We did manage a quick trip to my best friend's house for delightful Netflix movies shown on the PS3. I don't have any TV signal (cable or otherwise) in my home, so this was a welcome treat. But after that trip on New Year's Day, we've been home. Not a heck of a lot for us to do. We can't sled because all the hills are a few miles away and are not safe to drive to in this weather. We've hunkered down with some chores, some TV (he's been wearing out our borrowed copies of "Thundercats" and "Starship Troopers" the animated series) and computer time.
Yesterday, he asked to play a board game, which is not usually his habit. We like to play board games and card games, but he'll quit if he senses that he might lose. There is the part of me that wants him to not crack his fragile candy shell of confidence, and there's the other part which wishes to help him add protective layers of goodness.
He wanted to play checkers. This is his game. He is able to strategically move about the board deftly and hand me my sorry posterior in shame. I wanted to see, though, when he may be experiencing anger or frustration. I told him that I would ask him during the game how he was feeling. He quickly defeated me, expressed no frustration visually or when verbally prompted. He war whooped and pumped his fist into the air, like an NFL touchdown. I asked him if he wanted to play another game, he said, "No."
I looked at him and I said, "You wanted to play me because you knew you would win." He agreed. I asked him if he wanted to play another game of checkers and he said no. I said, "Do you think that's fair to not play another game? What if you did that to one of your friends, how would they feel?" He said, "They would feel sad."
We played Crazy 8's next, where he was showing signs of frustration early on. His fear of losing coupled with his having to take so many cards and his inability to hold all 7 cards in one hand was making him scrunch his face and clench his fists. I kept asking him how he was feeling and letting him know that this was just for fun. He used all of his focus to not throw his cards in the air in a mad flurry.
I can't imagine what it must be like to try to keep a volcanic eruption at bay. I think this is what Nathan must be experiencing when he's frustrated. All that furious activity, boiling underneath in that molten lake of anger...something shifts and boom. It all comes out in a catastrophic mess.
One of my goals is to help him keep his volcano calm and to work on keeping that lava inside. Once it has left, destruction remains and rebuilding takes time and patience. It's hard to have your child lose at anything. We do not want to have our children experience anything negative. But, in order for them to function as older children, and as adults, we need to teach them how to do the hard stuff. Including being a loser.
I was a loser in elementary, junior high and into my freshman year. My mother had done most of my battle fighting for me, but it had gotten to a point where she hadn't taught me and I was getting picked on pretty regularly. My mother gave me permission to swear in class to another kid, who had tormented me mercilessly. I dropped an epic f-bomb in the middle of algebra and you could have heard the mice in the cafeteria gasp. I got two days in school suspension, but NOBODY ever tried anything with me ever again.
I don't want Nathan to have to deal with the years of adolescent torture like I did. I need to give him the skills he needs to survive this sometimes uncaring and insensitive world. I need to teach him to be a loser. And if he can do that, then half of his battles would be won.
I would be a very happy parent. Until then, I work on the subtle and painful art of losing.