Play date FAIL

The play date was going fine until Zach’s friend wanted to go outside.

Zach’s friend, you must understand, is a very talented athlete.  Zach, on the other hand, is not.  While he has agility and stamina, he is almost six years old and weighs in at a whopping thirty-five pounds soaking wet.  He simply cannot keep up with the other kids in strength and speed.

So, we went outside.  Talented Athlete wanted to play ball.  Zach did not.  Zach used to like to play ball, but lately he has figured out that he is not able to do the things the other kids can do.  Anything that involves strength, speed, and eye-hand coordination immediately puts him on the defensive.  Which is to say he goes on the offensive.  He gets nasty and dramatic, crying and accusing the other kid of cheating.

Frankly, I was relieved when Talented Athlete asked me to pitch him the ball while Zach decided to color on his chalk board.  I am not much of a pitcher, you must understand, but I don’t care about my ineptitude, so I was more than happy to fill in instead of dealing with Zach’s dramatic performance.

I played ball with Zach’s friend for a few minutes, then went to get something from the porch.  I glanced over and saw that Zach was writing and solving math problems on the chalk board.

I just don’t even know how to respond to the fact that my kid opts out by doing math problems instead of playing ball on a play date.

Make no mistake, he was opting out.  He wanted to fit in with the other child, but he gave up before it even began.  His friend wanted to play with him, but Zach was so afraid of being a weak athlete that he accused his friend of playing unfair, flopped about on the ground, and even hit him.

I don’t give a shit that he isn’t good at sports.  I wish he didn’t give such a shit.  I wish he would play – like he clearly wants to – without turning it into a dramatic performance.  Or that he wouldn’t play and would invite his friend to do something else nicely, instead of bossing the kid around.

We put him in t-ball to give him a chance to learn a sport.  He didn’t like it but he stuck it out, and I was proud of him for that.  We try to balance giving him a chance to shine and also trying new things that will be hard for him.  But every time he encounters an obstacle, he turns into a drama queen and refuses to even try, then gets angry about not being capable.

He was supposed to do lacrosse camp for the next four mornings, just to have something to do, but frankly, I don’t want to send him someplace that will just make him feel like shit about himself.  I gave him the option, and he doesn’t want to go.  Fine — it was cheap and I don’t mind letting it go.

I just wish I knew what we did to give him such low self-esteem that instead of realizing he has strengths, all he can see is the ways he fails.  There is a lot of pain in store for him if he spends the next fifteen years learning that he doesn’t have to give up on himself every time he feels awkward socially.

I ought to know.  I was the teenager who opted out of uncomfortable social situations by writing stories.

8 responses to “Play date FAIL

  1. I just came from a swimming lesson with my just-turned-5 yr old where my kid was the least capable child in the pool… it was hard watching him get upset at the prospect of putting his face in the water while the other 5yr olds cannot get enough of dunking themselves… but for me its a non-issue, because swimming is a life skill that my child WILL have…. even if he has to say in level 1 FOR-FREAKING-EVER.

    Seriously if I left it up to my kid, he would NEVER try anything new, he is nervous and immediately says “I can’t” without even trying. I got to the point where I just said look, we are going to try soccer out, some friends of yours want to try it too, and I think you will enjoy it. At first he was reluctant–in tears on the drive to the field, but we worked with him at home (away from his friends watchful eyes) and he built up confidence and ended up loving soccer so much that he cried when the season ended and asked me to sign him up for fall. I have also not been shy about telling my son that if he misbehaves, if he is rude or mean to another child, if he is only interested in doing what he wants to and ignores the wishes of the other child, then play dates are over (at least for a time). The way I look at it, its really just like sharing your toys with another child, if the child does what You wanted to do, then YES you are going to do what the child wants to do as well…. even if its not your favorite thing!

  2. Oh, Em. My heart hurts for you and for Zach. I don’t think you’ve done anything to give him low self-esteem. To the contrary, I think you’ve done everything you can to help him shine, this complex, sensitive child of yours.

    I am so in touch with the longing to make things easy for him, wishing for him to be able to at least cope in a more appropriate way when he feels overwhelmed or awkward. But you already know that’s not always possible.

    Keep doing what you’re doing and I believe with all my heart, it will come to him. It may never be easy for him, and certainly, you may need more than one large chocolate bar after a playdate, but it will come.

