Seeing what’s not in front of you

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.

8 thoughts on “Seeing what’s not in front of you

  1. Fred said that when he was 5??? WOW! I’m thoroughly impressed. They are a constant surprise aren’t they? Their innocence and honesty open all kinds of doors for that we, in our blinkers, have long thought shut to us. Just one of the gazillion things our kids teach us. I am in awe.

  2. It’s amazing to me how our kiddos see things in so many colors, not the black and white we have become so accustomed to. When do they lose that? And how can we protect it??

  3. I don’t know what to say first about this post. Let me begin with my strongest thought: you are an incredible writer.

    I could read about your daily life, well….daily!

    I never skim through your entries, I drink in every word, and your posts end too quickly for me.

    You must think about writing elsewhere, too, Ceci:::: you are JUST that engaging.

    As far as sweet “old man” Fred, who is wise beyond his years, I say, “I’m with you.” I want other options, too.

    But, I know, and I tell my boys, you DO get better with things the longer you do them, and the more times you do them. The ONLY way to get good at something is to do that something A LOT, so that your brain just takes over and you don’t even need to think about how anymore.

    Do you know how all those kids on your team and the other team got so good? Hours and hours and hours of playing soccer. Until now, where their brains take over because their bodies are so used to doing it.

    You can be that good, Fred. Just wait and see. If you practice all the time you can, then next year at this time you will be one of the finer players, too.

    It happens to everyone: you can’t help but get good.

    Go and look at some of your first pictures coloring. See how you couldn’t even stay in the lines or color a perfect circle, when you first began holding a pencil or crayon? And now you can do it so easily, because of hours and hours of holding a pencil and crayon.

    That’s how it’s going to be with your body and your soccer ball. Just like your hand and that pencil and crayon.

    You’ll see.

  4. I say it so often I sound like a broken record but we learn so much from our children don’t we? I am very often too black and white about things, but it takes strength and imagination to stand back, look again and think if there might be another way. Your son is right, good for him not saying he wanted to quit, good for him asking for a solution.

    I know in the last post about this you mentioned he was very happy to begin with but then lost confidence when things got more serious and technical because he did not know the terminology having missed the previous year. Is there an alternative class he can do that teaches that more slowly, or could you get him some private one on one sessions to get him up to speed? Just a thought. Knowing the child who wants to understand how to do something from start to finish before ever trying it 🙂

  5. I wonder what the world would look like if we all fought so hard for the solutions that fit us? It’s so easy to see walls where we expect them, but kids haven’t learned them. Yet. Showing him how to negotiate for what he needs is a huge life skill; be it more coaching, time off in the middle of practice, a way to signal you or the coaches that he doesn’t understand.

    Good job! I don’t listen well enough too often.

  6. Wow, Cecilia, I’m so glad you forwarded me this link.

    I am floored by how similar our situations with our sons and soccer were. When I first offered my son the chance to quit, he had that same fist pounding, crying reaction. I could tell that he didn’t know what to do: he didn’t really want to go back, but he didn’t really want not to. I love the way you’ve framed this issue: we try to help our kids make slow and steady progress so much of the time, why doesn’t that make sense in this situation too? I think Fred’s onto something: start by playing for a minute, then two, then maybe three or zero if that’s what feels right. If only our society nurtured this patient approach that really would serve so many kids well in the long run.

    Thanks again for sharing your story!

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