You hear all the time about how hard it is to be a girl in our society, and with all of the body image issues, the mean girls and the sexualization of just about everything, it surely is.
But you rarely hear people talk about how hard it is to be a boy today, and I can’t help wondering why that is. Because while I might not be a boy, as the mother of one, I can tell you that it’s no walk in the park.
Maybe it is, though, for some kids. For those who were gifted with speed, or strength or size, a great arm, amazing hand-eye coordination, or fantastic aim, I guess it might not be all that difficult. I know boys like this – my husband was one of them – and they seem to float through life (or their school years, at least). They’re popular, they’re cool, the other boys want to be just like them and, when they’re older, the girls all want to date them.
It’s silly, really, that just being good at sports can result in such a windfall, creating a cycle of self-confidence that can give a guy a life-long advantage. But what about the boys who aren’t so great at sports? The ones who like to play, but simply aren’t all that talented at it? How do you explain to them that someday, it won’t matter, when now, it seems, it’s all that matters?
My son is a case in point. He’s a big kid; tall for his age, thin but not skinny. He’s got decent coordination, a strong arm, a beautiful swing. He should be a great athlete. He looks like he’s a great athlete. But he wears glasses, and he has some problems with depth perception. He’s anxious, so the pressure of a game stresses him out. And, frankly, up until recently, he hasn’t really cared all that much about sports.
So while other kids on his basketball team were passing and taking shots in the games, he was running down the sidelines, shooting at imaginary bad-guys, or facing the wrong direction with his fingers in his mouth. The other kids took notice, and eventually, they gave up on him as a player.
Suddenly, however, my son has decided that now he cares. I caught him in his room the other night, doing lunges and push-ups. When I asked him why he was doing that, he told me it’s because he wants to be stronger and faster, so that the other kids at recess will think he’s a good athlete and let him have the ball once in a while. And in the car today on the way home from school, he told me that he got a participation award for the Presidential Fitness Test they’ve been doing in P.E. all year. Participation awards are given to the kids who came in last in almost everything. My son couldn’t understand why he was in that category, since he believes himself to be athletic.
A friend of mine has a son who is similar to my own with regard to sports. At the first baseball practice of the year, while the other kids excitedly ran out to the field to take bp, our boys were crawling around on the grass, examining a swarm of ladybugs. But I love this about my son. I love that he doesn’t have a one-track sports mind and that other things interest him. I love that he enjoys a game of kickball but also wants to go inside and build crazy things with Legos. I love that he will spend hours putting together a binder full of research he’s done on various Pokemon.
And yet, when he gets invited to a sports party and he doesn’t want to go because he knows nobody will pass to him, my heart breaks. When he comes home from school and says he sat by himself at recess because all the boys were playing sports and everyone ignored him when he tried to join in, I want to cry. And when he’s upset because he got picked last to be on a team in P.E., I want to just hold him and hug him and try to put the pieces of his shattered self-confidence back together. It would be easier if he hated sports and didn’t care, but he doesn’t. He likes them and he wants to play, but the other kids have written him off. If we were talking about a girl, she’d just be considered a late bloomer. But with boys, apparently, if you’re not a star athlete by the age of seven, you’re doomed for life.
I know that someday, none of this will matter. I look at all of the former geeky guys who are now bazillionaires at Google or Facebook, and they seem to be doing just fine despite the fact that they (I’m guessing) weren’t talented athletes. At games, when my son hasn’t touched the ball, or when he strikes out under pressure, or when the coach forces the other kids to pass to him and he still misses the shot, my friend with the son like mine and I jokingly console ourselves with the fact that they might not be athletes, but someday, they’ll be really good husbands.
I have no doubt that my son will turn into an amazing man. But for now, it’s just hard for him to be a boy.