The wilting of a child

I can usually tell what is about to unfold before it actually unfolds. The conversations I am going to have with people before the conversation even starts. There is a look I get, or better, a lack of one. The fiddling with a phone or the simple motionless gaze at the ground. I know what I am about to get into before getting into it. I see the expectation.

I see the wilting of the flower while it is still on the vine.

Usually it will start with the introductions, the setting of the stage if you will. The teller of the story is not the hero of the story, but the observer. The hero of the story doesn’t feel like the hero when the story is being told, because the hero isn’t allowed to tell their own version of the story. 

The hero just sits and listens to the villain’s version.

The narrator is in complete control here, of the story and the life of the hero, from beginning to the end. The narrator carefully tells the tale of the hero, for the hero, while the hero just sits there, defeated before any battle is even waged, because the hero understands one sad little fact; he is not the hero of his own story, he is the hero of the narrator’s.

And narrators tend to tell tall tales, that of which the hero is not capable of living up to.

I see it a lot. The baseball player, or the dancer. The kid that is “the best” of what she does and is “going places”, if they can just get over this injury. The loving parent tells me the long version every time, the one that begins with how good their son or daughter is, and how we need to nip this thing in the bud because “they” have a big tournament or recital coming up. 

The bit is the same. The kid likes to be pushed, needs to be pushed. How can she be the best if they don’t put in the work. 

Sometimes flowers wilt at the brightness of the sun.

Questions are asked, usually about how long it will take to get back on the field or in the studio. Very rarely does the kid have a chance to really talk, but when they do, they know the routine. They aren’t allowed to talk until they are allowed to talk, and then it is the same answers I have already gotten from the parent, just in the first person instead of the third.

“He loves to play”. I get it. I got it the first ten times the parent tells me about the passion and the perfectionism. I don’t have the heart to tell them that Earl Woods was not a hero, he was a mad scientist. That Tiger is a great golfer, but is trying to spend the better half of his adult life trying to figure out how to be a great human. 

Tiger was born in a cage at the circus, and is just now finding out how to roam free.

Sometimes parents get mixed up in the telling me of how much their kid loves the game, rather than telling their kid how much they love them even if they didn’t play. 

“My kid really loves football, he’s really good at it.” 

Oh yea, my kid really loves Skittles, but I don’t let him eat them at every meal….I quietly tell myself in my head. 

I hear the stories on the days when the kid gets dropped off. When they are allowed to speak for themselves. I get to see the smiles that aren’t always there when the parent is around. I get to hear about the silliness. We laugh about the video of them and their friends, I allow the kid to be a kid, not an expectation.

Funny how flowers are allowed to bloom when they know the storm isn’t coming.

I get to see who the kid is when they don’t have a uniform on. I see the person when the when pointe shoes come off. 

I see the way the kid looks when they aren’t worried about pleasing anyone, when their worth isn’t tied to a score. I see the sadness they have when a shot is missed or a performance is subpar, the tears that come not because they struck out, but because they let dad down.

I see how small a child can become when they have to support the weight of their parent’s expectations on their shoulders.

I have stood at the games and seen the look on the face of a kid when they know they are about to get the talk later, in the car ride home. They know what they did and didn’t do, but apparently the subpar performance needs to be re-enacted and talked about a second time, just so the kid that loves the game can hear from the parent that loves the game even more.

The kid hears the yelling, the critiquing. Is this coaching? Do you love me or the thought of me as a pro?

Sometimes all I do to make the kid feel better doesn’t involve exercise or therapy. The best thing I do for the hero is to be excited to see them and hear their stories that don’t involve sport. Heroes simply want to be the heroes of their own story, not the hero of someone else’s narrative. 

Sometimes flowers just want to be part of the background, not picked and made the centerpiece.

Kids just want to be seen for who they are on the inside, not what they can do with a ball. They want to know that they will be loved if they never play another down, or dance another dance.

But isn’t that the paradox we have in life? Who are we? Do we teach our kids to identify  as “I am an athlete” or “I am a performer”? How many kids grow up to not feel good enough because they didn’t “live up to their potential”?

Or do we do our best to teach them that they are an amazing and caring person, who just happens to play a sport?

They will be a human way longer than they will be an athlete, shouldn’t we focus on that?

I hear the stories, the one’s the parents don’t. I know the dreams, the real dreams, of the hero that is trying to find her own path in this tricky world. The dreams that involve living a life off the field, not on it. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are good parents of great players and performers, and I applaud the ones that love their kid regardless. The ones that tell them good game even when it wasn’t, and the ones that applaud the effort even if the score doesn’t reflect it. The kids that succeed are the ones that are allowed to grow into the athlete they want to be on their own terms, not someone else’s. The kids that use sport as a springboard to do something else in life.

Flowers need more than water to grow. They need freedom.

It isn’t hard to hear the fantastic places young people want go in this world, or the wonderful things they want to do.

You just have to listen, and allow them so speak their own words, not those of the parent.