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November 6, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
She thought they were laughing at her.
I know the feeling.
Emma fell while going after a soccer ball at a game early this fall and instinctively reached her hand out to bat it away from an opponent. That "oopsy" gave the other team a free kick, and didn't that ball whiz right through every player and into the net? Emma was beside herself. She tried to fight the tears, but they spilled over. Her coach consoled her and she shook it off. I think she wasn't crying so much because she made a mistake, but mainly because people were laughing at her. Everyone. Myself included.
Because it was cute! In U8 soccer, the kids are still learning the game. They make mistakes ... often. This was one of those cute mistakes -- "Aw, look, she forgot she can't use her hands! Oopsy!" Once you get to U9, you should know better. And maybe in U8, too, but this was only Emma's second time on a soccer team. She played U7 last fall for her first round and this fall is her second team. We skipped the spring season in favor of taking kung fu — I believe in one sport at a time!
I can so relate to Emma's embarrassment on that chilly morning on the soccer field. In fact, most of the times I have cried in public, ever since I can remember, is because I was embarrassed or angry, not because I was physically hurt or wracked with guilt.
The first time I remember it happening was when I was 4 or 5, I think. My parents were involved in the Jaycees in St. Clairsville, and it was time for the annual Junior Miss Pageant, sponsored by the Jaycees. That year, the contestants did a group dance number to the "Music Box Dancer," and I had a cameo. Do you remember that song they always used to play at the end of the WTRF news broadcast, as the credits rolled? That's the one. Anyway, my part was, in the middle of the contestants' performance, to come out from behind the curtain center stage and, with a large foil-covered cardboard key, "wind up" two of the girls, then do a little twirl and disappear again behind the curtain. I was so excited and looked so cute stuffed into my yellow leotard and tights. I rehearsed with the big girls and felt very important. In fact, I was convinced I was INTEGRAL to the show. If I didn't wind them up again, they couldn't finish the dance routine, now could they?
The big night came, I heard my cue, and out I went into the bright, bright lights. I took a few confident steps, and then I heard it. Laughter! They were laughing at me! I did the rest of my routine with tears streaming down my face and burst into full-on tears backstage. How could they? I didn't understand they were laughing because I was cute. All I could think was they were laughing "at" me.
Emma, like her mother, is a smidge on the sensitive side. I was encouraged, however, that she bounced back quickly from her soccer gaff after encouragement from her coach. I hope, 35 years from now, she won't be writing about it.
The ability to bounce back after a disappointment or mistake is, I think, the single most important character trait our children need to succeed in this life. Everywhere you look, kids are not coping well with the ugly and selfish behavior that surrounds them.
One way we can teach our kids to be resilient, to bounce back, is by showing them we love them no matter what happens, that mistakes happen to everyone, and that they are MORE than those mistakes. So much more. The important thing is to LEARN from the mistake and, most importantly, to move on, even if it's just one step at a time.
For years after that fateful pageant, I would hear the "Music Box Dancer" play at the end of the newscast, and while I sometimes thought of the way the audience laughed at me, the wound healed nicely and I proudly danced my little wind-up dance, right in the middle of the living room. I give credit to my mom, for always loving me for the unique person I am and never expecting me to be more or less than that. My prayer today is that I can be that kind of mom to my girl.
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Emma, in the pink shorts, playing WASA soccer this fall.