Being nine brings new challenges and rewards

Thursday , May 10, 2012 - 1:09 PM

Annie Valentine

I'm glad to be on this side of third grade.

Our oldest, Harrison, turns 9 this week. Theoretically a kid's 10th year should be full of pocket knives and puppy dog tails. It should include hours of bike riding and popsicles, tree forts and video games. Who wouldn't want to be 9?

But today's 9-year-old is nothing like the ones I grew up with. Life is hard for our kid right now and there's not a whole lot we can do about it.

Take homework for instance. The poor boy comes home with at least 40 minutes of homework a night. Add to that 25 minutes at the piano, a few chores, baseball practice and "whoosh," there goes his childhood.

As much as I'd like to torch his homework sheets, I recognize that whether we agree with them or not they must be done. He might be 9, but personal accountability has got to come into play sometime.

"But Mom," he said to me in the car last week, "Who cares? Why do I have to do this stupid homework anyway?"

"Because," I said, "People who don't learn to do their homework in third grade grow up and you know what happens? They get fired because they never learned how to finish anything. Without a job they have no money, and if they don't have money they don't have a house or food. And you know where they end up living?"

He was pretty captivated at this point and gave me an open mouthed, "Where?"

"They live in a box. And it's cold and it's soggy and they're hungry all the time. Do you want to live in a box?"

"No ..."

"Then finish your spelling!"

As much as I'd like to knock something out of his schedule there's no doubt that it's all adding to his personal development. Baseball is one of the most necessary evils a 9-year-old has in his life.

Our society has carefully removed just about every losing opportunity for today's kids. At soccer here they're not allowed to keep score; kids in his basketball league aren't allowed to fast break (lay-ups are practically illegal), and it doesn't matter how good or bad you play, everyone gets a trophy for signing up.

But baseball is the great American equalizer. Once a kid gets past T-ball and into a real pitching league they're introduced to every boy's worst nightmare: the umpire.

Gone are the days of coaches gently calling the pitches and giving the kids five or six good chances to hit the ball. Instead they creep up to the plate with eyes locked on the huge masked man standing uncomfortably close to the plate. Not only that, he yells at them.

Most of the kids are so frightened they stand there and forget everything they've practiced. The ump calls three strikes and throws them out of the game like yesterday's wash water. Most of them slink back to the dugout and cry.

It's kind of awesome.

I think it's good for kids to lose. My son begs his father to play chess with him on a regular basis and Jason kicks his trash all over the board every single time. You'd think this would discourage Harrison but it's the opposite; he can't get enough of it.

About a year ago I watched a particularly brutal chess match up and quietly approached Jason afterward.

"Honey, do you have to be so tough on him? Can't you let him win once in a while?"

"No," he said, "Because the day he finally beats me is a day he'll remember for the rest of his life. This is good for him. Does it look like he's complaining?"

I looked over and watched Harrison setting up a rematch, shrugged and left it alone.

The two of them have been playing for the past two years and yesterday, for the first time, they hit a stalemate. When Harrison realized that he hadn't lost the game he practically cart-wheeled his way through the house.

"A tie! Mom, it was a tie!"

Being 9 might be hard, but it isn't without its rewards.

Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at regardingannie@gmail.com or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.

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