Buddy: tender, big-hearted, thoughtful, loving, smart, philosophical, gallant.
That’s my eldest son. He is in the second semester of 5th grade and Jr. High is looming near. Buddy is not happy about this. He’s never handled change very well. He’s very sentimental and often times he asks me things like, “what ever happened to that kid I met on the playground once when we lived in Kansas City?”
“Buddy, you were 3. Do you really remember that?”
“Yeah! We had a few play dates together and then he came to my birthday party. I wonder how he’s doing? I miss him.”
I don’t think he misses some kid he played with 4 times but I do think he misses being 3.
The other night I was in my bed reading. I could hear Bug softly snoring and then I heard Buddy climbing down out of the bunk bed. Soon his little face peered into my bedroom. There were tears in his eyes and his nose was red. In his arms was a stuffed “pet.”
“Mom? Can I talk to you about something?”
“Of course Buddy! Climb up here with me,” I said as I pat the bed.
“It’s just that I need to ask you something….”
“OK. Shoot,” I encouraged.
“Well, I’ve noticed for some time now that some of our stuffed pets are missing. I have this awful feeling that maybe you and dad might have thrown away some of them with out asking.”
Of course we have! These kids have a gazillion stuffed animals all ranging in size. They come from aquariums, zoos, museums, the dollar store and those arcade games with The Claw in them.
“Well Buddy, remember when we moved to Colorado and we left some of your toys in our old house so that when we visit you could play with them?”
“I’m thinking that maybe we left some stuffed pets there.”
Buddy blinked back some tears.
“Maybe even in storage,” I added in case he called his grandparents to have them check the house for his “pets.”
Kids part from their stuffed animals at different ages. Caren told me that some of the kids (boys included) brought them on the Jr. High field trip to Boston a few years back. I’m thinking Buddy is at an age where the stuffed animals should start to go by the way side but he’s holding tight to them and his childhood.
“Also,” Buddy added, “I would really like to quit basketball. Is there anyway you can talk to Dad about that?”
If you recall my above description of Buddy, you may note that “athletic” and “coordinated” are not listed. Buddy is an Academic, a Nerd, if you will. I love it and he knows it. He’s proud to be a Nerd. However, you would still like to be able to hang with the boys at recess. Gone are the days of playing Star Wars on the playground. Now it’s football and basketball. Buddy is often not included in those games because he lacks the skill. He’s pretty bad, I’m not gonna lie. Being the smart boy that he is, he realized to be included at recess he will need to obtain the skills and so he asked me to sign him up for basketball.
I grudgingly added the sport to our already busy evening schedule. Small problem: his school team was full and so if he wanted to play he would have to play with another school. Buddy agreed to this.
“I’ll still learn to play and maybe I’ll even get to play against them!” he said. “I hope when we beat them that they don’t get mad at me…”
Turns out his team will never play his school’s team. Whew! They do play back to back though so he plans to stay and cheer for his other team. This arrangement has not been very easy for Buddy. He’s the “outsider” and he’s not a good player and…he’s weird. He is. It’s cool. He’s knows. He doesn’t care. Well, he cares in the sense that he wishes other people would be OK with his oddities but he doesn’t care enough to change.
I went to watch him at one of his practices and it was painful. I mean physically painful! I was still struggling with anxiety and the whole scene sent me into a total anxiety attack. My chest hurt as I watched Buddy try to fit in and to learn a sport all at the same time. He tried making them laugh but they found him silly. When they fell he’d stop and try to help them up but they didn’t want him touching them. He cheered for his team mates and he made himself available for passes but the passes never came. One pass did, inadvertently, come his way. He awkwardly dribbled. He bounced off his foot. He reached for it and tried to gain control but it went out of bounds.
“Buddy, I love your heart. When a team mate falls though, maybe you just ask him if he’s OK before putting your arm around him. You could offer your hand to him but don’t grab his arm and start pulling him up. Some kids just aren’t as OK with being touched as you.”
“I was just trying to help.”
“I know Buddy. You’re a sweet kid. Maybe you and Dad can work on dribbling and passing skills this weekend.”
“It won’t matter. They won’t give me the ball anyway,” he said gloomily.
After another practice I decided that my job would not be to coach or critique (which is a nice way to say criticize.) I was just going to make sure Buddy knew he had a fan and that someone was proud of him. I watched the same painful scene play out again.
“Well Buddy? How’d you do?” I asked as we walked out of the gym. I saw how he did. It was rough. Really rough.
“Not too good…”
“Did you do your best?”
“Then I’m proud of you! Way to go!”
“Thanks Mom!” he said with a little grin.
His team has not won a single game. There was a game two weeks ago that I missed due to rehearsal.
“How was the game?” I asked Man when I got home.
“Not too good.”
“They lose again?”
“Buddy was ‘tap dancing’ before the game and talking like a baby and just acting weird. The other boys were talking about him behind his back and he heard them.”
“How’d he play?”
I talked to Buddy about it the next morning. He cried and said he wanted to quit because his team mates don’t respect him.
“I heard them talking about me and they didn’t pass the ball to me ONCE!” he cried.
“Well, Bud, first of all: there is more to basketball than handling the ball. Did you guard the kids on the other team?”
“That’s an important part of the game. By guarding the other player you kept him from getting the ball. Even if you never touch the ball you are still playing an important role.”
“You have to cut out the Baby Talk.I know you were nervous but it doesn’t help you to act like that. Those guys are thinking, ‘Dude! We’re about to be in Jr. High!’ And the tap dancing…”
“It helps me run faster!”