    One day, you will look at your grown, handsome son with his own child, perhaps even struggling with some of the same things, and you’ll know. You’ll know it was worth it and you’ll know he gets it, and you’ll be able to smile when he voices his frustration over not being able to fix everything. You’ll hug him. You’ll offer coffee and you’ll say “It will work out. You’ll see. It did for you.”

    I have faith in you both.

  3. I don’t know what to say, but in jr high when parties started happening & couples started pairing off, I would go and read something off the host parents’ book shelf for the duration. Once I started drinking I was fiiiiiine at parties. When Bob was in a band & played in bars all the time I went back to reading, in the front row of a noisy crowded bar, with my own books.

  4. Just this week I got to watch mine (no star athlete, difficulty reading too) meltdown for the umpteenth time while playing kickball. The neighbor boy offered concessions (additional outs and such), but to no avail. Finally he shouted at my son — you ALWAYS cry over EVERYTHING! And it’s true. If he’s winning, it’s all good. If he misses or gets out, it’s all over. It is tiring for the kids and tiring to watch — but it is exhausting for him. And it is affecting his self esteem too. He often tells me — I’m such an idiot, I do the wrong thing, my friends hate me. And it can be so hard because sometimes I feel like “yeah that WAS a really stupid choice,” but that doesn’t help anything.

    Somehow he is still in a place where emotions over run everything. And on bad stretches I wonder if it will EVER get better, but I have to believe that someday it will. Ya know, like potty training, I have to believe he will get it before he goes to college. (god I hope so)

    Hang in there Em. I know the feeling of wanting to claw your eyes out, to just want a way to make it all different. I keep reminding myself this is a marathon, not a sprint. Hell, it’s probably the IronMan and progress is slow.

  5. I don’t think you’ve done anything–some kids are more intense. Reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” helped me a lot. They grow out of some of the intensity, or rather their brains catch up with the intensity of their feelings and help them to negotiate it.

  6. I’m a fairly new reader so I don’t feel like I know Zach very well. Is he a perfectionist? I was and am a perfectionist and wasn’t naturally gifted at athletics so I can empathize with him. I absolutely hated looking foolish so I avoided situations where there was any chance I might be made fun of for my lack of skill. I missed out on a lot of fun and had a lot of stressful recesses and p.e. classes when I was a kid because of that.

    My parents probably never had a clue of what was going on. If they had known, I wish they’d done a couple of things. I wish they had told me that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and that there are things outside of our own control that affect that. If only I’d known that coordination develops at a different pace in every kid, and that eventually I’d learn how to deal with my gangly arms and legs. Nobody told me that my brain and body were developing at their own pace, and eventually it would all get better. I just thought I was a loser. It doesn’t make a kid a lesser person if he’s not good at baseball but I didn’t know that.

    The other thing I wish my parents had done is to work with me to develop my athletic skills enough to survive the playground without stress. I didn’t need to be the first chosen for a team, but I sure as hell got tired of being the last.

    Please understand, I don’t think you are doing anything wrong with Zach. I don’t think you’ve caused Zach to have low self-esteem. I’m just remembering how I felt and what would have helped me. I think if Zach has low self-esteem (and I’m not saying that he does) it’s because he’s not measuring up to his own standards and that of the six-year-old boy culture and that fact makes him feel bad about himself.

  7. Bub is exactly this way – though not quite as aware of his incompetence – more just totally uninterested in sport, which is yet another limit on his already limited social opportunities. I just keep hoping that he’ll find his tribe – the kids who are busy collecting Pokemon cards and Bakugans. There are some kids like that in grade three, while most of the grade ones are still busy playing ball.

  8. Hi Emily,
    First off, you couldn’t have done anything to cause low self esteem in Zach because you don’t think there is anything wrong with him (how could you? he is your own sweet and perfect son – although it good that you see his quirks through nice clear glasses) you know you’ve never told him he isn’t [anything]. I agree with Lise though that you probably should get outside and practice ball with him. If you take all three kids out he’ll probably be better than Lilah although if your boys follow the path of mine Ben will probably be a naturally gifted althlete just to make things harder for YOU.
    Have you thought about some kind of gymnastics which might help him be more coordinated – maybe you could enroll him in a class of younger kids so he would be on a more level playing field? At one of the chain places like “My Gym” or Gymboree or something. I think Gymboree recently added “family classes” so there would be a group of mixed ages. Just a thought…