Everyday my boys do something that amazes me. From the beginning – lifting their heads up the day they were born (all three of them did!), rolling over, walking, talking, running, learning, reading, biking, hiking, throwing, batting, shooting – they amaze me. But the fact of the matter is, they aren’t amazing. They have never started a charity to end world hunger, it’s not likely that they will cure cancer or lead the free world. They are good kids, with good hearts who work hard and screw up from time to time. They aren’t perfect, amazing, unbelievable or astounding. Their momma thinks they are – but they are in fact – not amazing.
When the boys were little I remember reading an article in Parenting magazine (back when I had a subscription of the paper mag that came right to my mailbox!) regarding praising children. The article focused on toddlers and preschoolers and praising them for every day accomplishments. It urged parents not to tell their youngster that “this painting is the best painting I have ever seen!” Kids see right through that smoke screen. Instead, tell them you like the colors they choose, or that you could see the apple they had tried to recreate. The idea was that it was unlikely that your preschooler had in fact painted “the best painting EVER!” It’s not true, focus on truth in your compliments and encouragement, be sure your praise is earned and worthy. Do not create a child that was dependent on outside praise, but rather a kid that could withstand criticism as they grew because they were never told “you are the best colorerer ever!”. I began to change my phrasing – instead of telling them I thought they were amazing (which I do), I told them the picture was nice, that I was really happy they painted it for me.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do – lavishing them with praise, soaking them in compliments was far more natural to me. But the words of the article stayed with me – and they made sense – how would they ever handle criticism in the big world if their perception of themselves was far more perfect than it ought to be.
A few weeks ago I was having a conversation in the stands of Cooper’s baseball game about one of the boys who had said at the end of a game the week prior, “I hate when people say “Good game, buddy!” at the end of a game when I know I didn’t play good. Just say, “Wow, you sucked today.” It’s not like I don’t already know it.” He was irritated. He didn’t like being lied to regarding his play, effort, result. I have overheard other similar conversations. A good friend of mine greeted her son at the fence after an unusual, and particularly poor, pitching performance and as she started to say, “Good job, buddy”, he gaffed and said “Don’t even. That was awful.” Kids know. They know when someone is full of it – and they know when the compliment is not genuine, wasn’t earned.
Sitting in as many sporting events as I have in my life, I have listened to parents handing out compliments that weren’t earned. I have listened to parents proclaim their children, “Amazing!” in front of everyone. I have listened to parents excuse mistakes – both in play and behavior – for their kids when their son didn’t rise to the occasion. It’s hard to watch. It’s hard not to. It’s one of the worst feelings to watch Cooper strike out, or commit an error. It’s terrible to watch him throw a helmet (which I have watched him do exactly once). I am always nervous watching Aiden bat – he thinks he should have a .1000 on base percentage and doesn’t always act as he should when he (shocker!) gets out. Watching Jackson misfire when the game is on the line sucks. It’s not pleasant when our kids don’t display their best effort, play or behavior. I have made excuses, and tried to rationalize behavior. The fight inside my heart and head between feeling that my boys are amazing – and knowing that in fact they are not – that makes it hard. I haven’t always done it well. I have provided too many excuses for them on occasion.
It has occurred to me in the past months, as I watch Cooper prepare for his last year of high school, as he puts himself out there in efforts to be recruited to play football, that I hope I have done enough (a recurring theme for me daily) for him to know the truth. For him to know that he is not special. For him to know that the world does not think he is amazing. That hard work is his only option. That there are hundreds – thousands, tens of thousands – of other kids whose parents think they are equally as amazing – who aren’t actually amazing. That to make it in college, to succeed in life, he has to know what his true strengths are. He has to learn where his weaknesses lie and work on them – every day. That he is not amazing.
And I hope that he knows that I still think he is. That I love the curl of his hair outside his baseball hat. That I think he is incredibly smart and tenacious, that I know he has a good heart, that I am in awe of his dedication to his goals and I know I did not have the same drive. That I am so proud of the student and athlete and person he is. That I think he is amazing. That I think he is special. That wherever life takes him, I will have his back. And I also hope he knows that wherever he goes and whatever he does I will try and call a spade a spade. I will tell him when he has screwed up – I will help him find a way to rectify that. I won’t be perfect – and neither is he. But I will give my most perfect effort. And I expect the same from him.