Having been brought up in a family of girls, when I had my first boy 15 years ago, I looked in bewilderment at this small manchild who peed in an arc every time I tried to put a nappy on him and a mum in the ward next to mine said to me, ‘Boys are a gift – they are tough on the outside but very, very soft on the inside. They need more nurturing and care than you would think.’ Mind you she may have been a little biased as she had just given birth to her third child, a girl, who was born with a full set of milk teeth and I left hospital as she was shrieking at the midwife that there was ‘No f***g way’ that she was going to breastfeed…
3 boys later and her initial words could not be more true. Throughout the years from the first stumbling toddler steps and Upsy Daisy moments, to the first little sports day races, to the first sprints on full on athletics stadia, my boys have matured into little men – all tough and muscly on the outside, but very soft on the inside. And part of that growing up process is dealing with fear, and dealing with failure. And part of dealing with those, is how you deal with it as a parent.
Whether it is losing at a sporting venture, or your child not getting the academic qualifications that you had hoped for, or your teenager has suffered heartbreak for the first time, it is how you react that determines how your child copes with his very real (even if hidden behind a façade of Don’t Care)sense of failure. And it doesn’t come easy. And there is no way of knowing if you have got it right or wrong, until it is said, and then it can’t be unsaid. Does the ‘Upsy Daisy, Get Up Now’ approach from a little toddler tumble, ascribe to the utter desolation of being the one to lose a penalty kick? Does the ‘I love you because You are Special’ sentiment actually work when all the child wants to do is fit in with his peers? And does the ‘Just ignore Them if they are being Mean, they’re only Jealous’ statement apply when your child is deliberately being targeted? When is it time to step in, and when is it time to stand back?
As adults, it seems fairly simple – we have developed our own coping mechanisms, and either vent to our good friends and family over a nice cuppa, set out to prove our detractors wrong, or hole up for a while, licking our wounds until we have come up with a strategy. It is up to our kids to discover their way of dealing with it, and it is up to us to support them with it.
In my case, last week was a week of very mixed emotions. Little Man, at 9 years old being the only boy in his dance class, and the only male dancer in his school class, had come back from his weekend of all male dance with the Royal Academy of Dance full of pride in what he had achieved and the fact that he had felt part of a ‘gang’. His school encouraged him to show off his certificate and talk about what he had done in an assembly. On leaving the room, some alpha females called him Weird. In a rugby match later when he was delighted to be moved up from the C’s to the B’s, some of the boys were querying why. But he said nothing to me as I waved at him from the sidelines, and he threw himself into it with gusto and tackled well, going off with honour and a bloody knee. It was at the match tea, when someone pushed him out of the queue, that his bottom lip started to quiver, and then the tears began to fall. The male Games teachers, looking hopelessly out of their league, brought him to me. Initially I tried the Upsy Daisy method. Didn’t work. Then I tried the ‘Just ignore Them if they’re being Mean, they’re only Jealous’ approach. More tears, because of course all he wanted to do was to belong. So, as it was nearly the end of the day, I took him home, and we had a cuddle on the sofa, and he had a good cry about maybe he should give up dancing but he didn’t want to, and I held back a few tears. And then we had a cup of tea. And then we were laughing. And when he was in bed I replied to his teacher’s concerned email. And the next day he came back beaming because everyone had been nice to him.
And then yesterday Eldest Son (14) played in the semi finals of a National Schools rugby tournament in which over 500 schools had taken part. It was held at Allianz Park, home of the Saracens, and the boys were enormously proud to walk out on to the 3G pitch in front of a roaring crowd. Eldest Son is the fastest in his team, and is used to sprinting past everyone on the pitch and so plays on the wing. Unfortunately, the opposition’s fastest man was playing against him. It became a contest of speed. Eldest Son lost the battle, and limped off the pitch with two bloody knees and a dented ego. His team were simply outclassed. The boys bowed their heads in defeat, utterly miserable and dejected. The watching dads clapped their sons on the backs and tried the Upsy Daisy method. Some boys had tears streaming down their faces. The mums tried the ‘ We love you because you are special, you did really well to get this far’. The boys carried on walking. They went back by coach, vented to their friends, and by the time they arrived and we were waiting with carefully blank faces, they were laughing. They had sorted it out amongst themselves. They had dealt with it in an adult way.
This morning the carpenter came in to start on the skirting boards. Passionate about rugby, he had been watching his only son of 17 play in a match at the weekend. He asked how Eldest Son’s match had gone and I told him. ‘We lost ours too,’ he said gloomily, and we both stared into the mid distance. I gathered myself.
‘Cuppa?’ I asked brightly.
And he nodded, smiling ruefully.