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.