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Angels happen by

I know that this is an experience common to many parents, though we parents of “quirky” kids experience it more often.

I was sitting and watching my daughter’s soccer game with dismay. This is a girl who has great skills in practice, who simply falls apart on the field. Or rather, she becomes hypnotized. That day, she had pulled up a handful of grass and was fingering it, watching it fall from her hands, as the ball and 7 charging girls whizzed by her. She didn’t even notice.

This is the same girl who can get in the 99th percentile on a math test, but can’t sit through a math class. It’s so frustrating to see unfulfilled potential. Even more frustrating to know that there’s no worn path I can follow to help her approach her potential.

As I sat watching the game, a man came by handing out flyers. It was Bill Trimpi, who runs Santa Cruz Soccer Camp, an amazing program we stumbled upon some years ago. Bill and I did a double-take and then I explained what I was doing there. My daughter was sitting out for the moment so he couldn’t see her playing, but I explained my misery.

“But Suki,” Bill said in his patient way, “You have to remember that it’s such an achievement that she’s out there at all.”

He’s right, of course. The first time I spoke to him, I was sure that she wasn’t going to be able to handle camp. She was six years old and all fired up to play soccer, but I didn’t think she’d be able to follow their schedule, get along with the other kids, and be willing to work on the skills they were teaching.

In time, she has learned to do all of those things. Last summer she did three weeks of camp, and though she had her up and down days, she really did it. She was there and she was present in mind and body.

Talking to Bill got me focused on the goal: To get her to come out of herself and at least try to take part in things that I know she very much wants to take part in. So after the game, I pointed out to her that she’d spent much of her time on the field studying grass rather than watching the ball. We talked about how it was disrespectful of her teammates to do that, and that if she wanted to be on a team, she needed to support the team. This all made sense to her. So I issued a challenge: I said it is not important how well she plays soccer, but it is important that she enjoy it and that she be there to support her team. She had been wanting to go back to the science store to buy a little robot she’d fallen in love with, so I told her that if she stayed present in her next game, she’d get to do that.

Now really, this wasn’t such a grand motivation—she would have gotten to do that anyway, and she wanted to use her own money. But by tying soccer to something she’d been obsessing about, I got her attention, which was what she needed. At the next game, she succeeded in staying present in the first half, but did lots of grass contemplation in the second half. To her dismay and anger, I said it wasn’t time to visit the science store. All I asked, I reminded her, was that when she was out on the field she stay present in the game and support her teammates.

At the next game, I made sure to remind her before the game and at halftime. And she was on. She had a specific goal and she knew how to get there. Now, she in no way got anywhere near her potential on the field. She still was largely passive and watched her teaammates play, sometimes jumping out of the way rather than going for the ball when it was coming towards her. But she did something important, and she knew it. When one of her teammates got a goal, I watched as the other girls piled on and hugged her. My daughter kept her distance, but then in a pause a few minutes later in the game, she gave her a high-five. She was present, and that was the prize.

Yes, she got her little robot. And it will amuse her for a while. But she also got the feeling of actually being in a game, which was much more important.

I’ve come to the conclusion that good parenting without others to support us is probably nearly impossible, at least for us mere mortal moms. And when our kids throw us special challenges, as they all do at some point, we need others even more. My daughter’s coach has been outstanding in welcoming her to the team; her teammates, who must find her baffling, have been kind; I hear other parents cheering her on. On top of that, there’s Bill to happen by and reset my expectations. All of this is part of how we support each other in the hardest, most important job we’ve got.

Posted in Parenting, Psychology.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Here goes another cliché – Avant Parenting linked to this post on January 29, 2012

    […] have written about how my daughter loves soccer. But really, she loves all team sports. Not watching them on TV. Not watching other people playing […]

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