Monday, June 4, 2007

My Teacher

Last month I nearly didn’t make it to Malice Domestic. My son had a crisis moment—and it happened because of a hobby.

Okay, some of you might not call golf a hobby. W. Edwards Deming once said, “Have you ever seen a happy golfer?”

Uh, not so much.

I find it hard to believe that people would spend so much “leisure” time trying to do the impossible—that is, how the heck can you get that little white ball into a hole on the other side of town? Geez. I can’t even keep a bowling ball in the right alley! (Unfortunately, I’m not exaggerating. When I have gone bowling—all two times—people lined up to offer free lessons.)

But my son and husband are golfers, and as it happens, my kid is pretty dang good at it. He can hit the ball a mile. Correction: 300 yards or more. No, that’s not a typo. But golf is more than smacking the snot out of the little white ball. It’s aiming it in the right direction.

The day of the golf districts dawned wet and gloomy. As a member of the Varsity MICDS Golf Team, Michael was expected to play. Unfortunately, my son has never believed in the value of outer wear. That worked against him as he played all day in the drizzle, except for the hour where there was a downpour. And he played his worst game ever. Which might not have mattered so much, but his high school team had won state the last three years in a row. This year, in part due to his score and that of one other player, they didn’t go as a team. (Individuals did qualify, but of course, Mike wasn’t one of those.)

He felt very, very bad. Totally despondent. He said, “I’ve spent thousands of hours playing this game and the one time it really counts….”

I wanted to fix it for him. I wanted to make it all better. I did move my flight to D.C. to a later one so I could spend more time with him. I couldn't do much, but I could be here, and there's comfort in knowing a person is nearby even if you don't want to interact. I also did what moms have done throughout the ages: I baked cookies. Warm oatmeal raisin chunks hot from the oven served with a tall glass of milk.

But the truth of the matter is that Michael learned a very tough lesson: There are times in our lives when we will let other people down. Sometimes because there's been a misunderstanding. Sometimes because we didn't do our best. Sometimes through no fault of our own.

Even when we try our best--do our utmost--"stuff" happens. We aren't in control of every aspect of our world.

It broke my heart to see him so down. I didn’t tell him it didn’t matter…because it did.

I have too often tried to fix things for him. This year, I’ve worked hard to let him learn his own lessons. The reason I tried to fix things has nothing or little to do with Michael, and everything to do with me. I was taught that I had to be perfect. I was taught that if I was perfect everything would be all right. In a home with an alcoholic father, “all right” means no one gets hurt. In my home, growing up, there was a high penalty for imperfection.

I sure don’t expect Michael to be perfect. And I try not to expect it of myself although old habits die hard.

A week after the horrible loss, he went out and played another tournament with his team. This time he came in second and tied with a young man who’s probably the best in our area. His team won a resounding victory. Mike did much better—and he had taken a lot of responsibility for his performance. He prepped for the match by practicing, taking a lesson, and practicing some more.

Shortly thereafter, Michael was diagnosed with mononucleosis. From beneath his chin to the top of his shoulders ran a line of lumps as hard as marbles. He's had a raw throat and a fever that goes up and down line a pianist practicing scales. And he's been tired. So tired.

Did he have mono when he played that awful game? The doctor shrugged. "It's entirely possible." Suddenly, my husband and I saw Michael's loss in another light: one of an exhausted kid trying to carry his golf bag 18 holes in the pouring rain. But Michael said, "That's no excuse."

Which surprised me. And warmed my heart in a strange way. I don't want him blaming himself unfairly, but I am pleased to see that he hasn't "blown off" the whole situation. He's still willing to take responsibility. And in my mind, to my way of thinking, it's the ability to take appropriate responsibility that separates winners from losers. Again, my mind time-travels back to my alcoholic father. NOTHING was ever his responsibility. "Everyone is out to get me," was his mantra. If nothing is ever your responsibility, you are absolved of the need to ever try, right?

In the front of my book, I’m Too Blessed to be Depressed, I have written: I prayed to God to send me a child so that I could teach him or her all that I had learned. God heard my prayer and sent me a teacher.

I am learning from my son--about the world, about assumptions, about myself.

In honor of my teacher, my son, I'll autograph and give away ONE copy of I'm Too Blessed to be Depressed. Go to Put "Blessed" in the subject line. In the body give me your name and postal address so I can send you the book if you win. I'll draw one name. DEADLINE: I must receive your entry by June 15, 2007.


Deb Baker said...

What a touching and enlightening post. You are so right on so many levels. There's a lot of "It's not my fault" going around these days. You don't hear the winners saying that.

Monica Ferris said...

Joanna, what a wonderful entry! I'm pleased to be sharing a blog with you. And vicariously proud of your son. And Deb, you're right about the "it's not my fault" syndrome. Nowadays, even the perps are told they're victims.

Mary Monica

Anonymous said...

Oh, my gosh. I'm in tears as I read this - you must be SO proud of your son, Joanna! He's a winner, in every way that matters.
What a tribute to your parenting!

- LindaB

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Golly, guys. Thanks.

Many years ago, Michael was acting up, and he said to me, "Mom, I wish I were a gooder boy."

Well, I wish I were a gooder mom.

But I couldn't ask for a gooder boy. I'll pass on the kind words to him.


Camille Minichino said...

Wonderful story, and heartening that a young man is so responsible and responsive. What I hear a lot is the passive voice, as in "it fell" as opposed to "I dropped it." Or, my favorite: "Mistakes were made!"
Thanks for sharing Joanna.

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