One of the hardest things about parenting for me, has always been the fact that I would have to allow my children to experience the pain of rejection at some point. Just by going to school, playing a sport, trying out for a theater production or any number of other activities, I knew I would be allowing the possibility that at some point, they were going to feel unwanted.
I’ve always hoped that my children would have to experience a minimum amount of rejection. But deep down I always knew that in order for them to really understand the joy of being accepted or successful, they would also have to learn what it is like to be “not good enough.”
Over the years, each of my kids has had success in various ways. They all played sports – for many years – on teams where no one got cut from the team and everyone got a chance to play. They each found a sport or two at which they excelled and for which they could be proud of their efforts. At any given time, one or the other of them proved to be an excellent student, a popular friend, a talented baseball or soccer or volleyball player. They got invited to parties and enjoyed having many friends. On the other hand, there were plenty of times when one of them was singled out by the class bully, excluded from a circle of peers, struggled academically or sat on the bench watching the rest of the team play. As a parent, it hurt so much to see them hurting. So many times, the advice I wanted to give them was to walk away from a difficult challenge, or to fight fire with fire. It took all the strength I had at times to simply tell them, “You’ll get through this. It may seem like the end of the world right now, but someday you’ll look back on this experience and realize it made you a stronger person.” There were times I wasn’t sure that I believed my own advice, but I gave it anyway.
Some of the most difficult failures my kids experienced came in their high school years when “equal playing time” was no longer the rule. It was then that they were thrust into a world where the strongest, smartest, most diligent and talented people were rewarded. They learned that when they fell short, they had a choice to make – work harder until you achieve your goal, or choose a different path.
Last spring, in particular, proved to be a difficult time for Kacey. She tried out for the school softball team and had high hopes for being a varsity player. Even worse than being cut from the team, in her mind, was the fact that she was labeled a varsity player, but actually had to “play down” because she was a catcher, and the varsity team was full-up on catchers while the B squad was in dire need of one. She thought it was embarrassing to play with a team of mostly younger girls and was certain she’d gotten the short end of the stick. When she came home from try-outs, she cried and lamented her fate, and nothing I could say would convince her that as soon as she started playing, no matter for which team, she’d remember she just loved to play and she’d be happy. She wasn’t going to relent those first few days, but soon enough she accepted her fate and ended up flourishing on a team where she was viewed as a leader by her coaches and team mates alike. She ended that season as happy as I’d ever seen her. That wasn’t such a bad “failure” after all. She learned that things can often be much better than they seem, IF you have the right attitude.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the time earlier this fall when Kacey was cut completely from the varsity volleyball team. I am not the kind of parent who has delusions about my kid’s talents and I fully believed she deserved a spot on that team. In her previous season, the varsity coach had all but promised her a varsity spot in her senior year. But then came a change in the coaching staff and for whatever reasons, it was decided Kacey’s talents weren’t needed on the team. That was a tough pill to swallow. She was devastated, and rightfully so. But she was a trooper, and her positive attitude prevailed. She found other activities in which to participate. She had great fun managing the varsity football team this fall. (And what 17 year-old girl wouldn’t want the opportunity to hang around a team full of cute boys every day after school and every Friday night? And we only gloated a little bit as with each passing day, the volleyball team’s record stacked up more losses than wins!)
So as much as I sometimes wanted to shield my kids from disappointment and failure, I know that it taught all of us to appreciate their successes so much more. But as much as I always wanted them to learn from the highs and lows of life, the desire to protect and shield them will always be stronger. Maybe that is why even though we all moved on from those failures, thinking back on them, I still at times feel a sting of resentment. And maybe that is why getting the following pix message on my cell phone today made me practically burst with pride for my “little girl.”
So there was a mandatory parent/athlete meeting last night at school for anyone planning to participate in winter and spring sports. After the main meeting, there were smaller group meetings for each of the sports. Apparently a vote for team captains was held at the softball meeting. Kacey told me about it this morning before she left for school, and all she said was, “I hope Amanda doesn’t make captain. She’ll be impossible to live with. I hope it’s Katie, or Heather or Andrea.”
I don’t think she had ANY idea that she would be voted in as one of the captains! She was humbled and thrilled all at the same time. The other two captains are two of her very best friends. And the really great thing is, they are all truly nice girls who will take seriously the job of leading the team.
I don’t know why any of us were surprised. Kacey has been playing softball year round and the varsity coaches have been keeping an eye on her and the other girls. She and another girl were asked by the head coach to start finding designs for the team spirit-wear this year. Kacey created her own design and that’s the one the coach chose. He’s come to know her as a dedicated, hard-working and fun-loving player. She’ll be a great captain.
I’m kind of proud. Can you tell?