Today was our first day of fall sports games. David, my oldest, is playing his second year of flag football, coached by the fabulous team of Daddy, Uncle Chris and our friend Dan. They had a great game - David's only complaint was when it was over. He wanted to play more.
We're making a second run at team sports with our four-year-old son, Grayson. T-ball was a bust last spring. I should have listened to the kid; when it came time to sign up, I asked him if he wanted to play and he said no. My response? "Of course you want to play! You can play on your own team, just like David!" He still said no, I still signed him up, and he didn't like it one bit. Looking back, I should have known. He's not a baseball kind of kid. There is far too much standing around and waiting. He liked hitting the ball and running to first base, and he didn't even mind waiting at each base to run to the next one. But being in the outfield was pure torture. He got frustrated very quickly that he wasn't getting a chance to catch the ball. There were too many kids on his team last year and the coaches (sadly) didn't do a very good job, so the whole experience wasn't great. We wound up going to the first couple of games, and then just letting it slide. It was too frustrating for all of us and we decided it wasn't worth pushing something like that at age 4.
We thought soccer might be more to his liking, and he'd played soccer a little bit at preschool, so he had an idea of what it was. When I asked if he wanted to play on a soccer team, I got an emphatic yes, so I took a chance and signed him up.
He did great at the two practices he's had so far. He participated, he listened, he ran around after the ball. He seemed a little distracted at times, but overall it went fine.
And then came today's game.
He started out ok, but mostly he was just running up and down the field (I guess you'd still call it a field, although it was inside in the gym). He didn't seem to really understand what he's supposed to do. Running around after the crowd of other kids got old pretty quickly, and the hustle and bustle seemed a little overwhelming. When Grayson gets overwhelmed (or frustrated) he shuts down. He checks out. This is too hard, I don't know what I'm doing, and so I'll just stop and do nothing. That's his deal.
Thankfully his coach was really sweet and helped coax him back into playing a little. But he really had no clue what he was supposed to be doing. I suppose from his perspective, it was just a bunch of kids running around, up and down the gym, trying to get a ball that seemed impossible to actually touch, due to said kids. At one point he asked the coach if they could play a different game now. Later, he asked us why they can't just take turns kicking the ball, like they did in practice.
The tough part with him is that, in this type of situation, instead of trying harder to get the ball, he stops trying at all - and then gets frustrated because he isn't playing. The fact that he makes it worse for himself doesn't occur to him. By the end of the game, he was walking up and down the gym, looking everywhere but where the ball was going. I think at one point, he was singing something, looking up at the ceiling.
His lack of attention wouldn't bother me near as much if he was having fun while doing it and excited about trying again. But his shutting down mechanism kicks in when he doesn't like what is happening around him and he can't control it. So he cuts himself off. He doesn't like feeling that way, so it makes the whole experience negative.
Fearing a repeat of baseball (not only did we already pay for this, but I don't know how many times I will be willing to let him join a team and then quit, although I know he's only 4), we all tried to keep it light and positive after his game. Rather than focusing on how utterly maddening it was to watch him out there, doing almost nothing, and knowing he was hating it because he wasn't getting to kick the ball, we told him he did great and it was a great first try and that maybe we should get him a soccer ball for home so we can practice and learn. He seemed to like that idea, and much to my relief, he did not declare that he's never playing soccer again.
Later this evening, we did go and get him a soccer ball. He picked out a red one (apparently he needed to match his bright red soccer socks that he picked out last week) and said over and over how much he loves his new ball and how he's going to kick it every day. The kid can be ridiculously sweet when he wants to.
The thing is, I have such a hard time understanding Grayson. He is an utter mystery to me in so many ways. His brother, I get. David needs a lot of attention, reassurance and praise. He loves being the center of everything and he thrives on achieving things. I know how to reach David, I know how to motivate him. Grayson is an entirely different little person. He is so much like his Daddy, and his Papa as well. In fact, he might be more like my father-in-law than my husband. They both possess this quality that makes them, enigmatic, in a way. They are not forthcoming with their feelings, and they are both really hard to read. It would almost be easy to assume that my father-in-law has few feelings other than a friendly joviality, which seems to be his typical demeanor. He runs far deeper than that, I know, but it's hard to find it. He's not a feely kind of person. And neither is Grayson.
Grayson could be crushed over something and all you will see is a slight downturn of his mouth and a little bit of something in his eyes. He won't necessarily tell you if something is wrong, and when you ask, very often the answer is, "I don't know!" I think often, that's true - he doesn't know. He just knows that something doesn't feel right, but he has a hard time sorting out his feelings and understanding what they mean, let alone communicating them to someone else. It makes it really difficult to help him when something is wrong. And sometimes I worry about how often I'm missing things with him, times when he is upset or hurting and I don't realize it because he doesn't know how to tell me.
Watching him out there, looking so lost amidst the other running, scrambling children, made my heart ache a little. He is simultaneously intensely frustrating and intensely endearing. His enigmatic nature confuses me to no end, yet I am so intrigued by his uniqueness. He shares so many characteristics with his father and the funny thing is, my husband doesn't understand him much better than I do (although my husband would tell you that he doesn't understand himself half the time, so maybe that's part of the problem). Much like his father, he is a study in contradictions. He is mellow, yet difficult; happy, yet reserved; chaotic and impulsive, yet often displaying discipline beyond his four years.
As his parent, he will always pose unique challenges. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve like his brother does. You have to dig deeper with him to get to the core of what is going on in that little body, heart and soul. It's in there, and if you have enough patience, you can find it. But he doesn't make it easy.
He sure is lucky he's cute.