This summer has been the year of the big boy summer camp for my seven year old son. Up until this summer, it was all popsicle sticks, Elmer’s Glue, sprinkler running fun. His past summers were nothing but a haze of happiness. As with all things associated with the passing of age, he was in for a rude but important awakening this summer and now that we’re winding down our August and the boxes full of new navy uniform pants and pique polo shirts collect on my porch in preparation for the upcoming school year, I am reflecting on some of the things we both learned this summer.
A true highlight for everyone this year was Graham’s attendance at the Ed Cooley Providence College Basketball Camp for a week. I remember when he decided that he wanted to go. It was in the midst of a blustery, gray Rhode Island typical winter weekend when we braved the gusts of chilly downtown to make our way to the Dunk to watch the Friars play. My college years were good but hard working years for me so it makes me proud to be able to take my son to these games, a bit of a rewarding light at the end of that tunnel I was in so long ago. At this particular game, they were giving out slips of paper advertising for the camp and Graham instantly told me that he wanted to go. The idea of having access to his basketball idols who were playing that day was something I could tell excited him just as much as Pokemon cards…maybe even a little more. So the next day I enrolled him first thing in the morning.
With much anticipation, the week of Ed Cooley camp arrived and I honestly did not know what to expect. Dan usually handles the sports related things in Graham’s life. I don’t get very much involved. I don’t know enough statistics or follow teams. I’m the mom in the stands type. I don’t need to get involved the way some moms do. The week went well as far as we could tell. Seven year olds don’t tend to be good communicators about details. We knew that no one was passing him the ball (what kid hasn’t had that happen) but he wasn’t a mess and had a relatively good time. Dan was away for work on the last day of camp for the awards ceremony, so I went back to school that day to pick up Graham.
The ceremony was pretty much procedure. Parents standing around awkwardly watching their kids running drills in the gym – the same gym I had spent at least one Midnight Madness inebriated at and several stags watching my roommates cry or fawn after boys for one reason or another. It was a surreal experience for me to say the least…but then it was time for trophies and awards and the interesting thing was that not every kid received one. In fact, some kids received 3 and others none at all. My son was a “none at all” kid and as I watched I wondered to myself how the little dude was going to handle this. This hadn’t happened to him before. A few months before he had been a finalist in the Pinewood Derby and got a much prized trophy at the regionals for Most Spirit while he watched several of his friends cry because they didn’t get one. To my surprise, he didn’t cry…at least not then. He kept a brave face, got his coaches’ assessment sheet, said good bye and we headed to the car. It was right before we exited the glass doors to leave that I could tell all was not right. He hadn’t talked or gushed the way he usually does. So we sat down and I looked at him…and he lost it. I think it was the first time I have seen my son realize that not everything is going to come easy and sometimes, often perhaps, you’re not going to be the best at something.
He recovered quickly after some munchkins and a gift from the PC Bookstore. It really only lasted 5 minutes. And since that breakdown, he plays basketball nearly everyday in our driveway – because he wants to go back to camp next summer and bring home a trophy. But later that evening, when the whole event was done, I went back to look at the assessment that his coach had written about him. Graham’s actual skills weren’t that bad – all told he was probably a B level player, but where he excelled were his “intangibles.” His coach-ability, leadership, effort, teamwork, etc…etc… And this meant a lot more to me than his ability to make a basket – mostly because I am a mom and yes, it would be great if he were some amazing athlete, but I want him to be a good person – the best person. That would make me proudest. As a parent, Dan can teach him the physical stuff and he can practice to get better, but the intangibles are harder to teach – and what will make him successful at whatever he chooses to do in his life.
As someone who has worked in NYC and in crazy, demanding environments, I can tell you this is much is true. I think I was well into my thirties before I understood how important “intangibles” are at work and in life. I’ve had to learn them and am still learning. But there are some people in the world who are born with them – like I suspect my son is. I’ve watched him these 7 years and seen the variety of children he is friends with. He manages completely different personalities on a daily basis and they all claim to be his BFF. He has his moments (he IS 7 years old after all) but in general, it’s all no sweat off his back. And I strive for that pretty much everyday. It’s a hard thing to learn and he has it mastered.
2 weeks ago Graham failed his deep water swim test at Boy Scout Camp. He cried that night and said it was the worst day of his life. 2 days later he went to camp and begged the counselor to take the test again. He passed and played Marco Polo in the 5 foot pool for the rest of the week. Everyday I learn something from my children. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your children naturally possess abilities and traits that you’ve been trying to learn your whole life and serve as a living example and your best teacher.
There are plenty of trophies I don’t win at work and many of the things I have to accomplish are equivalent to that deep water swim test that my son failed. But next week I’ll show up, without a trophy, splashing in the kiddie pool trying my damned hardest to win them both. And someday, I will.
Thanks Graham. Love Mom.