September 18, 2014

What to do when your kid's not a star

When Eugene and Zion were asked by me, "Boys, do you want to run cross country again this year?" they both said, "Yes!!" So I signed their names on the line, taking up two of the coveted first-come, first-serve slots on the annual International Community Home School Cross Country Team.

But here's the thing: my two eldest sons aren't running stars. Which is a bit gritty for me to chew on, since I was a runner myself. I mean I loved to run. I was fast. I was strong. I didn't let people beat me if I could help it. That goes for all sports, actually, not just running. I was an athlete, my parents can tell you. You couldn't have kept me off the sports teams.

Gene and Zion? Not so much. They are lean and strong, mind you. They look like athletes. And they are a lot of fun! They enjoy exercise and games, especially soccer, but the thing is they aren't out there for blood. They aren't out there for glory. They're just...out there. 

And I have to be okay with that.

On an afternoon two weeks ago I was not okay with that. It was hot, humid, and testy. Even the mosquitos were ornery as they ground their little suckers into my sweaty skin. The boys didn't want to run. Gene walked half the time (being in the older age group, he has to go twice the distance of Zion) and I found myself glaring at him from where I sat on the fake grass. When he finally finished his distance workout, I let him have it.

"Why did you tell me you wanted to run this year if you're not going to run? I dragged you and your brothers and sister all the way across this city this afternoon for you to walk around the track? This is not like you!"

But what I really meant was, "This is not like me!" 

News flash, Kayla: our kids are not extensions of ourselves.

I wish I could say the next practice I got it right as a mom, but I did not. I came closer, but it wasn't close enough. I still forced him to run, not allowing him to walk one single stride, but this time I ran by his side the entire way, soaking through my blouse like some kind of moron. I said, "Gene, we are soldiers, at war against the pain!"

Yes, I actually said that. (By the way, my husband is out of town, can you tell? He never would have let any of this happen).

Gene finished his workout that day without walking, but he cried the last four laps straight. And as for me, well, I limped over to my purse under the hushed scrutiny of the other moms, who were standing in a tight clique by the water bottles, in their size 2 yoga pants with their sixth children sitting fat and athletic-looking in sleek running strollers. I am not your typical sports mom, can you tell? Me and my kindle usually find a shady spot away from the crowd, where I bury my increasingly introverted head into my Lilian Jackson Braun mysteries and try to avoid meeting any more freckled, friendly people named Melinda or Jamie or Blair. On the rare occasion that I mingle at the sidelines, I inevitably hear comments like I did the other day, in response to a five-year-old having run an impressive quarter mile split. A cute-haired mom exclaimed, "That kid is going to be a star. Would you look at his calves?! [at which point she emitted a long, low whistle while the other moms nodded their heads in agreement]. 

And that's when it hit me: I don't want anybody judging my kid by the structure of his calf muscles! A light bulb turned on and a little voice in my head asked the question, "So what if he walks?"

So what??!!

That, my friends, is when this ship turned around. "Gene," I said, pulling him aside. "You can't quit, 'cause we gave these kind folks our word that you and Zion would compete in the race on September 25th. But you don't have to run."

"I don't?"

"Nope. If you need to walk, walk."



And then I unwrapped a fun-size Snicker bar and shoved it in his mouth, swatted him on the rump, and sent him off to practice. You can probably guess what happened next, can't you? He ran. Like the wind. Okay, not like the wind, but dang it he ran, without stopping, seven times around the track to beat his previous time by a full two minutes and without so much as a tear.

Though I'll fail many, many more times as a mom, this time I got it right.