From now on all of my posts will be about soccer.
But really those soccer games! I tell you it's like a whole parenting universe shrunk down to a bite-size and potent chunk. There are other kids doing things and I have thoughts about those things. And there are other parents doing things, and by god I certainly have thoughts about those things. And then there are MY KIDS!
Xi came to the soccer game this time and as we were arriving she was getting Echo psyched about her opponent, a local Orthodontics team in green jerseys. She was pretty sure Echo's team would win. And there it is that competition thing, the part I have been cringing about, the part I was worried other people would impose on my family, and the first time it reared up was in our own van. I ended up saying: "Well win or lose it doesn't really matter because you still get to do all the fun parts either way. You still get to run and cheer and kick and all that good stuff."
Then I crossed my fingers that mere words could land in the hearts of my girls and make a difference.
Then, unrelated to this conversation, Echo wouldn't play the game.
Our worst nightmare! Okay, now that I read those lines it sounds a bit dramatic. The other night I woke up and Echo was nowhere to be found. Not in bed! In the middle of the night! I went into complete shock but before I FREAKED out and died of fear and sorrow that our littlest was taken in the night I went pee. In stumbled Echo - returning from (irrationally) having gone downstairs to find me - alive and well. Phew. So, a child disappearing is our worst nightmare, but in the world of sports, having the kid that simply won't go onto the field even though the game is starting is at the very least, nerve wracking.
She was nervous. Too nervous and she wanted to go home.
Nathan and I pulled out all of the logic we could.
- - her team needed her to be the fifth player
- - her team needed her to help them protect the goal and get the ball
- - she had chosen to play soccer and this is what "playing soccer" means
- - they built the team with the notion that Echo would be the fifth player and it isn't really fair now to not be that fifth player
- - she was nervous last time and remember how much fun it was?
- - it would feel better after she started, perhaps she should just get out there and give it a shot
- - Xi is here to see the game and she really wants to see her sister play
- - we're asking you to trust us. We think this is really something you can do.
- - You can look to make your own fun, you can look for opportunities to have as much fun as possible.
But Echo was serious. She. Wasn't. Playing. Meanwhile the coach was calling for her and the game had actually started. We poured on the empathy.
- You're cold.
- You're nervous.
- Oh man. That's hard.
Nathan and I were exchanging OH SHIT! glances as all of our words just rained down on the resolute girl.
Because here is the truth folks. You can't make kids do anything.
I wanted her to join her teammates. I also wanted her to have fun. I wanted her to want to play. But she didn't want to and even if I dragged her out there I couldn't make her actually play. Even if we threatened her with punishment we couldn't make her have fun or like soccer or do anything different than what she was doing. And of course I wasn't going to punish or threaten. Of course I am only ever going to use empathy and information because my relationship with my girl is more important than all of the drama possible at a kindergarten soccer game.
Still I wanted her feet to move.
In the midst of it all I was able to slip in some self-empathy. I noticed I was embarrassed. And I was panicked. I wanted to run away to our van and get out of there.
And then for no discernible reason Echo hugged each of us in turn, fiercely, with her eyes pinched closed. She ran out onto the field and had the time of her life. She was feisty and involved in every play. She was running and grinning and narrating her every move: "Uh uh uh...", she said to the ball, "Not so fast! You can't get away from me!!!" She had the time of her life.
We asked her about it later. Away from the epicenter of pure emotion she was able to break it down for us. The opposing team was a new one and that made her nervous. The field was new too. And there was an additional kid on her team too. All of this made her more nervous than before. The thought that inspired her to play though is that she remembered how much fun she had at the last game and she wouldn't even have a chance to have that kind of fun if she didn't play. And then once she was in the game she made a point of looking for all the fun she could find, and this literary girl knows very well that telling the story of playing the game while playing the game is a guaranteed source.
Ideally I would have skipped the persuasion part altogether. It didn't feel good at the time and it also didn't feel effective. And as it turns out there is a reason for this. When kids are in the throes of intense emotion they aren't able to process in the same way. Echo couldn't hear us about "fifth players" and "commitment" because she was deathly nervous. We said the words anyway because we were panicked and felt short of time (The coach was calling! The game was starting!) but if I had it to do over again I think I might go for empathy first and just suck it up and wait for a bit while that empathy sunk in.
Apparently, a person is actually incapable of complex thought when dealing with intense emotions. It's part of the human survival design. When confronted with a raging lion or anything else terrifying and life-threatening (like a soccer game) the part of the brain that deals with complex processing shuts down. It shuts down and boots up the reptilian brain. Your brain doesn't want you to have complex thought in these situations, it wants you to charge up your self-defense skills, like running away really fast or charging headlong - whatever it takes to stay alive. It doesn't want you weighing the odds or thinking about it too much.
Only after the threat has passed, only after the emotions have been processed, does the rest of the brain turn back on. This is why explaining to your children about the rules and consequences of hitting while the child is in an enraged, flailing state is like throwing words into the wind. They don't stick.
Empathy. (Time passing). Information.
Oh but that part in parentheses can take forever! Waiting for emotions to shift enough for the complex brain to take back over is the most trying part of parenthood.