We spent the weekend as we often do - at a tennis tournament. Dr. SmartyPants was not here, so much of my time was spent texting game scores to him, my heart racing, my stomach churning.
It's one of those great joys in life to witness your child living up to his potential, demonstrating the mastery of skills for which you've paid the equivalent of a small island nation's GDP, and getting a win over his opponent.
It's another thing entirely to witness your child living up to his potential, demonstrating the mastery of skills for which you've paid the equivalent of a small island nations's GDP, and getting his butt kicked in 35 minutes flat.
It is, however, the nature of the game - and of life, quite honestly. So many times, regardless of how hard we've prepared, how mentally ready we are to take on a task, we end up defeated, and how we handle that defeat is what defines us in the end.
My children handle defeat very differently...they handle pretty much everything very differently. Derek walked off the court after his first round loss and said "Well, I played as well as I could have. That guy was just better than I was."
He was right. He did all the things that he's worked so hard on over the past couple weeks - things that had been problems - things he hadn't been doing well. And he did them well. The boy he played was just better. He was bigger, he was stronger, he was older and he had more experience. Derek could see that and move on.
Joshua won his first round match, although he lost the first set. He buckled down, won the second and the deciding tiebreak and then had to go on to the second round. His opponent was the #2 seed in the tournament, the #11 ranked boy in Tennessee. Joshua actually started out playing really well. He won a few games, lost a few really close ones. But here's where Derek and Joshua diverge - Joshua started getting angry.
He actually started angry. That's his default setting.
After the match, which he lost, I said something to him about being angry and how it shuts his feet down - shuts his game down, really. (This isn't the first conversation about it that we've had...) I could see the tears in his eyes as he said to me, "You tell me that it is okay to get angry, but then tell me that I shouldn't be angry! I don't get it!"
He's right. I've said both things to him. And I'm right, but he wasn't getting it. I told him to go take a shower, cry it out and come back and we'd talk about it.
I really just needed a few minutes to try and figure out how to explain it. Here's what I came up with:
Anger is an emotion, just like joy or sadness. There's nothing wrong with anger - it just is. But here's the thing...every time you get angry, it's like creating a one-pound brick. There's nothing wrong with that brick - it just is. But once you've created the brick, you have to decide what to do with it.
Ideally, you learn to put it down, out of your way, where it can't trip you up. Better yet, realize that it's just a brick of sand, blow on it really hard and scatter all the grains.
But you can also decide to strap that brick to your leg and hang on to it. Now - one brick that weighs one pound probably won't hinder you all that much, but consider this: It takes losing 24 points, minimum, to lose a tennis set. That's 24 opportunities to create an anger brick. If you strap all 24 of those bricks to your legs, you'd find it hard to move.
Imagine playing your best game with the equivalent of 24 pounds strapped to your legs. It just can't happen. You have to practice laying your bricks down, pulverizing them and blowing them away.
He thought about it for a few minutes. I asked him if he understood.
"Yes. I get it. It's kind of like in Minecraft? When there are zombies? And if you don't kill the zombie, they spawn more zombies and then you're completely overrun with zombies and you can't do anything."
"Exactly. I think. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"That's okay, Mom. I do."