Score one for Rocketman

I like sports. Growing up, I played soccer, softball and basketball in the city rec leagues. I liked soccer. I loved softball. I hated basketball. But I played them and was pretty good. At least at softball.

I played tennis in high school and lots of pickup beach volleyball on the school’s courts in the summer. And I threw javelin.

I was not a star at any of these sports. I was fairly mediocre. But, I never felt the need to be the best at any of them. I worked hard. I practiced. I loved being outdoors and chanting from the dugout. (2, 4, 6, 8…who do we appreciate..???)

My parents went to all of my games. My dad attended all of my practices. They were proud of me for getting out there and playing. And when I didn’t make varsity in high school, we all felt like it would have been kind of a long shot anyway and I shrugged my shoulders and joined the band instead.

Now, I know it’s not the 80’s. And I live in a different town than the one I grew up in. But, my goodness, the intensity of these parents about their five year old athlete is almost too much to bear.

Who made the travel team? Who was signed for the year round skills program? What college will offer whose five year old a scholarship? Zow. So intense.

It’s almost like it’s a blessing that Rocketman isn’t a natural born athlete. That he doesn’t join us for Sunday afternoon Patriots watching (even while his two year old brother shouts, “Touchdown” as they rack up the points.). That I would rather be going on a family hike or visiting a playground with my kids while everyone else in town is driving an hour away for a tournament.

But the best thing is that because of Rocketman’s limitations, I have a completely different perspective than those parents arguing that their child should be on the elite team. My dreams for Rocketman are just so…different.

One year ago, Rocketman was evaluated by an occupational therapist based on my concerns about his sensitivities toward sound and touch. I was present for the evaluation, and I will never forget the sick feeling in my gut that began in the first 10 minutes and lasted the entire year.

The evaluation revealed that my sweet Rocketman had deficits in fine motor skills, gross motor skills, tone and endurance. He couldn’t close his eyes and spin in a circle without flying across the room and falling down. He couldn’t stand from kneeling. He couldn’t run without hinging his entire body in one direction while sticking out his tongue in the other.

Rec soccer was a nightmare. He did ok with the skills component. But when it came to participating in the games, oh my. He couldn’t keep up with the kids, so he was more often found laying on the grass picking flowers, looking at the clouds, or sitting on a spare ball and beating it like a drum.

We wanted him to get in there. Get the idea of what it was like to play a real soccer game with everyone else. At the start of each session, we would tell him, “You don’t have to get a goal! You don’t even have to get the ball and dribble. Just TOUCH the ball with your foot….just ONCE! That’s all you’ve got to do.”

So he would run into the cluster of kids, aim for the ball, and then someone would get to it first and kick it away. All the other kids would change direction and continue after it. Not Rocketman. He would hang his head like Charlie Brown, trudge over to us on the sidelines, throw his arms in the air, and go back to drumming a spare ball.

It was all too much for him. The overstimulation of 50 town teams playing all over the giant field. 10 different coaches yelling instructions. The requirement for running, endurance, stamina. The coordination. He just didn’t have it. The kid was smart and funny and fun and thoughtful and had a million strengths. But we threw him on a soccer field where every skill needed was a documented weakness and what we got was a train wreck.

Last year was tough. But one of the high points was when soccer ended. He was put on an IEP. He was prescribed a sensory diet. Individual sports like swim were recommended and taken. Therapies were attended.

In the spring, there was an opportunity for parent and me t-ball at the local YMCA. It was a fabulous program that used scaffolding to teach baseball skills and culminated in a mock game at the end of class each week. Some weeks were good. Some not so hot. And some terrible. It all depended on his level of focus, how tired he was, what distractions there were around. One deficit was motor planning, so while all the other parents simply told their child what to do and then watched them do it, I needed to physically manipulate Rocketman’s body in order for his brain to process the connection.

It wasn’t fun. But I felt like it was almost like another form of therapy for him. And I did see progress.

This summer, we just chilled. Beach, waterslide, playdates. Bike rides, scootering, hikes. Therapy two times a week. But outside of that, I didn’t go out of my way to make every activity done at or outside of home some form of therapy. I just let him be a kid and I enjoyed watching that kid grow, learn and mature.

And then school started again. And soccer season with it.

I made the executive decision NOT to sign him up for the rec league. (Even though he was probably the only child in the town who wasn’t.) But I didn’t want to drop soccer entirely either. So I signed him up for another parent and me program at the Y.

This time Hubs worked with Rocketman on soccer skills while I took Bubba to tumbling. Again, it was a scaffolded skills class that would sometimes culminate in a scrimmage at the end of class. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of them playing from the window at Tumbling. They looked pretty good, but who knew.

Hubs was positive about their sessions and enthusiastic about working with him in the backyard. After dealing with him in a similar situation in the spring, I was surprised but impressed with his enthusiasm.

This past Saturday, Tumbling ran under and Soccer over. I approached the field feeling excited yet apprehensive. They were playing a game and it was two young coaches vs. the whole group of boys. As soon as I arrived at the field, there was a big pileup and Rocketman flipped over a teammate’s head and got the wind knocked out of him.

He was crying (which he rarely does) and he trudged to the sidelines and threw himself into my arms. I gave him a hug and offered some TLC. Then I said, “I know that you got hurt, and that stinks. If you don’t think that you can play anymore, then that’s fine and we’ll go home. But if you think you are ok and still want to play, I would absolutely LOVE to see you. They will only be playing for a couple of more minutes, so you really need to make a choice now, before it’s too late and the game is over.”

Many parents I know would, in this situation, hope for their child to run in there, steal the ball away from the coach and take it to goal. But those weren’t even close to my wishes for my little boy that day. The small gestures he made following the choices he was given made every sensory activity, trip to therapy and battle for services worth it all.

Rocketman sighed deeply, turned around, and headed into the group of kids running toward the ball. One child was able to gain control of the ball and passed it to Rocketman. Rocketman took it, dribbled it out of bounds, but then back in , and attempted a kick on goal. He missed and someone else got the ball. But instead of crying and giving up, he kept right on up with that group of kids and ran and laughed and screamed with glee.

And I sat on the sidelines and cried. Because this is all that I have ever wished for my magical little boy: that he be happy. That he doesn’t feel the sting of disappointment in himself when he sees he is the only one that can’t do it. That he doesn’t lose the strong sense of confidence he has in himself as he is challenged in each area of his weaknesses.

But he was happy. He could DO IT!! They didn’t look like weaknesses anymore. He was keeping up with everyone else. He was laughing with everyone else! He was part of the team. He picked himself up from a good fall, jumped right in and became my superstar.

Elite travel teams are not part of my vocabulary, and I hope they don’t soon become so (although Bubba is hellbent on changing all that). My aspirations for my son are different than others’ might be for theirs. But I imagine I am every bit as proud of my sweet Rocketman as the parents whose child made the elite team or has college recruiters at 5. And I still believe what I believed at 8 and 12 and 14.

I like sports. They are fun to play. They get you outdoors and into the fresh air. They encourage teamwork and cultivate a sense of belonging. But all this other hoopla? It’s all just a little bit too intense for me.

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