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Participation Without the Pressure

  • Posted on May 4, 2012 at 8:00 AM

So, to recap, Willy wants to participate in a triathlon, but I wasn’t really on board with the idea.  Then, the liaison for his school called, and we talked about our respective concerns.  Then she talked to the person in charge, who is also Willy’s regular education gym teacher, about where Willy’s skills are at.

Participating in the swimming portion was ruled out; we agreed that Willy was not a strong enough swimmer to participate safely.  In order to participate in the biking portion of the event, he would need some modifications.  They’re going to help him train at school, during school hours.  A special therapy bike was discussed, though I don’t know if it’s going to be used.  He’ll be training for the running portion before school with the other kids.

So, it’s started.  We have a plan for him to participate in modified and reduced capacity, so that he can participate safely.  I signed the form.  And he’s ready to go, still enthusiastic.  He’s doing it for the fun of it, and because he’s heard enough about the importance of maintaining a healthy body that he’s willing to work for it.  I’m proud of him.

But still, in the back of my mind, I worry about that other thing.  Neither Mark nor I are athletes; Willy’s coordination and grace is not much of an improvement on us.  I’m worried for him.  I don’t want to stand in his way.  I don’t want him to think we don’t believe in him.  But I don’t want this to be a mistake, either.  Willy’s survived school with few incidents of bullying, at least those that I know of, and many of his peers and most of the staff are strongly opposed to that kind of behavior, so I’m confident that what I know is accurate.  But kids can be brutal.  Sometimes they do so intentionally.  Other times they’re cruel without even meaning to be.  And Willy is a very sensitive young man.  So, I worry.

But then I think back to a school picnic a few years ago.  There was this obviously cool kid.  You know, the kind that seems to slide through social situations and the various classroom cliques with ease, fitting in everywhere, idolized by nearly everyone.  He was friendly with Willy, but also protective in a way that was patronizing.  It was as if Willy were the little kid they all let tag along with them.  They all kind of watched out for him, including him in a way that set him apart.  Now, granted, this is better than excluding him or bullying him or teasing him, but it’s still a far cry from real acceptance.  So, I was not pleased.

The moment this dynamic became clear was when the kids were climbing the slides.  Everyone was fine with Willy climbing the smaller slide.  When they moved on to climbing the roller slide, they even coached him on his technique, showing him the trick of how to do it.  They waited patiently when he took longer than the others.  It was nice to see how they welcomed Willy into their fun.  Then, they moved on to the bigger slide, and the cool kid said Willy shouldn’t climb with them, because it was too dangerous.  It wasn’t too dangerous for the other kids.  Just Willy.

Up until then, I’d been sitting in the background, just watching.  But here I had to intervene.  I told them that I was his mom and that he could climb the slide just as well as any of them.  That was all I said, and I was right.  I didn’t make a big deal, but I took my concern to the teachers and they got it.  Supposedly, things got better after that.

So, I got to think:  I‘m never going to be that cool person that seems to slide through social circles and cliques so easily, and neither will Willy, but I can’t help but wonder if the worries and feelings I’m struggling with now put me on par with that kid.  Am I being too protective?  Am I being unsupportive or just realistic?  Am I underestimating him?

I don’t want to do that.  At the same time, it’s important to recognize real limits.  The balance I’m trying to strike is to give Willy the opportunity to participate this year, with modifications, and then to give him opportunities to build his skills and endurance, so next year he can participate in the full Fun Heat without the worries.  Is that too much to ask?