I Am Thankful to My Son and the Life Lessons He Gives Me
May 28, 2017
Most of the people who read my blog know me as a business woman, but once in a while it is nice to share what truly matters, and that is raising my family. As anyone who has raised a child knows, it is the toughest job in the world. There are lots of books, but no real manual. What works for one child is totally wrong for another. Even more confusing; what is right for a child one moment is totally wrong for the same child minutes later.
For the month of November, I have felt like the worst parent imaginable, but my son has shown me yet again a life lesson I will never forget. For this reason and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to share with you why I admire him and celebrate having him in my life.
Up until November 6, 2014, my son had been a gymnast. If your child has not competed on a high level in that sport, here is a little information:
He got interested in gymnastics at age 6 and spent a year at a local gym. There the coaches said he was very talented and referred him to another, more advanced gym.
At the new gym my son tried out with the coach who said he was a bit old (yep – 7 is old in that sport) but that he would work with him and see how things developed.
My son then flourished. Over the next few years he won competitions, continued to progress, and loved the gym, coach, and other team members like a family. He actually spent more time with them than his family, eventually practicing 6 days a week for 24+ hours.
This is when things got a little crazy for all involved. The team travels all over New England competing, then to New York, California, Denver, and beyond. It is a very, very, expensive sport, and we worked hard to continue to afford it. Why? Because he loved it, was good at it. and it is rare to see that level of dedication.
My son also has an eye sight issue and later developed epilepsy, both illnesses typically cause children to fail at school, but not our little fighter – he got straight A’s and worked even harder. Here some parents might have said, “Enough with the über competitive sport, let’s slow down a bit.” We did not say that. I felt that if he was willing to work that hard for something he loved, I should not get in his way. I am not sure if we were right or wrong, but that is the complexity of parenting.
A few years into the advanced competition, he started to lose. Not all the time, some seasons were better than others, but there were a few gymnasts who had incredible abilities and smaller, lighter bodies. My son learned then that nothing is ever handed to you, and few things in life are a sure thing. Most people would have quit in frustration, but he never complained. His heart would break (and my heart would break watching), as a small mistake would mean the difference between perfection and failure. This drama would be played out over and over. The wins meant that much more to him, and each season would start with a new feeling of hope.
What he learned at the gym was more than how to tumble and flip. The boys there are all great kids and show each other how to win and lose with grace and dignity. They have no ‘quit’ in them and help their team members at any time in any way they can. Who wouldn’t want their child in an environment like that? From time to time we would say, “Someday you might be injured and have to leave the sport.” Or “What would you do if you did not do gymnastics?” But he could not imagine that happening, and honestly neither could we.
The injuries started a few years ago as he started to grow. About one a year along with the usual bumps and bruises:
He broke a growth plate in his wrist, six to nine weeks out of competition, working hard to catch up.
He fell off the high bar and broke his leg in three places, six weeks of only working out his upper body, and working hard to catch up.
He fell on his head last year resulting in a level 3 concussion, nine weeks of rest, losing his ability to keep up in Math and having a very difficult 7th grade. I was working in Africa at the time and debated going home, but my husband assured me that there was nothing I could do. It was not very assuring at all, but it was true enough. I was mentally done with the sport after that incident and asked him to consider quitting, but he did not want to. I on the other hand saw the grainy video of him falling through space and landing on his head, with his body following and snapping unnaturally behind him. I watched that video again and again until the image burned into my mind.
Then this summer his wrists hurt. We made an appointment with his specialist but could not get in until November. He went on with gymnastics but was careful to avoid moves that aggravated his injury.
This brings me to that grey, rainy day, November 6, 2014. He and I sat in the Doctor’s office at Boston Children’s Hospital and heard about the damage. The bones have started to splinter off at the ends from a repetitive motion injury. The wrists would need 8 weeks or longer to heal, but the doctor (correctly) would not recommend whether or not my son should stop the sport he loves. It was my job to do this. I am his parent, and I needed to quit for my son when he could not do it himself. I talked to him and delivered the news that his body is showing signs of not being built for gymnastics. He has the heart of a lion and will succeed in anything he puts his mind to, but this sport and his body have simply outgrown each other. It is time to walk away.
Now here is the lesson he taught me. I selfishly worried that he would hate me and resent my decision. I was even afraid that he would resent me for not making this decision earlier. He had all rights to be depressed, eat until he gained 200 pounds, or act out any way he could think of – this definitely would have been my reaction at his age. Instead he accepted the news with a cheerful toughness I could not hope to manage. He has stayed open to new possibilities and is willing to see what other things life has to offer.
This week he tried out for the town swim team and I sat on the bleacher watching. He knows how to swim, but has no experience what so ever swimming laps. The first practice they swam over 30 laps in an hour. He was far behind the others and his technique was lacking (once again – at 13 he is late for the sport), but he refused to quit or swim less laps than the kids who have been on the team for years. I watched him observe the others and make corrections, with each lap his posture and speed improved. The next night he swam with the fierceness I know so well. In fact, he swam into other people and even went around stragglers. I could have cried, but played it cool and pretended not to notice, like a mom is supposed to do.
For his entrance essay into a high school, he wrote that I am an inspiration to him because I go out and make things happen. He likes that I don’t quit when things are difficult and that I am strong. This Thanksgiving I wanted to tell him that this quality runs in the family. He is a joy and I am so blessed he is my son.