Football spring training is full of two-a-day drilling in running, throwing, tackling, kicking, and working up a sweat with an unmistakable smell. It includes lots of yelling, grunting, some spitting, and generally taking and giving a beating. These activities are not usually included in a normal adult male’s day– unless he is a professional athlete or coach. There is a time and a place for displays of physical ability- on the field, court, track, etc. My strong-willed Firstborn seems to be innately skilled in these things. Sadly, he is too young to distinguish between ‘on the field’ and ‘off the field’. We’re not even close to inside vs. outside voices yet.
Today I had a sad realization; I am in a season of Spring Un-Training. While one day a coach may tell Firstborn to get out on the field and hit his mark at top-speed as hard as possible, I will spend YEARS trying to teach him NOT to do just that. This realization hit me as I picked up Firstborn from the nursery on Sunday. It was evident that his behavior had been less than stellar. I was just thankful; at least he hadn’t been kicked out like the week before. As I signed him in he had already run to the toy slide, launched himself down head/hands-first and was being seized by the workers. By the time I departed he had pushed a kid for grabbing at his toy. Scolding #2. When I picked Firstborn up, the young workers had given up on trying to make him sit in ‘time-out’. He was standing alone in a Pack ‘n Play, no sign of a sock, and shoe, or his adorable moose sweater. The young teenage girl handed me his sweater and through clenched teeth said, “Here. It’s covered in drool and snot.” (Just you wait, Sweetie.) The other said sympathetically, “We know this is his standard behavior, so we decided not to call you this time. We just separated him.” Yep. Despite my best and constant efforts, I’m THAT kid’s mom.
It’s hard to give myself grace when I am facing the church nursery ‘Walk of Shame’ towing a half-dressed screaming banshee I tell myself that thousands of moms, including my own, have been here. I try to remember that when the extended family is together, Firstborn fits in perfectly with his cousins. (I’m drowning in my husband’s impressive Viking gene pool.) Still, I constantly I fight the urge to scream a defense of all my discipline plans out to any on-looking mother; I’m constantly reminding myself that he hasn’t been alive very long and I haven’t been a mom very long. He has my energy level, his father’s physical prowess and our combined determination/stubbornness. We’re doomed. This will be a life-long work in progress. As a mother, it is my job to teach and train– to raise boys into MEN. I’m on a bit of a learning curve as I am female and do not think jumping off of tall heights, peeing off of jungle-gyms, or farting loudly count as ‘fun’. While allowing them to be boys, I must teach self-control, patience, teamwork, respect, and how to function in society.
I can envision junior high. (His building aptitude and love of all things kitchen-related will have to be fostered at home as Shop and Home Economics are no longer offered in most schools.) The running, throwing, and kicking that plagues me may finally be desired by coaches for various athletic programs. Some adorable girls in uniform might cheer him on, yelling, “Be Aggressive! B-E Aggressive!” Well, that’s not the tune they’re singing in the <2 class right now. When sports news announces a new rookie sensation’s multi-million dollar salary for skillfully doing what Firstborn gets in trouble for, I’m sure Firstborn will find his old report cards and think being “a pleasure to have in class” is a comforting substitute. (Eye roll.)
Part of the problem with Spring Un-Training is that we’re squelching natural talent! What people in North Carolina see as disruptive and aggressive behavior, we Texans consider disruptive and aggressive athletic prowess. When they see ‘charging and pushing’, we see great tackling form. ‘Unacceptable throwing’ is pitching. ‘Disappearing and hiding?’ We call it stealth mode. He spends HOURS each day running in a circle around the living room ottoman. (Future track star or running back?) He loves to play with kitchen utensils (chef?) and roll on the floor playing tickle-fights (wrestler?). He is extremely strong, energetic, and fearless. These aren’t inherently bad things…until he’s with other kids in a confined area. Unfortunately, then he is also the ‘aggressor’, the ‘bully’, the ‘pusher’- the kid no mother wants to have with theirs in the nursery. All of a sudden I feel the need to outline my extensive disciplining efforts to everyone present. Heaven forbid anyone think I am the mother who allows or encourages hitting, biting, spitting, cussing, disrespecting adults, skipping class, peeing in the pool, tax evasion, spitting off of tall buildings, and everything else wrong with society.
It is especially hard with others asking-as nicely as possible- if I’ve tried spankings, time-outs, or strongly telling Firstborn “No”. (Saying “no!”? I NEVER thought of that! Pin it on Pintrest!) The fact is, where some kids only need a stern look, some need duct tape, a whooping, and a drill sergeant. In the world of kid-comparisons, it is hard to be the mother of the child who isn’t the ‘best behaved’. Unless you’ve had a strong-willed child, you just can’t understand. This is not limited to boys, by the way. It does seem that boys receive more grace for wild behavior, which is a relief to me. Kids are kids- they all find mischief. They all make messes. They all disappoint and they all bring unspeakable joy. If we’re honest, parents will admit that raising a child allows us to take part in many childhood joys again. It’s a blast and extremely hard.
We’re raising little humans who are learning about their own bodies, emotions and realities, trying to reconcile things like love and selfishness. (Any adults have that one totally reconciled?) Rolled up in one little kid is the desire to play, to please parents, to eat, to figure out the world around them… and in Firstborn’s situation, to figure out who that little invader is who cries all the time and is always on Mommy’s lap.
Mothering means figuring out the best way to teach and discipline a child when the ‘best way’ changes constantly and no kid is the same. It’s a HARD and constant process. Thankfully, Firstborn is making great progress! Behind every game-winning score are hours and even YEARS of practice. Very few people cheer during the constant drilling and fumbles. I’ve decided to celebrate the little daily victories; I am my son’s best cheerleader after all! Today he handed over several pieces of contraband without a fight. There was minimal whining and not one tantrum! He is learning to throw gently and is much more careful around the baby. If only I had referees standing by to throw his hands up and say, “It’s GOOD!”
It really is good. Games are won inch by inch, yard by yard. Superb players require not only arm-cannons and agility but self-control and discipline. They keep their eye on the ball. I’m also learning that I have to keep my concentration on my all-stars and off of the hecklers in the bleachers. I am doing my best to teach Firstborn appropriate behavior and self-control, but I don’t want to crush his personality in the process. MVPs have more than great statistics; they have heart and give 110%. If that’s what I expect from my boys, that’s what I’ll have to give as their Biggest Fan. We’ve got our work cut out for us. See you on the field.
We’ve got spirit, yes we do. We’ve got spirit! How ‘bout you?