Car rides home with a nine-year-old who just endured a two-hour football practice wearing full pads on a sun-stroked field are often filled with complaining. Hunger and exhaustion steeped in sweat do not tend to bring out the best in a person.
“Mom, I don’t want to play cornerback anymore. I’d rather play on the defensive line.”
“Why is that?”
“I just don’t feel comfortable coming in from the end to make a tackle. I’d rather block someone because it’s easier.”
My fourth-grader was barking up the grumble tree and I wasn’t buying in.
“Your coach will decide what position is best for you to play, honey.”
“But I’m not comfortable.”
This is when most moms would stop, drop, and reflect. If our kid says they aren’t comfortable with something, it's best to consider the reveal a red flag we should pay attention to.
In my case, said nine-year-old was my precious daughter, the only shoulder-pad wearing estrogen-bearer on a team bursting with testosterone. The red flag looked more like a 50-foot banner being pulled across my eye space behind a plane piloted by Captain Obvious, “Hey nitwit, your daughter is a 50-pound pip squeak playing with boys who’d rather run off the field before allowing a girl to tackle them!”
Still, I missed the message.
My child’s concerns weren’t registering. I only heard complaining. I rationalized that my little girl needed time to learn the system and understand the position. This would build confidence and reduce discomfort. I also worried that giving in to her angst would encourage a quitter's mentality.
The smell of sweat must dumb a parent down.
“Kahrin, you just need to practice more and learn the cornerback position.”
“Mom, I can’t learn my feelings!”
My pony-tailed football princess replaced her sweaty skull cap with the crown of wisdom before my very eyes on that steamy August night.
My daughter is an athlete head-to-toe. When you look at her DNA under a microscope, a Nike swoosh appears. She’s played almost every sport known to woman and a couple to man. And played them well.
Considering my daughter was also the quarterback (which must have done wonders for the self-esteem of the other 99.9% of her team), it seemed apparent the coach was utilizing her athleticism by placing her in a cornerback position on defense.
This story is written in an old journal dated September, 17, 2006. Whether or not I encouraged my daughter to talk to her coach about being uncomfortable after she dished out her shrewd quip will remain a mystery. Neither of us can recall the rest of the story.
But here I am, 10 years later, finally embracing the profound insight behind my nine-year-old's snappy retort.
“I can’t learn my feelings.”
You are correct, sweetheart, and sagacious beyond your years even when that oversized helmet wobbled on your girl-sized head.
Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are. They emerge unannounced like submarines needing a pressure change. When you need oxygen, you need oxygen.
And parenting is just as fleeting as feelings. We don’t learn our feelings of love, doubt, anxiety, joy, excitement, awe, wonder, fear, anger, disbelief, and pain. These sentiments happen without warning in and around every waking moment of raising our children.
My daughter’s insightful comment back in ‘06 reminded me how we do have the ability to learn how to manage our feelings – a lesson I’m still grasping as a 46-year-old work-in-progress.
I’ve come to realize the best way to handle our feelings is to get to know them. Sounds corny, but it’s true. A simple meet and greet with our emotions as they surface does wonders for our well-being.
When the feeling is positive we sit with it for a while and enjoy its presence. Negative feelings are more like rude impostors we dismiss. Feelings will fight for our attention one way or another and I’ve learned that accepting the lousy ones for what they are and understanding where they come from is necessary before sending them on their way.
Either way, as my astute daughter reminded me, we can’t ignore our feelings for long. And our kids count on us to avoid any chance of ignoring theirs.
There is much to learn from our kiddos about the important things in life. Mine have taught me more than any book or beer label, that’s for sure.
I want to thank my young Jedi. Her uncanny wisdom as a grade-schooler planted a seed in my mom heart. Maybe, just maybe, the blessing is starting to bloom.