Thursday, January 29, 2015

Get Your Balls Out of My Face

I've been silently searching quite a while (since last Fall, actually) for the right words to capture this weird, awkward, and unnerving feeling that sometimes surfaces for me when dealing with boy-children.

And we all know that's my only option here...boy children.

With two so close in age, it's easy to fall into "comparison" mode.  Hubs was famous for anxious statements around #2 not making milestones at the same rate #1 did.  My sister-in-law, a kindergarten teacher, even provided us with a developmental milestones chart so that he could see his children were, in fact...all normal.

Clayton caught up to Esten with his abilities, mainly because he was determined. When Esten learned how to ride a bike, Clayton wanted to be right there doing it too.  He was driven and mimicked everything he saw.  He developed his own interests and they're each good at their respective hobbies.

Clayton grew to love and have a desire to play sports.  Esten grew to love and have an uncanny talent for more cerebral things, like building working Lego vending machines and systematically leveling his way through a video game.

With a husband who grew up participating in sports, it was second nature to assume that his offspring would just naturally want to play, too.  But just as I hate the expectations for choices and behavior put upon our young girls, I began getting very uncomfortable at the prospect of forcing either kid into anything.  I considered the possibility that the difference in the two was solely because Esten didn't like not being the boss.  If he couldn't tell people what the rules were and make them listen, then he didn't want to play.  I call this *FirstKidSyndrome.  Clayton, by contrast, was used to doing whatever Esten told him.  This makes him an EXCELLENT team player and he is never bothered by someone else taking charge.  ToddlerBandit has *ThirdKidSyndrome.  This is characterized by a general but marked and sometimes alarming lack of fu*ks for your opinion regarding how said child should behave, dress, or eat, and is further enabled by one or more parent's worn nerves. See also: FirstKid, SecondKid for reasons why.

(*Disclaimer: FirstKidSyndrome and ThirdKidSyndrome are not actual diagnoses, and I am not an actual doctor. This is not meant to be medical advice, and as your child(ren) did not come out of my actual vagina, your results may vary).

We signed up for soccer once.  What.A.Shitshow.  Both claimed immediately after practice that they could no longer walk and expected me to carry them and their gear to the car.  It rained Clayton wandered off TWICE in the just-after-sunset darkness because all the parents "look the same" and he thought he was following me.  Hubs could never take them to practice or games because of his work schedule.

I had to regroup.

Then, Clayton hit me with a request that literally stopped me in my tracks.

"Can you sign me up for tackle football?"

Ummmm....what do you say to that? We were just coming off last season where his cousin had a nasty concussion scare. But once I got ground rules laid out and Hubs' agreeing to work with me on shuttling to practice, I went to work researching the league rules and downloading the sign up forms.

As I scrolled through the league's website, I remembered having worked with the organizer in another lifetime. I remembered him telling me about how when they'd moved here, how disappointed they were that there was no football for younger kids to learn fundamentals. That it was his dream to one day start a program. It was always clear when you talked to him about it that his passion would make it a reality one day, despite this town's notorious reputation for local-yocal infighting and the innate ability to shut down outsiders' start ups.

It seemed like they had their act together. One of his friends' dads was going to be a coach. His friends were playing. I was being a lame mommy holdout and was running out of excuses.

I wrote a check.

We endured many a disappointed face when I insisted that "I heard Coach say socks on game day had to be black, white, or maroon. Anything else and you don't play. You will have only those colors", and then show up and see other kids in socks every color under the sun.

"I'm not their mom. I'm sorry that I make you follow the rules even when other people don't do what's asked of them."

I had to be the bad guy....a lot. This is normal for me.

Clayton showed up.  I mean....he SHOWED UP.  He put blood, sweat, tears, and 100% into whatever it was that was asked of him.

And pee.

The kid has like...a mini bladder.  Just after halftime at a game, as other players were taking the field, he was up on the railroad tracks taking a big-ol'-wiz because...well...he's 8 and it was his Auntie's town and he probably figured none of the 368 people that live there would mind.

I tried to tell him all season his helmet was blinding him.
He told me all season, "I'm FINE, Mom."

He never complained, unless you count the time I was late getting him to practice.  Then yes, he still complains about that to this day.

ToddlerBandit, giving zero fu*ks that this is not his ball,
nor that he looks like a hot mess.

He had existing friends on that team and made a lot of new friends along the way.  They won every single game and went on to win the championship.  Their coaches taught them well and they won with sportsmanship and pride.  He celebrated his teammates' individual successes.  He celebrated successes of players from other teams.  He tends to have a positive and supportive outlook in general, but I began to worry how he would react to a loss.

This banner was no match for the brute strength of
~The Wildcats~

Clayton was as close to flying as a tiny human could be when they won.

And then....there's Esten.

When the idea of football came up, as soon as Clayton asked to be signed up, Esten almost couldn't get out fast enough, "Please don't make me sign up too."

He preferred to bring his Kindle to the game rather than actually watch his brother and the rest of the team marching up and down the field.  He literally had zero interest.  Hubs was annoyed.

"You need to play a sport.  It would be good for you.  Pick a sport or I'll pick one for you."

Esten never hesitated.  He puffed out his chest and replied with enthusiastic sarcasm, "Fine. Gymnastics."

"That's not a sport...don't be a smart know what I mean."

Esten then proceeded to make his argument about gymnastics, knowing full well Jason wouldn't sign him up and he'd be off the hook.  After much back and forth, we revisited an old idea: Hockey.  Esten readily agreed.  Unfortunately, Clayton decided HE wanted to do it too.

Of course, as per usual, I missed the sign up deadline.  But with some quick finagling, I was able to get them signed up, jerseys ordered, and petitioned to have them on the same team.  This meant Clayton had to move up from the age bracket intended for him, but I knew this arrangement was the only one that would work for us and our schedules.

