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I’ve got game! Forcing children to succeed takes effort

by Melanie Nicholas

Nailed it. Little Son earned his first stripe tonight at jiu-jitsu!

Nailed it. Little Son earned his first stripe tonight at jiu-jitsu!

It is hard to raise active kids when you’re not an active parent. But I am trying. We have done ballet, soccer, swimming and now, martial arts. I am committed to dabbling in any sport they show the remotest interest in. I want them to find that activity that will energize them, help them develop discipline and a sense of confidence in their bodies and in their achievements.

The Hubs loves to be outside and he thrives on competition. He signed up for one of those mud races last year and then ran his first half marathon in November, both sans training. And he did very well in each! I dabbled in sports growing up, taking dance, playing soccer, doing cheer and I even had a brief flirtation with tennis. But, in truth, none of them was as fun to me as reading and I just didn’t pursue them with much fervor. Well, that and I am not much of a team player, either. And, I don’t like to be uncomfortable. I hate to sweat, sunburn, bruise. I also don’t enjoy things that make me feel vulnerable or incompetent.

We had my sister-in-law and her boyfriend over for New Years and everything was going along swimmingly. Well, that is, until The Hubs pulled out the board game Curses. I know, I know. You are already thinking I would be an excellent player in a game developed for potty mouths. But, it’s not that kind of cursing. The game gives each player a challenge card to complete, such as run around a table clapping, and then a curse card to hand out. Now the curses can be anything from speaking into an invisible CB radio, to talking like Scooby Doo or even shouting out pizza toppings every time someone claps. The curse cards layer upon the players so that they are doing strings of ridiculous things throughout the game. I drew a challenge card that instructed me to demonstrate how I would transform into a werewolf during a full moon. Now, I watch a lot of science fiction. A lot. And I know what it looks like to transform into a lycanthrope – and it ain’t pretty. It’s all pain, stretching, reshaping snarling and somehow, people’s clothes always come off! And imagining myself, re-enacting that transformation made me feel embarrassed and shy. Heart palpitation uncomfortable. And I am pretty sure I said something akin to, “I hate this game.” So I hemmed and hawed, thinking someone would give me a pass. Nope. Wrong hyper-competitive crowd for that. So, blushing furiously, I looked at the moon and howled. And while I did not die from the experience, I feel like I came pretty darn close.

The kids have their martial arts class twice a week. Little Son has moved up into the 8-and-older class, and this was his first week to practice with his new teammates. Things were “off” from the get-go. I hadn’t sewn his new patch on. His electronic enrollment card wouldn’t register. His lips felt chapped. He had a growing pain in his left leg. He wanted to go home. Being a non-athlete, I was not sure how to handle the situation. I explained to him that I couldn’t see well enough to thread the darn needle. I tried for an hour. That hole is tiny! I then tried to scan his card, rub his leg and give him some lip gloss. He wasn’t having it. Finally, I resorted to telling him to “suck it up, buttercup.” He got on the mats, finished the first warm-up drill, then walked off the floor trying to hold back the tears.

“I want to go home. I don’t know how to do any of this,” he whispered in my ear. “That’s why we take classes Son, to learn how,” I reasoned with him. I felt so much empathy for my first-born, red-faced and unsure of himself, anxiety creeping up on him and threatening to smother him. And I wanted to give him a pass, like the one I wanted so badly during the board game.

But I know enough about being afraid to live up to your potential that I just could not give him one. So, we compromised. He sat next to me and watched the entire class. We dissected the moves, studied the patterns. And as he watched the other students, he realized that several of them were new to the class as well.

I secretly love that I can’t really make my son do anything he doesn’t want to do. I hope that when someone offers him his first beer or cigarette, he holds fast. But I still want to find ways to encourage him to explore his own talents and strengths, build his confidence. So this weekend, I will tell him about my challenge card, and I will ask him to watch me practice morphing into a werewolf. Even if it kills me to do it. In turn, I will ask him to practice his Kimura wrist lock. On his dad.

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