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The man inside the boy

I don’t know what happened with my youngest son, but it’s good. I have been urging, reminding, cajoling, conniving, and ganging up on his to either do more physical activity of the ordinary kind such as biking to school, running, or swimming at the local pool, or join a school or club sport or team, to please, please choose something, and I’d support him. But he only dabbled, while his newly developed height with doubled number of muscle cells puddled in a chair as he played computer games for hours a day. I got into it with him the other day–he could see from my intensity how heartfelt my concern was, how serious a thing I felt it was to neglect one’s health that way, how he would be giving up the good feeling of strength, balance, and sense of accomplishment, even while his brain was tricked into thinking that the levels or perks of his gaming were some kind of real achievement. It was a hijack of his innate evolved dopamine reaction that didn’t pay the same dividend as REAL challenges, REAL risk, REAL conflict, trouble, and overcoming, I said. And no, I said, when he told me he needed me to “make him” exercise, I just couldn’t, with a full work schedule and disciplines of my own to fit in. I said he had to make himself, or sign up for something where he would be made to do the work. I acknowledged the reality of the temptation to yield one’s time and attention to those clamoring for it–the games, or movies, or social media for some. I told him it was too much–I had been willing to make athletics mandatory, but there was supposed to be an eventual owning of it, and it was past time.

He wasn’t planning to swim again this year–said he’d had too many ear infections. Last year, with lots of encouragement from his parents and his siblings, he chose to swim on the high school team, after years of unenthusiastically participating in summer league and improving each year, though never enough in his own mind to pay more than grudging acknowledgment to his gradual drop in race times. He felt nowhere near as good a swimmer as his brother and sister before him, though she assured him that his times were about the same as hers when she started. His brother had started much younger and so had immediately made varsity in his freshman year, going on to be count Swimmer of the Year and then almost make college nationals (in Canada). We assured him it didn’t matter, that it was about fitness and fellowship, and that we loved watching him swim, along with his grandparents. Also, he was becoming a bit of a specialist in backstroke, unlike his Freestyle/Fly siblings. So much for an easy choice –excellent coach, good group of boys, great fitness, and fun to watch for us. But it seemed to be over. His sisters had invited him to go for climbing and to the gym, but nothing was happening.

Then today, he burst out of his garage bedroom and said, one, that he was really glad his drum teacher had got him listening to jazz it was so amazing (he never listened to music before this, despite several years of piano lessons and now a few months of drumming), and two, that he wanted me to sign him up for swimming.

So I guess the exhortation with tears got to him where the gentle reminders and reasoning didn’t. He’s a heart guy, like his dad. He’s owning it, too–he doesn’t do things just to be compliant, but he does have a desire to do what’s right. He’s manning up, I think. I’m so proud of him Dare I hope that he’ll also heed my pleas to say no to first person shooter games, to protect his imagination, or to do real live work with his hands, like helping me build a new compost bin, or splitting some firewood, instead of virtual digital building and tearing down?

 

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Coach Mom

Coach Mom

It’s too hot and sweaty for my brain in this indoor pool, as I wait for my son to finish workout.

I’ve been working with this son, the eleven-year-old, on things I could loosely define as “attitude.” He’s a kid that currently resists almost every suggestion for involvement in extra activity, maybe because as a younger boy I didn’t have time and he got used to a pretty open schedule, and with homeschooling, so as long as lessons got done, there was a lot of flex. Suddenly I realized how little outside activity he’d had the opportunity to do–at most he was tagging along with a pile of books while I drove one of his siblings or did errands. For one thing, he’s a high energy guy and he wasn’t getting enough exercise. Last year he expressed interest in karate, so I got recommendations, and as it  happened forgot them all at home and went with a different studio, the one closest to the YMCA so pickup would work out for a sibling involved there. It was a good choice–a traditional dojo with very experienced couple as sensei. Deep understanding of the process of adjustment for today’s kids to a quiet, focused, rigorous practice. Standards of excellence, the opportunity to observe and work with older students, good communication with students and parents, a vision I shared and opportunity for me to learn more, periodic individual instruction for young students. My son was motivated, worked hard, looked forward to each session, and enjoyed working on his moves at home. But this couple then retired, and the transition to new dojo and instructors was too rocky, the new sensei not really ready to teach the young ones. My son was really not able to connect and did not enjoy sessions. So we moved on.

