The other night we ran into a dilemma. Ethan came home from camp exhausted, saying he didn’t feel well – probably from a day of too much sun and huge amounts of activity. And he didn’t want to go to his softball game.
Now, in my mind – when you join a team, you are making a commitment. Your teammates depend on you to show up, play hard, cheer each other on, and to win or lose as a collective group. I’m sure my many years of competing in soccer formed this as a strong belief for me. And while I believed that he was tired, I didn’t believe that he was not well enough to go. So in my mind, he didn’t have a choice in whether or not to go to the game.
But here I was, being faced with two things I don’t handle well: a whiney child, and the idea of letting down people who are counting on us (him). And knowing Ethan’s tendency for being dramatic, I’ll admit that I was not the nurturing, empathetic mom figure. While I acknowledged that he didn’t feel great, and that I understood why that may be… I felt that he’d have to put on a brave face and go to the game regardless.
(Fortunately for Ethan, Dean stepped in to be a little more empathetic in the face of my tough love approach)
And so here I found myself: annoyed as we rushed to get out the door, all the while to the sounds of him crying that he didn’t feel well. And the truth was that I was exhausted… and my personal preference would be to stay home. And I thought to myself: “He’s ten years old. He is old enough to understand that if he doesn’t go to the game, he will be letting his team down… and I can let that be his choice.” So I stopped in my tracks, took his face in my hands, and gave him the choice: stay home and lie down to rest, or go to the game.
And so with a hug, I found myself tucking him in with a book (while wondering how to get in touch with the coaches at this last minute). We quietly went about our evening when only a few short minutes later he called out: “Is it too late to change my mind?”
So back into gear we went – arriving at the game field 5 minutes late, happily to find that the game had not yet started. And then we discovered that in this playoff game against the number one team, we had just enough players to take the field.
Ethan was the clincher. If he hadn’t shown up, his team would have had to forfeit. (And I would have felt awful – as would he). But in the turn of events, they played a fabulous game, and Ethan had one of the best games all year. And they won. They beat the unbeaten, number one team for the first time all year.
In the post-game celebration, I told the coach how close a call we had with Ethan showing up. She took him aside, and pointed out to him that because he chose to go, his team was able to play, and able to celebrate this big win. And she thanked him for showing up and playing for his team.
And as we pointed this out to him – how his team depended on him, and how every member of a team is needed, we asked him what made him change his mind to go.
His answer was the best part. When he lay down in his bed, he didn’t pick up his book to read. He thought about his decision. He thought about his team. And he listened to his innate – that wisdom inside of him – and he realized that going to the game was the decision that felt right.
And in the way that it all played out, I have no doubt that this choice will long be remembered. It’s one thing for Dean and me to tell him that being on a team is a commitment and that every team member needs to be dependable – but it’s quite another, more powerful lesson for him to come to his own choice, and see and feel the consequences for himself. It makes it all so much more real.
We were very proud of him for taking the time to reflect, get in touch with what felt right, and for coming to his own decision. For us it is yet another experience of letting go, giving more responsibility to our kids for their own choices and actions, and simply trusting in them.
I think we all won on this one.