Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I am not a helicopter mom

"This is where the helicopters came to take me away."

I just did something that didn't come naturally or comfortably to me.

I left my son in a field in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of people we do not know, have never met, and walked away.

Long time readers know that Geoff has some problems with listening skills and learning disabilities. I try and back him up a lot, and honestly feel I've never been what is commonly known as a "helicopter mom." I go to Cub Scouts, and I help out... not always just with Geoff but with the other boys. I always ask the den mothers if I am overstepping my bounds and they're usually glad to have the extra set of hands and another loud voice to yell at the boys. I don't get over involved in his school work. I let teachers know that if there is a problem with his homework, if he's not turning it in, or he's expressing any sort of anxiety or seems upset, just to let me know so we can work on the coping skills at home. But I never say "is your homework done? Let me see it so I can check it." If it's a mess -- it is HIS mess. He'll get a poor grade on it.

I try and give him pointers on projects like book reports and posters. Sometimes he doesn't listen. And he gets a lower grade. But it is HIS grade... not mine. And he knows it was what he earned and deserved and ... he got it and owns it.

Today is a little different for us though. Today is the first day of football practice. My nerves were even keeled and I was unphased until one of my coworkers asked if I was nervous about it being such a rough sport. Geoff's a big kid. I'm not worried about him getting hurt. I am worried about him getting discouraged and feeling like he sucks at this. That's my big fear, not that he'll lose teeth or get a broken arm or anything.

But she kind of put the thought in the back of my head that yeah... I don't know what to expect with this. I've had no preparation. I don't even know where the pads go in the pants.

We were slightly late getting there. The webpage says practice starts at 5, but I guess there is a secret, unwritten rule that says to be there at 4:30. We were there at 4:50, and we were the last ones on the field. Not quite fully dressed, and me carrying a huge athletic bag with all his crap in it that I couldn't figure out what to do with.

As we approached, I could hear the coach instructing the boys that if they arrive at 5:01, they can't practice and won't be playing in the game for the following Saturday.

"Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, coach!" came the resounding chorus. "Yes, coach!" said Geoff as he was fumbling with his shoulder pads, because, again, I have no clue what I'm doing.

I dig in the bag and still have no idea WHERE to put all his inner pads in his pantaloons. So I'm standing there with a handful of foam protection meant to get put into his knees, thighs, butt, shins... and I have no idea where to put them. Shit, I'm ... ugh. Not feeling like this is looking good to anyone around us. Luckily, the boys weren't looking at us, they were focused on the coach talking. Geoff got his shoulder pads on and I handed him his shirt to put over it.

A coach came over and just looked at me.

I swear. Just LOOKED at me.

"Um, I'm really sorry but I haven't got a clue where to shove these things." He took them from my sheepish and embarassed hands, and says "I'll show him."

I reached over to tie a bow on Geoff's chest plate on his shoulder pads (because a knot would be impossible to undo) and the coach taps my hand away very gently and says "He can do it."

He's right -- he can do it. I handed Geoff his water bottle and said "See you at 7pm."

And I walked away with the now empty athletic bag over my shoulder... I wasn't going to protest, or argue, or act indignant that no one gave me an instruction manual on where to shove the pads into these stupid pants, or that the coach tapped my hand away. That's alright. He's right.

They'll show him.

He's a rookie, and they'll show him.

So I walked away.

I looked for someone I knew, and there wasn't anyone. I was kind of dumbfounded because I needed a sympathetic shoulder to be all "Dude, I have no clue!" onto.

This is a regional school system, so they start the football teams out with all 3 towns involved. And I could find no one from our school, from our grade. It was weird.

The boys all took a long lap around the very large triple field. I walked back towards my car and stopped to pet someone's dog, and make small talk. Her son is in 8th grade and they were just finishing up their practice. He came over, tall, tan and beautiful and she handed him a water from her cooler.

She gave me pointers. She is my Mother Theresa of Youth Football.

geoff football1. The helmet has an excellent handle. Take the shirt and shoulder pads off AT THE SAME TIME, and slip them over the helmet so the mouth part of the hemet comes up through the neck of the shirt. It will all stay as one unit. Tuck anything into the helmet you may need (like pads that don't stay in the pants for any reason) and tie the shirt in a knot at the bottom (around the top of the helmet.

Wow. That's gorgeous. Her son, very hot and tired and sweaty, and probably not really interested in showing me how it works, demonstrated the needed manuvers for me, and I got it. I can teach that to Geoff and it will be something he'll be able to do.

