It’s the year 2054 and the now seven year old is 50 in the basement of our house, it’s dark, dank and he’s in a rocking chair, he’s all alone except for scales his five foot lizard that he’s petting vigorously, in the background you can faintly hear him muttering in a guttural tone “scales, scales, scales”, he reminds me of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. It’s not a good scene. This is my fear. I fear that my son will be all alone, a recluse because I can see with my own eyes that my insecurity – lack of confidence is absolutely becoming his, and I am trying my hardest to put the brakes on it but it’s been damn hard. When he doesn’t win his heat in a swim meet he’ll cry “I’m the worstest swimmer in the entire world”, or if he places fourth at a track meet it’s “track is stupid and I am the biggest dummy”, or if he gets a 96 on a test its “I’m the stupidest boy in the first grade”. If he doesn’t win or excel his confidence is blown to bits and he gives up the sport or activity in two minutes flat, with no remorse.
This kid has no confidence but he’s also competitive. Um, does that go together?
As a child I wasn’t the best at everything but I was the kid that said “at least I made the team”, “hey, I didn’t fail”, so if I was riding the pine in softball, or if I place last in swimming, or got a 75 on a test, it didn’t feel great but two seconds later I was in the bleachers singing the silly cheers with my teammates or shrugging it off and moving on. Most of the things he’s experiencing now he’s experiencing for the first time. He doesn’t realize how great his potential is. In school, in sports the kid has so much more talent and natural capability than I had at any age. Maybe this is something we have to get used too. We’ve never had school tests or swim meets and track meets in our roles as parent and child. Maybe as we get used to winning some and losing some my fears that when he doesn’t win he’ll give up, stop studying, stop practicing and retreat into things that he’s comfortable with, will subside and his self flagellation will slowly disappear. I know how it feels to lose, but I never put that much pressure on myself to excel until well, my late thirties and not, um forties. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer, something I do regret, just a tad.
I’ve noticed over the past few months that my typical mom confidence boosting approach “It’s okay, at least you were out there, you did great, you’re the best, I am so proud of you for doing it, look you got a ribbon (even if it was last)” doesn’t work with a son who is extremely competitive with himself and everyone around him. What am I supposed to do? Stage a fake swim meet and pay all the other little squirts in gummy bears and goldfish to blow the race? Throw a raging Sponge Bob all-nighter the night before a test so he does better than the other kids? I decided after one disastrous swim meet that I had to take the bull by the horns.
My solution? Operation Confidence Boost or “OCB” as I like to call it. In the last few weeks I’ve been spewing more mantras than Oprah’s magazine, more inspirational tales than Deepak Chopra and more just do it camera-ready sound bites than a Nike commercial. Every single day I’m telling him how awesome he is, how every piece of school work, how every drawing he does is the greatest thing since canned beer, right down to “oh my goodness, that’s the best fart in the entire world”. But there has to be a balance so I don’t oversell him. I don’t believe in the old “everyone gets a trophy even if you didn’t win thing” that every sports organization seems to do these days. Yes kids try hard and effort should be rewarded but not everyone wins. Life is hard and so is a swim meet or track meet when you’re only seven years old, but as he grows up, if he isn’t used to losing life as an adult is just going to suck and one day he’ll most likely go postal. I’m trying to get through to my kids, that trying is more important than the winning, because the trying is what shapes you as a human being. I even purposely lose my races to make them see how exciting and rewarding it is to just participate. Yeah, right. But I no longer beat myself up if I don’t surpass my own times or place higher than the top forty in any race I’ve entered. I figure why pass down more crap to them and more importantly I don’t want to be one of those “do as I say, not as I do” parents.
Are my efforts working? I’ll probably won’t know for sure until the one moment when the meltdown doesn’t happen or the “oh well I tried” attitude finally kicks in. What I do know is this; between all the mantras, inspirational tales and just do it pep talks, I have to do laundry, make lunches, get them washed, dressed, pressed, work full time and keep them alive-I’m fucking exhausted! And for the record if we can’t keep that damn lizard alive, the one thing my son believes he’s good at, Operation OCB will be shot to hell and I’ll be right back where I started.