My 7-year-old, Rex, just had his first official run-in with soccer.
Due to a little anxiety, coupled with a preference for playing in his room with toys, Rex has never played soccer. When he was 4 we tried a peewee team, but he spent all six games hiding under a tree at the end of the soccer field.
But this year, Rex really wanted to be like his "big brudder Harrison" and finally asked if he could play on a team. My friend Geneva was planning to run a few summer soccer camps so we signed him up.
Living here in Germany has been tough on us, where Rex is concerned. From the moment we arrived most of the adults and teachers and acquaintances we've met (German especially) have acted like there is something seriously wrong with our little boy. Thanks to some extensive testing last year and a great child psychologist, he's been diagnosed as moderately anxious and mostly quirky.
I'm amazed at how quick people are to pin a kid down and label him for being socially awkward.
My friend Geneva knows Rex and knows what my year has been like. I felt confident leaving him in her hands knowing that he wouldn't be inappropriately judged or deemed incapable simply because he's routinely nervous.
Getting Rex out of bed Monday morning was like trying to talk the Abominable Snowman into taking a trip to Cancun. He was so anxious and so worried that not only did we get out of the house without any breakfast, but I had to remove him from under his covers like a moldy potato sack. Fear can be so debilitating.
By the time we got to the soccer field he was willing to exit without help from mother. Stuffing down my own sympathetic anxiety, I kissed him farewell and left him in the extraordinarily capable hands of my friend.
Two hours later I returned to retrieve a mostly happy child, who was really only upset that he hadn't kicked a goal. I tucked him into the car so I could debrief the coach.
"Well?" I asked the world's most loaded question, "How did he do?"
She crossed her arms and thought for a moment, kicking a rock. Then she pinned me right in the eye with that look. I know that look. It's the lecture about how there's something wrong with my kid, how I need to have him tested, how he's not ready for this, how ...
"You don't expect enough of Rex," she said.
Well that was the absolutely last thing I expected to hear.
"Rex is smart and capable, and if he wants to be he'll be an excellent athlete. But what he needs right now is more structure, you've got to expect more from him, give him more responsibility."
It was possibly the best wake up call I've ever had in my life about anything.
The week flew by and Rex continued to improve. He would routinely tire out and want to sit down in the middle of the field for a little "rest." On the last day of soccer we jumped in the car and I launched into my New and Improved Mothering Lecture. We made our way to the field and I poured on the high expectations.
"Now Rex," I said as we pulled in, "When Coach Geneva tells you to run, you have to ..."
"Mom," he interrupted me, "Just tell me I'm going to do great."
"Uh, you're going to do great-"
"And Mom, tell me 'Don't give up!'"
"OK. Don't give up, Rex."
"Got it Mom!" he said and jumped out of the car.
I ran my morning errands and pulled in to watch the last 15 minutes of practice. I walked up to the edge of the field just in time to hear my little Rex yelling out to himself, "Don't give up!"
I headed over to the coach.
"Yeah," she said as I walked up, "He's been telling himself that for the past two hours. As soon as he starts to get tired and wants to sit down, he calls out, 'Don't give up!' It's kind of adorable and actually seems to be working."
He looked over at me and flashed me a huge grin. "Don't give up, Mom!" he said. For the rest of practice he would catch my eye just as his feet started to drag only to yell out, "Say 'Don't give up!' Mom!"
"Don't give up, Rex!"
Sometimes I wish all my kids were so good at telling me how to parent them.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at email@example.com or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.