Last night we had soccer for Parker. It’s really the most exciting thing to watch your kid learn a new sport, run, jump and…pick dandelions. It’s really so sweet to see him running with his friends, kicking a ball and…taking them out at the knees. It’s really adorable to see him really enjoy the heck out of shouting random questions at the coach while she is trying to teach a new move.
But my attitude towards this experience wasn’t always so humorous. This past winter, when I signed up my three year old for soccer, I had all the over the top enthusiasm and ridiculous expectations a Mom could have. I was so ready to see him take on his first sport and really wow us with his attention to directions and coaching. But, it was strikingly evident in the just the first ten minutes of soccer that Parker had more fun on the water breaks than he did with the ball. He lay down on the gym floor while his friends were kicking the ball around him, he ran into other soccer games and out of his own. And he sat down, at random, in the middle of a drill, a goal, a game.
We did what all great and terrible parents do. “If you don’t play when we are at soccer, then we can’t go anymore.” And, “Why don’t you work hard at soccer like a big boy? “Coach will be proud of you if you play more and don’t LIE DOWN.” But nothing worked.
We thought maybe he had low endurance. Took him running on the track at the Y a couple times. Took him swimming to make sure he was getting enough hard and fast physical exercise. I even remember having a conversation with Mike where he asked, “Do YOU ever see him run when he’s home with us?” (Confession: we are not the two most active people on the planet) and I begged, “But when are all the OTHER kids running that are on his team?”
I had become the Mom who thought the other kids had a leg up on my kid. I was suddenly thinking maybe we waited too long to have him start a sport, could we have missed his impressionable age? A cheerleader and un-athlete myself, I was paralyzed with the notion that I could be raising a kid just. Like. Me.
As the “Have I messed my kid up for life?” question played and replayed in my head, I was suddenly very overwhelmed with parenthood. I was no longer just a parent to a toddler; I was now entirely responsible for someone else’s talents and abilities. I mean, there were so many successes I had planned for Parker. Soccer was just the first of many.
However, getting him to that success became a weight that I carried. And I saw, as I have seen in many parents, the tricky task of carrying that weight from activity to activity, from school to home, year after year.
But the more I saw how happy Parker was when he was getting ready to go to soccer, the more I realized that what I really hoped for him (aside from athletic prowess) was already living and breathing inside him. He loves people. He’s got boundless energy for things that he deems energy-worthy. And he doesn’t need my approval or encouragement to do any of it. That’s just him.
The best metaphor for this is in our latest morning routine. When I go upstairs to get Parker up, he pretends he is a baby dragon waking up from a long night’s sleep. I play along with this, talk in my Mommy dragon voice and help get him ready for the day. We discuss our family of dragons and our dragon friends and whether we breathe fire and whether we are good dragons or mean dragons.
Letting him be the dragon is what helps me see that Parker has a lot more within his little person than I could ever want for him. His personality measures more than any number of goals in a soccer game. His spunk is a much more useful quality than any ball handling skill he acquires.
And in being the dragon, Parker has taught me that I need to be the dragon too. Being the dragon helps me shake free of relentless expectations. Being the dragon helps me stifle the trepidation and nervousness that comes with assessing your child’s “skill” in doing something new. Being the dragon helps me suppress the urge to jump in and help, jump in and advise, jump in and critique. Because in being the dragon, you allow them to find their place in a world that is theirs (read: not yours). And you see, hopefully in the middle instead of in the end, that your children have a lot more to teach you than you could ever teach them.
So, breathe fire, spread your wings and save a princess or two. It’s easier, more gratifying and your children will thank you—in years to come—for the independence you afforded their little dragon selves.