It was also....a lot of money.  Like...the kind of a lot of money that you mumble about under your breath but that you try NOT to mumble about under your breath because you really REALLY don't want to make your kid feel guilty and after all, we were supportive of spending money for your brother to do HIS sport so while it's unfortunate that your sport costs like FIVE TIMES MORE THAN THAT of COURSE we will sign you up because when you have a kid who is not-so-athletic who all of a sudden says "I want to do something athletic" it's difficult to poo-poo their dream.

Hockey is like....a million times weirder than football.  There's the whole getting dressed thing.  We had to watch a YouTube video to learn how to gear up our children.  I won't get into much detail about our first experience buying cups for sports other than to say there was a LOT of quality control going on at our house that first night.  It was a REAL novelty there for about 6 hours....lots and lots of quality control.  And then, when I finally had enough?  Clayton put his in the most obvious storage place for it: the kitchen counter.

Some days there's just not enough bleach.

There are so many secrets about tape and neckguards and not putting your elbow pads on upside down that to an outsider it's super intimidating.  Once you're IN's easy.

I'm not all-the-way IN.  I don't have a bedazzled "Hockey Mom" sweatshirt.  I don't have ANY decals on my car proclaiming the league status of its in that area I may be considered a failure.  In fact, if I did opt for a uniform, it would be a series of hoodies that say things like:
  • GET THE PUCK OUT OF HERE (Because my kids primarily play defense)
Luckily, I'm allergic to clothing with words.  But I DO schlep my shorties to practice with their gear, and I DO show up for games in my fur coat like a crazy person, all the while trying to wrestle ToddlerBandit to sit still so I can watch.  This task is nearly impossible.

See that hoop? Yeah. ToddlerBandit is a baller, too.

I'm still unclear about the rules.  Aunt Nanny came to a game and started asking questions that I didn't have any answers for.  She left dizzy and deciding that she would prefer Jason as a bleacher mate next time.

I've watched both of my kids go from knowing nothing at all about this sport to exhaustingly correcting me when I praise them for doing a good job being wingmen.

"WING!!! MOM! It's just....WING!" they yell in unison.

Clayton on the right, per the tape on his helmet, which the
coaches have asked that we never remove, lest they never be
able to otherwise tell the Lee boys apart.

They've made new friends, and I was relieved that some of the playground judgement that Esten endures fades away when he's at the rink.  These are a new group of kids that can't pick him or not pick him in a popularity contest to be on their recess football team.

Until one of them invited the boys to his birthday party.

A teammate and his older brother celebrated their birthday together, and each invited friends.  There were 25-30 boys there and it was loud and chaotic in the rented gym where they gathered for pizza and cupcakes.

And dodgeball.

Three games in, someone decided to pair off the birthday boys and have them pick teams to play against each other.  I could feel my face getting hotter and hotter as one by one boys left the wall as their names were called and Esten got picked.....last.

Nobody really gets "picked last".  If you're last nobody even really picks you.  You're the only choice left.  He didn't even get picked by the friend that invited him, the brother ended up with him on his team.

I was a hundred times more bothered about this than him.  His face never showed disappointment, he was just as eager as the other boys to go out and play.  I was still prepared to deal with the fallout on the way home, if there was any.  Maybe his friend was trying to get all the brother's "older" friends so that his team would win (even though he still picked Clayton, who's younger than both of them)....maybe his brother wanted to pick you earlier but he doesn't know your name....

But he was preoccupied with other things in the car.  Talk of what apps and games he wanted to buy with a prepaid Visa he will get in April....some cool new function in Minecraft....something awesome that Alex said was evident that this schoolyard team pick thing was not even on his mind.

It doesn't keep my heart from breaking for him.  Not that I want him to be better at sports so he'll be a more desirable teammate, either.  I hate that we are so quick to place value only on those talents we deem worthy.  The football player and the cheerleader are our "All-American" vision.  We aren't giving those with more cerebral or artistic talents and endeavors our same excited support and enthusiasm.  We expect that our boys have to do something with balls in order to make men out of them.  It's sometimes easy to forget how incredibly brave Esten has been at wakeboarding when we're stuck in the dead of winter, and it's hard for him to convince his friends (even the ones who are the best ever at football but who couldn't do what he can do on the water) that he might have some moves of his own.

Getting ready to rip this wake a new one...with a smile.

And so I will go forth and celebrate the excitement with which my children have both embraced this no-balls sport and its teaching model and our local coaches who consistently remind me just how hard these boys are working, and how impressed they are that they know if they asked them to skate on their hands they'd figure out a way to do it.  I will go forth and make sure that if my kid is picked last for's not because he's a little ay-hole.  That's MY job as a parent.

Nobody has breathed one word about quitting because it's hard.  They ask to go to the rink every chance they get.  The boys (and girls) on their team and the teams around them are like a funny little family.  They are supportive of one another's growth and responsibility to the program, and outside the tonight when one of their punishment for acting up at school (and at the request of his mother) will have to skate laps while the rest of the team is practicing.

We will move on and maintain a positive outlook, not lingering too long on the losses nor the victories, and, fingers crossed, we will come out at the end of the season a cohesive family unit, a collection of individuals who have each grown in our own way through this process.  It's my hope that it gives us the wisdom and insight to pass along to new hockey families next season, and that we can take our lessons forward into the warm sun-filled summer days.

Or it might go differently, after this weekend's parents vs. kids game where, in an effort to remind his boys who has the biggest balls in this house, Hubs will likely incur a traumatic head injury and I'll spend my warm sun-filled summer days spoon feeding him applesauce.

I'm surrounded by boys.  Please send help.