2. Don't wash the pants every night. Her son's first year she was doing his pants nightly. She ended up wearing them out just by washing them. Wash them on Friday nights before a Saturday game. And then let them ride for the week.

3. Because you're not washing them... Febreeze, Febreeze, Febreeze. Spray Everything With Febreeze. Or the whole house will reek.

4. Bring extra water to the end of practice. The boys tend to drink all of their water half way through.

5. Don't let discouragement get anyone down. The coaches work the kids hard. Really hard. Ten year olds sometimes don't get it, and they want to quit after the first week. Hang in there, let the boy cry, and it'll all be okay if you just encourage him to do his best.

6. Never ask "Did you win?" if you weren't at the game. Always ask "Did you play your best?" and "Did you have a good time?" My friend Rob told me this is what he asks his kids on the swim team he coaches. It is sound advice.

She left with her son, who gave me a beautiful and "you're not that pathetic, rookie mom!" smile while his mom was giving me the pointers.

I feel like my son is off to Hogwarts for the first time, and I am a Muggle who cannot pass through the platform at the train station to join him and see him off, so I have no idea what to expect, or what he will be going through.

I just have to trust the Dumbledores of this program, that they'll make my boy a mighty fine football wizard someday.

We shall see.

Eventually, I did run into one mom I knew. Our sons are in cub scouts together, in the same den. She had the same problem with the pads and the whole situation, and she's afraid he's going to be late every day because she gets home from work at 5. I volunteered Doug to help out if necessary... at least one day a week when he's home. I know he won't mind.

Doug can get into his office earlier and get home in time to get the boys over to the field, so ... I'm hoping this burden will land more squarely upon his shoulders instead of on mine. I feel I've shouldered the Kid Shuttling Burden often enough over the past couple of years, so with his new job and schedule, hopefully it'll all work out just fine and I can actually ... stay at work and work!

But the kids matter, and their hopes matter, and they need to be places and that matters, and my son's friend's mom has a day off during the week so she can get Geoff that day, and ... between all parties, it all works out.

I was just really amazed to not see a single person I knew. I would have thought for sure more boys in 5th grade from our school would be playing football. I'm kind of surprised.

So I came home to let the dogs out and get that 2nd water for Geoff, and I have to drive back down to Marblehead tonight and get Jess at 8pm. The kids in Lear decided they needed more rehearsal time before Saturday and Sunday's performances, so they banded together and picked a place to go to do more run throughs and work on things.

Jess effectively will have an 11 hour day of Shakespeare. It could be worse, it could be 11 hours of football.

Anyway. I feel like in about 20 minutes it will be safe for me to head back to the field, go watch for a little while. I will not helicopter this boy in this situation. I will not.

I'll just watch from the metaphorical airfield, far apart.


I am very glad I didn't stay to watch.

Geoff had a really, really rough time. Unlike some kids, he didn't puke though. Which is good.

They ran them hard. There was a lap run for every infraction committed by a team member (ie: not wearing a mouthguard at a certain time, or not having a helmet on...) Geoff didn't deal with the running very well. He was weak. He was tired. He was easily distracted and discouraged watching some of the boys who were kicking ass and taking names.

He was wandering around by himself at the far end of the field when I got there. He was supposed to be running a lap. But it was more or less Geoff lost in the wilderness. I wanted to go out there and say "What in the name of Merlin's Pants are you doing!?!" but I didn't. I let him make his way around... running the last 10 feet to the huddle or the activity or whatever.

I spoke with one of the coaches and said, with a smile, looks like you kicked my son's ass today and that's quite alright. Hi. My name is Chris. Geoff's my son."

He shook my hand and said "yeah... he didn't do well after we ran the second lap, and said his chest hurt, so we had him take it easy, and we did drills but he didn't follow direction well..."

"Well, I'll give you some pointers on how to get Geoff's attention to improve. Praise, short step instructions like 'do this, okay... now that you've done that, do this...' and 'repeat that back to me. I need to hear you say it so I know you know it.'"

We talked for quite a while. He gave me full tutorial on where the pads go (oh, look at that. There's a thing inside the pants for stuff to slide into!) And we agreed to stay in touch and discuss things as needed, when it comes to Geoff and listening and what have you... he seemed like a great guy. Let's hope he thinks my son is.

Anyway -- Geoff's in the shower, Doug just called to say he is in Oneida, and we need to go get Jess. So we're off.

More later.

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