Last night I lay with my crying 6 year-old for an exasperating and tiring 40 minutes, trying to alleviate his fears of his upcoming weekend soccer practice. The clock was ticking toward 10:00 p.m., and I really needed him to fall asleep.
Though in my last post (about Fred’s nervous first day of soccer) we had a happy ending, you all know as well as I that with kids it’s one step forward, two steps back. Yesterday was a particularly long day for Fred. He was tired. It was late. Every negative emotion he had was magnified several fold.
“Well, do you want to quit?” I tried to ask as sincerely as I could. It was not a threat and I was not being sarcastic; I really wanted to know what he was feeling.
But at the mention of quitting he stepped on the gas with his tears, and followed up by slamming his fists on his bed. I guess, no, he did not want to quit.
“Well, then you keep going.” He stopped the banging but continued wailing.
“Fred, those are your two options! You can quit, but if you don’t want to quit, then you keep going.”
“I want another option,” he cried.
I let out a semi-laugh in exasperation, wondering outloud what other possible options could there be? You either do or you don’t.
But he yelled again.
“I want ANOTHER option!”
Okay. This second time I decided to hear him differently, and I allowed his words to sink in. He wanted to tell me he was ready for neither of the choices – neither extreme – that I had presented him. He wanted me to help him find another way to play soccer.
Fred’s words struck me, and not for the first time. When he was 4 or 5 I had brought up my fuzzy version of the Heinz dilemma, Lawrence Kohlberg’s question of what the poor husband of a dying wife should do if he can’t afford the medicine needed to save her. There is more to this dilemma, but those were the details I remembered at the time and so I had asked Fred, “Should the man steal the medicine for his wife or not?” I expected a yes or no answer, but instead Fred floored me with this response: “He should talk to the man at the drugstore. He should tell him about his wife and he will understand, but he should talk to him first because if he steals it and goes to jail, then he can’t take care of his wife.”
In instances like this Fred reminds me that there are indeed options, that you don’t need to accept only what is in front of you. There are varying paths to the achievement of your goals. There are steps, points, grey in between. I don’t think this is something I had believed growing up, and as a habit this hasn’t been the way that I think or process life. I am not the type to question doctors, for example, to consider the possibility of something better that hasn’t already been presented to me. If rejected repeatedly (e.g., by a publisher, employer, coach, etc.), I would not be one to think there might be another way or another chance. I had, until recently, believed there is one path to achievement and that it needs to be a rather short and quick one. You either have the talent or potential or ability or you don’t. This attitude explains why I used to give up so easily on things.
Last night after Fred told me he wanted more options, I reluctantly asked him if he had any in mind, nervous that I might need to actually follow through. He told me, “I want to play just in the last minute of the game, or the last two minutes, or the last three minutes…or, I want to play just at the parts that I like.” I understood. He was telling me he wanted to take baby steps, and that, I guess, is a reasonable enough option for me.