After two nights of family camping and then two nights sharing a room at the Mohonk Mountain House with my mom, my kids were tired. My four-year-old was faring better than my seven-year-old in degree of moodiness. Now, I know full well that I’m often not the best candidate to moralize to my grumpy kid without digging a much bigger hole for the both of us. In such cases, I find that my wisest choice is not to have her see the error of her ways, but to step aside and either manage the situation (diffuse with humor and ice cream) or ignore it (remain calm and non-confrontational), until the storm passes.
So when I saw my daughter hang her head over the top of the tennis net, gnawing on the thick white tape at the top, I decided to take a wait-and-see approach. A single fat tear hovered at the edge of her lower lash like a crystal suspended from fishing wire. Her burst of tears was born from frustration. Just a moment before, she was delighting in the cone shaped cup dispenser that was fixed courtside, serving us water like ice cream cones on display at the shop, empty of scoops. Then, as soon as she stepped back onto the court, and missed more than one of my gentle tosses to her racquet, she revolted and collapsed on the net.
I don’t know what it was exactly, but when I saw her flushed face prostrate on the net I thought of my college essay student’s parents. Not that different, I thought, witnessing your teenager collapse in front of you at the thought of writing a personal essay, something you might deem tolerable, enjoyable even, but on which they project their anxiety about the entire college process.
“Mom, why did you throw it like that?” yelled my daughter, and “I hate this stupid racquet!” She threw the racquet on the ground, she stood on it and then she dragged it in the dirt. I made excuses for her: “It must be the heat,” “She’s tired.” I rationalized that she’s really suited for winter sports; she can withstand almost any cold. She likes to swim in the Hudson River in April. She prefers to swim over run around on a clay court or on a grass field, air-conditioned dance studios to biking in the heat of the day.
My own mother tried to break through and reason with her: “Let me show you,” “you’re too close to the net,” “it’s your mother’s fault, she’s not good enough to hit it right toward you.” Hmpf. I could tell it was a fait accompli. I just wanted to shepherd her off the court and into the swimming pool. The rest of the day was devoid of tears, but not of whining.
Not so different, I thought, to choose to absorb your child’s raging at you, or at the universe, to protect them from further pain or from losing it altogether. Still, I’d like to minimize the backlash when I can. Think about it, would you try to teach your kid how to play tennis? Maybe you’d like to teach mine? I know that next time I will definitely call a professional. I would recommend you do the same.