Off to the swim team prep squad it was, like it or not. With a moan and much dragging of the feet, but only until he got into the building. He participates fully and works hard once he’s in the water. So the fitness and technique is improving, and he’s made friends, but I get to hear all the complaints–how he’s extra tired because of sleeping poorly, feeling sort of sick, hates–absolutely hates–swim team. I’m experimenting with various ways of responding, the goal being to help him do his best and see the value of this, maybe even get pumped to learn and improve. He accuses me of wanting him to be a great swimmer just like his two siblings, which isn’t it–though I know he has equal athletic potential, for me it’s about the fitness and life lessons–how to work hard, be a team, respond well to coaching, push oneself, gain confidence, and so on. Also swimming is a survival skill–the stronger the better. Plus I know the team, and don’t have the time right now to figure out something new.

I’ve also required the boy to work on his land skills at the city-run track meets this summer, so he’ll have familiarity once he hits middle school. At these meets, I’m the coach, and I think we’re making progress. First, I used bribery. I told him if he enters five events with a good attitude, he gets a treat, and if in future he enters all possible events for his age, he gets a full meal deal, with dessert. That will serve for some motivation for now, to get him through the “I suck at everything!” hurdle. Can you believe it? Where did he pick that up? From being the slowest runner and least experienced sports kid in fifth grade, he claims. Yet Grampa, a track former coach, saw him run and said he has natural talent. That was a year ago, and something has happened between then and now so the boy just doesn’t use what he has–I see it in his body language. Tried to get him to warm up with me for his runs, and he’d take off as if he wanted to best me, then just sag, as if his brain was crying, “You can’t do this! If you do this, you’ll suck!” I told him I don’t care what place he comes in, just that he needs to do his best, etc., etc., and he’ll see improvement. Told him it’s rude to put people down, including himself; even if they actually do suck, it’s hard to get better by being told so. Told him his body needed encouragement, not criticism. The more he plays this psych-out game, the more resolved am I to help him overcome. I need wisdom. Anyway, he raced twice and did all the field events, and has already improved over his first meet, and  knew it. Heck, the kid more than tripled his discus throw on the third try with  help from the college volunteer! And he was a close fourth in his 50m hurdle heat instead of dead last. At this point he doesn’t seem interested in practicing during the week, but I’ll coax him, and he’ll see how it helps

We’d just got back from his Seattle eye appointment, involving two plus hours of driving and almost two and two hours of waiting. We were back in time for swim team, so I decided he’d do his workout, so he could get in his three this week. He gave the usual moan and rolled over to take a nap right there in the car. I went into the house and did some chores until it was time to go, packed his stuff and woke him up at the pool. He may as well come quiet.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the summer team season at the pool down the street, with workouts four mornings a week. I’ve decided he can do only that starting in a week and take the summer off the club. I’m risking the coach’s displeasure there, for sure. Coach expects a high level of commitment from everyone from beginner on up, no exceptions. I feel that double teaming would burn us both out, and exceptions have their place in pedagogy. As for me, I need to cut down on driving, and have more fun with my parental duties. Summer meets are like community parties. I love seeing all the families come out, the little kids making it across the pool for the first time, their parents’ faces as they lean in and cheer, so proud. The big high school swimmers tearing up the pool and impressing the heck out of everyone, the friendly but intense competition. This year I’ll have three kids on the team and one to sit with and cheer. Lots of new faces, a few familiar, a good chance to connect. Since I’m such a home body when I’m not driving by necessity, and my husband is away working so much, we need that.

 

 

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