Kelly, a parent in Amelia’s class, ran up to me after school saying, “Amelia’s boots are much too big. On Walk Days she can barely run and trips over her feet when she walks.”
Momentarily mortified, I responded, “Oh my Gosh. Thank you so much.” How could I have made such a horrible blunder, causing my daughter to suffer?
I picked up the boots and examined them. They were size 9. Hmmm. That’s my daughter’s exact size. I called Amelia over and put them on her feet. They fit perfectly. The problem wasn’t the boots. It was her feet. My sweet girl is uncoordinated.
She comes by it honestly. I remember in 5th grade playing baseball, up at bat, and hearing Mike Sample mocking me from the outfield. The teacher, Mr. Smart, yelled, “Yeah, she’s terrible at this game but you try spelling ‘adamant’ or doing algebra and you’ll be striking out every time, Buddy Boy.” (It was the 80s, so I think you could legally put a kid down without any ramifications, and some teachers really used this freedom.) I knew Mr. Smart was standing up for me, but I didn’t take it as a compliment. He was inadvertently highlighting my ineptness and the impact was a flood of shame.
In 7th grade I tried out for basketball. I was instructed to run the length of the court, then free throw the ball into the basket. I ran all the way down the court and shot the ball. Looking back, I saw a handful of kids and a few adults laughing. The coach yelled out to me, ‘You forgot to dribble.” Hot shame, again!
I see my daughter’s future in sports and want to sit her down for a little talk. This is what I want to say:
Darling, beloved, sweet pea, honey child, you SUCK at sports and you probably always will. It’s okay. You are good at a lot of things. Running and throwing a ball will probably never be on that list. I suck at sports, too, and no one ever told me. My parents said, ‘you can do anything you want to do, Jen’ and it was a lie. Because they exaggerated my overall greatness, the world had to tell me that I wasn’t good at certain things, namely playing athletic games. This was a much more painful experience than it would have been coming from them. So, dear, I am telling you the truth: If and when you are put in a position to hold a ball and run, assume that some terrible humiliation is about to occur. So, don’t space out. Let me repeat this: Do Not Space Out. You will need all of your faculties in this moment. And then, and this is the important thing, if you fall, or lose the game, or miss the ball, or strike out, do it with pride. Because here’s the thing: If you can be the worst at something and still know your awesomeness, that will take you a lot farther in life than always needing to win. So if you are last in a race, then just stroll along thinking, ‘That’s right, I am terrible at running. It’s not the boots. It’s the feet.’
It dawns on me that I really need to say that to the little Jen still living inside. As a mother, I can make sure Amelia knows her awesomeness, and trust that her feet have a trajectory of their own.
As always, parenting with heart in the real world,
Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mother