Monday, June 4, 2012

Field Day Fears

This morning, I was awakened by my wife telling me, "You need to get up and go talk to your son?"  Groggy and still in half-sleep, I asked, "Why?"  "He doesn't want to go to school today."  This was nothing new, but she continued, "He's begging me to keep him home so he doesn't have to go to field day."  Indeed, Benjamin pleaded with both of us to either keep him home or write him a note saying that he didn't have to participate.  Near tears, he talked of how other kids would make fun of him if he didn't do well in the competitions.  His feeling of inadequacy in athletics was one I am all too familiar with since I grew up with this myself being the shortest and most unathletic boy in all of my classes. 

Mark Twain once said, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, but not absence of fear."

My wife and I were of the mind that he needed to go to school and face his fears but how do I tell him this in a compassionate and loving way?  AS I went to his room, I felt inadequate.  Why couldn't I have the gentle, patient wisdom of Atticus Finch?  Or the home-spun, guidance story-telling ability of Andy Griffith?  Or even the humorous wisdom of Bill Cosby?  All of them could approach this better than me.

Still, I went to Benjamin and told him my own tale of field day. 

It was my last field day at Barringer Elementary in Charlotte.  Because it had rained the day before our field day, they held the events inside the school gym instead of outside.  This meant that the whole grade was there and watched each event unfold before them.  I had signed up to represent our class in the potato sack race and, when the time came, I got on the line in my potato sack along with my competitors from other classes in my grade.  The PE teacher called out, "On your mark.  Get set.  Go!"  We were off.  To my surprise, I immediately took the lead and was hopping furiously towards the finish line.  I couldn't believe it: I was winning!  Kids from my class were cheering furiously for me.  Then, and I don't know what made me do it, but, like Lot's wife, I glanced back.  While the consequences weren't as dire as being turned into a human salt lick, I did, however, trip and fall on my face.  Because of the slickness of the gym floor, I struggled to get up and, by the time I did, I found myself in last place.  It was a horrible Charlie Brown moment.  Everyone in my grade saw me fall and fail.  Including Kimberly, the girl I had a silent crush on. 

Why would I tell him all this?

Because there was no way his field day would be worse.  And because that, even though it happened to me, I lived through it (and was probably the only person who even remembered my falling).  Benjamin asked me a lot of questions about what happened after that and I told him the truth, "Yeah some of my classmates were upset with me, but most weren't.  Most tried to cheer me up because they were my friends." I also told him, "But you know, whenever I run into someone I knew from school, they never mention this moment.  Ever.  Instead, they always ask me, "Do you still draw?"  They remember me for what I was good at: my drawing ability." 

I also told him, "How athletic someone is, doesn't really matter on field day.  A kid can be great at football or basketball but this might not transfer to a  pizza delivery challenge where a kid has to get empty pizza boxes from one end of the field to the other without dropping them or in rubber chicken run where one has to carry a rubber chicken with chop sticks."

I then prayed with Benjamin.  I would also pray for him throughout the day while I was at work.  My wife did the same.

When it was finally time for me to pick him up from school, I was anxious to see how his day had gone.  To my relief, he came out of the school with a big grin on his face.  His team had won tug of war and the pizza delivery challenge.  They had also done well on the rubber chicken run.  He recounted the day for me and he was glad that he had gone and hadn't let his fears overcome him.  Benjamin learned, like many of us, that our mental fears are often greater than what the real circumstances will actually offer us.  Proud of him, I took Benjamin to Dairy Queen for his favorite: a chocolate-dipped cone.  As we sat there talking about his day, I thought about how I may not be a sage with the best advice, but I can be there for my son to listen to and just love him.

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