“I bet it does! Maybe you tap at home before the game. Do a little pre-warm-up warm-up.” Buddy listened. “You are a very special kid! You have so many ideas and some are very different. Some people won’t get that and they won’t get you. You’ll have to learn that there is a time and a place to show those cards. You know?”
“Like the tap dancing?”
“Like the tap dancing.”
I gave Buddy a big hug and then had a thought. “Hey! Do you want to take tap classes?”
Lord! That’ll get him teased to pieces! Sure hope he’s learning something in those karate classes… He may need it.
“Mm…maybe. I’ll think about it.”
Later that day I was flying out of town. While waiting to board I called Caren.
“Do me a favor? While I’m out of town will you please love on Buddy for me?” I told her about his bad night. She was more up to date on it then I was though. After that game, Man took the kids to our weekly Pizza Night. My friends immediately saw that Buddy was upset. They sat with him on the couch, hugging him while he cried and gave him encouragement.
(Don’t I have the best village ever?!)
“He just needs to get used to the feel of the ball,” she said. “Maybe you could call him and tell him that while you are gone he should keep his basketball with him at all times. Tell him to pretend the ball is you and to keep you with him the whole time. Give him permission to play and dribble in the house.”
I had visions of Buddy taking it way too literally and talking to the basketball, maybe blind folding it while he used the restroom. I liked the idea though. That would at least get him more comfortable with the sport. How to help him be himself but also “fit” in was a whole other issue.
So after Buddy told me about his fear that we threw away his stuffed pets and that he wanted to quit basketball I said, “Bud, you can’t quit. I know this is hard and it’s unfair and it’s painful but…you gave a commitment to this team. Even though they don’t seem to like you yet, they are still counting on you. Give it some time. They’ll get to see how great you are. Or not. Not everyone has to like you. Believe me though, I know how hard it is when someone doesn’t. It’s confusing and painful.”
“I just want to play with the guys from MY school!”
“I know Buddy but you can’t. Besides, the kids you are playing with now will be going to the same Jr. High as you!”
“Oh GREAT!” he bawled. “I’m already pretty certain I’m going to hate Jr. High and now I KNOW it’s going to be terrible!”
Oops. Bad play Mom…
While Buddy cried in my arms I put all of the pieces together: missing/needing his stuffed animals, the pain of being excluded, and the anxiety about Jr. High. Buddy doesn’t want to grow up. He’s told me this before. He’d ask me to rock him and I’d fold his long body up in my lap and rock while he told me he wished he could stop growing and stay my little boy forever.
“Growing up is hard, isn’t it Bud?”
He nodded into my chest.
“It’s scary too, huh?”
He nodded again.
“It has to happen though Buddy. There is no stopping it. I can promise you this though, I will be with you through the whole process. Even when you grow up and move away, you can always…”
“That’s just it! I don’t ever want to move away! I never want to leave you!”
“Aw Buddy!” I laughed. “I know you genuinely feel that way now but one day, sooner than you think, you will not be able to wait to get away from me and to live on your own and be your own man. I’ll be sad but I’ll also be so proud and so excited to see the man you’ll become!”
He cried some more and wailed on about his stuffed animals and his team mates and all of his worries.
“I’m going to teach you something that I’ve recently learned to do. We’re going to send your worries to heaven. Let them go and give them to God. So here’s how you do it. Ready?”
Buddy sat up to show he was ready.
“Take a balloon,” I said and I pantomime holding a deflated balloon between my fingers. “Got it? What color is it?”
“OK, I want you to blow up that green balloon. Blow out your sadness for the loss of your stuffies until the balloon is full.”
Together we pantomime blowing up a balloon.
“Perfect,” I said. “Now tie it off.”
We pretended to do so.
“Tie a string to it now.”
“Now when you are ready I want you to let it go.”
Buddy held his “balloon” above his head. He took a deep breath and then opened his hand. He laid back down next to me.
“Now imagine it floating up through the roof, over the mountain, and above the clouds. Is it getting smaller?”
“Tell me when it’s gone.”
“It’s gone,” he said.
“There! It’s gone all the way to heaven and now Jesus is taking care of it for you.”
We repeated the exercise for each problem. He sent off a red balloon full of his hurt from his basketball team and a blue balloon full of anxiety about Jr. High.
“Thanks Mamma,” he said as he hugged me.
Last Thursday I was off from rehearsal and I invited Caren and her daughters to come to Buddy’s game.
“You don’t have to go but if you think the girls would want to…”
“We’ll be there!” Caren said.
Buddy was so excited! With the girls there he hustled out onto the court. He still tapped danced.
“There’s the tapping…” I pointed out to Caren.
“Oh Bud…” Caren’s high school daughter half laughed and half sighed.
“Those are his Fast Feet!” Caren said with a positive spin.
Buddy was always in his position. I called to him to move to the whole under the basket.
“Hush!” Caren scolded me. “You are only allowed to yell encouragement or cheers but you may not coach him. He’s where his coach has told him to be. The kid is a coaches dream because he’ll always do what he’s told! Besides, you of all people have no place to tell anyone how to play basketball. I just keep hearing you yell GOOOOOOAL at all the Nuggets games we went to last year.”
“Hmph. It is a goal. A field goal.”
“It’s a field goal but nobody, I mean NOBODY calls it a goal.”
Buddy hustled, he guarded, he held his position AND the ball was passed to him at least twice. The best part of it all was that he looked like he was having fun.
Caren’s daughters cheered and Buddy grinned.
They still lost but it was their closest game! It was so fun to watch. I totally understand why there are cheerleaders at sporting events. Nothing motivates like a group of cute girls rooting you on!
Buddy: tender, big-hearted, thoughtful, loving, smart, philosophical, gallant AND growing.