't just keep on texting. Here's a picture:

Obviously, I'm totally kidding because that guy is clearly not at a little league game. But you can check out some funny pictures of people who are texting at inopportune moments here. You'll probably want to look after you read my post because it's not all that funny and you might want to look at some Civil War reenactors texting General Lee.

The on field excitement happened when the Boy's team (White Sox) won the game in the last inning with two outs. Pardon me while I bore you with the details because they're kind of relevant to the post. When the last inning began, the White Sox were down two runs, but the top of the batting order was up. The lead off batter popped out. The second batter, Sam singled. The Boy was up third and he hit a grounder between first and second base. The first baseman got to base before the Boy and he was called out, but Sam advanced to second. Logan, the fourth batter, hit a double to drive in Sam, whose run tied the game. Brian was the final batter and he hit a single, but Logan managed to score and the White Sox won.

Yay, right? Well, not so much for the Boy who was beside himself for getting tagged out at first. The fact that his hit had advanced the tying run escaped his comprehension because he was so upset about getting out.

At first he was crying out of anger and frustration with himself for being less than perfect. Then, once everyone kept telling him that he had helped the team win, he still cried, but then it was out of embarrassment for crying in the first place. Crying is like rolling downhill; once you start going at a good clip it's hard to stop. Well-meaning parents of some of the other players approached the Boy and told him all the right things: everyone gets out; major leaguers hit the ball one-in-three times at bat; you can't hit a grand slam every time, nobody does. He listened and nodded, with his face turned and pressed into my shirt, so they wouldn't see his tears. The K, who is the team's coach, was frustrated with the Boy. You're being rude! These people are trying to help you! You won the game! Also:

Luckily, we had taken two cars because they both needed their space. I knew that if the Boy got in the car with the K, the K couldn't help but to rehash the entire event until he made the Boy understand that his behavior was unacceptable. While the K was cleaning out the dugout and slamming buckets of baseballs on the ground, I slung the Boy's gear bag over my shoulder and steered him towards the minivan.

Me: You know what's the worst?
Boy: That umpire was totally horrible. It was so unfair. I shouldn't have been out.
Me: No, you were out. The umpire may have been wrong about some calls, but he wasn't wrong on that one.
Boy: He made terrible calls. Also, the first baseman never tagged me. I shouldn't have been out.
Me: He tagged you. You were out. But, hey let's not talk about the game. It's over. You'll have another game next weekend. I was going to say that the worst is when you're upset and someone tries to make you feel better when all you want is for everyone to leave you alone.
Boy: Yeah. I don't want to talk about it.
Me: Yeah, I know.

I know and I understand because his behavior so familiar to me. I was that sensitive kid with perfectionist tendencies and a competitive streak. I know that when you're upset, the best thing that people can do is to leave you alone while you get control of your emotions. If you're not this way, you can't understand that the Boy doesn't want to cry. I didn't want to cry. I wanted to not cry more than anything because it just compounds your shame: you feel ashamed about what ever caused you to be upset in the first place and then you're ashamed for crying about it. All those people who are nicely trying to help are just reminding you that your behavior is abnormal and to a kid, abnormal = shameful and shameful = more crying.

I feel for the K because he and the Boy are so temperamentally different. From everything I've heard, the K was a sunny baby and a happy kid who wouldn't blink when he was reprimanded or reproached for bad behavior. He won and lost at sports without being too concerned and he took tests without being thinking that he was on the brink of flunking out of third grade spelling. He might have been on the brink, but so what?

When we got home, the K said told me, "he can't act like that. I need to make him understand that he can't act like that." How can I explain to the K that he might as well be telling the Boy that he can't have blue eyes or freckles? He is wired the way he's wired and no amount of lecturing will change that. Here's what works: failing over and over and over again so that you learn how to fail without falling apart. Sensitive people are like a piece of glass tumbling in the ocean. The waves toss the glass over and over until all the sharp edges are worn smooth and it becomes beach glass. That's what happens to sensitive kids as they experience life; their edges are worn smooth.

This reminds me of something I read in one of Bruce Feiler's articles. He just wrote a book called, "The Secrets of Happy Families: How to Improve Your Morning, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smart, Go Out and Play, and Much More" and you may have seen excerpts from the book because they've been everywhere from Parade Magazine, to the Wall Street Journal, to the New York Times. In the Times article, he says that the happiest children are ones with a strong "intergenerational self." These children realize that they are part of a family, which is something bigger than just themselves. So, telling children about their family history is important to their understanding. According to the article, there are three types of family narratives: the ascending narrative (our family keeps doing better each generation), the descending family narrative (we had it all and we lost it), and the oscillating family narrative (we've had our ups and downs, but we keep on going). Not surprisingly, the oscillating family narrative is the healthiest because it imparts the idea of resilience and determination.

This is the kind of narrative that the Boy has to teach himself. He has to get enough experiences, successes and failures, to realize that life moves in waves. He needs to see that you can be on the top of the crest, and then you'll be under the surface and just when you think you might drown, you'll get pushed to the top again. But, when you're seven you don't have that long view. This at bat to win this baseball game on March 16, 2013 seems like it must be the most important thing in the world. I wish that there were some way to speed up the process for him or make it less painful, but there's not. It's just something that he has to learn for himself and the only thing I can do is watch him fail and learn and fail and learn. And be glad that he cries a little bit less each time.  


1 comment:

  1. Good simile. I love beach glass. Glad to hear that the oscillating family is the healthiest. Of course all three fall in the dysfunctional category. Hope the boy hits a home run this week.