Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Help Me Internets, From Tball Hell

Ok Internets, I need your advice.

This week, Fin started t-ball. Initially I was a tad hesitant to start him because, dude, he's three. But he has a few friends doing it and I thought it would be a good opportunity for him. I don't expect - or want - any of my kids to be professional athletes, but I would like them to enjoy sports. My hope is to give them every opportunity I can to try as many new and fun things as they can. I also hope it will make Fin tired enough to sleep past 6:30 am.

Anyway, our first practice was this week and our first game is this weekend. Because I was a little late to the party, Fin isn't on a team with his friends and instead is on one where we don't know anyone. I wasn't worried about this. Fin loves kids, all kids, and makes friends almost instantly so if this experience was going to be tough on anyone it would be me since I don't know any of the parents. And, um, you know how I feel about making new friends. So I figured that the team didn't so much matter.

And that was mistake number one.

As the kids start to show up to practice, I notice that Fin, who is usually the shortest anyway, is DWARFED by some of these kids. One kid in particular is damn near my height. And then I see some of them play and it becomes clear that this is SO not the first time they've been on a team. But I know how enthusiastic Fin has been so I'm hoping that would compensate for height and lack of experience. The coaches seem nice and he seems to quickly find a niche among the other kids, so I sit back with Dash to watch the practice.

As I'm watching, I'm also (duh) eavesdropping on the parents chit chat around me. I shouldn't have been surprised, but still I was as I heard one parent say to the other "oh yeah, my son is five too, he'll be six, but I really felt like he needed another year in Division One". Oh how I wish I could say I were joking. At least this explains why this child looks like a giant! But seriously, who red-shirts their kid IN T-BALL, AT FOUR (or five?). Seriously?

I redirect my attentions to Fin and get my camera out to document this first practice of his first sport ever (and also, because people tend not to approach you when you're hiding behind a camera which I find very convenient). The coach is tossing fly balls to the kids and calling out names for each one to make a catch. It's Fin's turn and I'm thrilled to see that he's right under it, mitt ready...that is until giant Robbie Rotten (RR) walks over, grabs his mitt and CHUCKS IT as far afield as he can (which is actually impressively far). I'm still trying to figure out why he didn't just try and push him aside or catch it himself...I mean seriously, who does that?!? I loudly explain to Dash how rude the boy was while his mother shoots me a sideways glance but still says nothing.

Things progress uneventfully and I'm proud to watch Fin totally unfazed by the events.

As practice ends, it's time for the team meeting so the kids run to play together while the parents receive a never ending list of instructions on the when's and where's (forget your lazy Saturday mornings, it's game day!) and what's of the deal (anyone know where you can find a cup for a three year old?). I notice that a friend of mine has arrived with her son so that the boys can play in the park a little so I concentrate on listening to the coach knowing that someone has an eye on Fin.

Fin's buddy had brought with him two toys for them to play with which was an immediate hit. That is until RR and his evil sidekick decided they wanted to play too. Evil Sidekick (ES)grabs the toy from Fin and starts taunting him with it. Fin asks (nicely even I think!) for it back and is told no. Apparently there was also some teasing over his height and he told me later that the two shitheads referred to him as "a baby who shouldn't be on their team". This is about where I come in to see ES rolling down the kill, toy in hand, and Fin helping him along with a swift kick to his torso. I immediately reprimand Fin for kicking and direct him to apologize while my friend filled me in on what led up to it. Fin is trying to tell me about ES taking the toy while my friend goes up to the boy directly and tells him it's time to give it back to her. Which is when the kid THROWS it at her. Throws it. At an adult.

I'm starting to wonder if he could possibly be the rock tosser from the park.

After a lot of thought, I'm going to keep Fin on the team. He loves it, even with his complaints about being teased. I don't want him to run from adversity either. But as he was back on the subject tonight, lamenting being referred to as a baby, I told him that the next time RR said anything like that to him he should tell him that he should be on a team with kids his own age. Possibly not the best thing to say, but I was frustrated.

So Internets, here's my dilemma. How do I advise him to handle all this? And how involved do I get? I know it was wrong for him to kick ES, but really that kid totally asked for it (not that I told Fin that). How do I raise a boy who isn't a bully but also isn't a victim?

Practical and Peanut Gallery opinions appreciated!


Hallie said...

Okay, here's what I think.
We've actually had to deal with similar issues with the boys and this is what we've come up with.

Bullies are essentially cowards. They only choose prey that they know they can overpower (i.e. smaller kids, younger kids etc.)

As parents, it is our responsibility to protect our kids from bullies. Sometimes that means intervening between the our kids and the bullies. But sometimes that means letting our kids assert their authority over the bullies so that the bullies will find different prey.

In our house, we punish the kids if they start a fight or pick on another kid. However, we tell them that it is their right and their responsibility to defend themselves if they get picked on by another kid ( or if another kid is picking on their brother).

For example, we were at the McDonald's Playplace about 4 years ago. Jamison was 7 and Brayden was 4. Some mini-Hitler was blocking the slide and refusing to let other kids pass. Jamison tried to pass and the kids kicked him IN THE BACK down the slide. Jamison came crying and told us what happened. Before we could stop him, 4 year old Brayden darted up the steps, got in mini-Hitler's face, gave him the stink-eye and said "Did you kick my brother?" Hitler said "um, no...." and the brayden said "GOOD!" shoved the kid out of his way and went down the slide himself!
Brayden didn't get in trouble for shoving the kids because he was defending his brother and mini- Hitler didn't bother our kids again.
If bullies know that their intended prey will clean their clocks without repudiation from their parents, they will move elsewhere because... bullies are cowards.

But, keep your camera close by so when Fin kicks some bully's a$$, you can show the offender's parents that your baby was defending himself.

Maggie said...

HA! Well said Hallie! My parents had the same philosophy growing up and encouraged my brothers to stick up for eachother. It's just amazing to me what some parents will allow their kids to do!

Hallie said...

I know. I already have major contempt for crappy parents who enable their little dictators, and I know that I'm only at the tip of the iceberg.