Month: October 2013

Why Bother Winning?

I took Shane to a farm yesterday.  It’s fall, the leaves are falling and the pumpkin patches are open for fun and frolic.  Shane buried himself in corn, then played festival games.  We got lost in the corn maze and took our picture on a giant chair.  We skipped the pig races so that we could have the fun slides all to ourselves.  We rode the hayride to the pumpkin patch and got a 21-pound pumpkin.

And then we played tether ball.  Shane and I had a grand time, passing the ball back and forth, trying to get the ball’s string wrapped around the pole.  I won a couple of times, not really trying to clobber my son, but the string wrapped around the pole before he was able to stop it.  And I won.  We laughed and played again.

Then Johnny came over.  Johnny looked like he was raised in the country, with crew-cut hair and worn out flip-flops.  To be fair, we were all filthy at the farm, and this kid could have been from somewhere downtown.  But I got the feeling that this boy had done some serious outdoor time, maybe with three or four older brothers.  Johnny was about the same size as Shane, al beit more bulky, and had no one to play with.  So I offered Johnny my spot in tether ball.

The first thing Johnny did was thrust the ball south with all his might, which made the ball fly straight up over Shane’s little head and whiz around the pole so fast, Shane’s head almost spun around with it.  Then Johnny said, “We’re going to play the real way,” and proceeded to explain his rules, proving his alpha status in less than 30 seconds.

Shane held his own, but Johnny won every time.  I watched as Shane lightly tossed the ball back to Johnny, and Johnny clobbered the ball with every ounce of physical strength a boy can muster.  Shane’s eyes would blink, he’d flinch a bit, and sometimes he’d get the ball back around without any pole-wrapping activity. He did pretty well, and he only lost twice.

But what struck me was Shane’s lack of desire to win.  He was all defense, and no offense.  He would save the ball frequently from going around the pole, but he rarely, if ever, pushed the ball past Johnny – even if he could have – to get it wrapped around the pole the other way.  And I realized quite suddenly that this is also how he plays Stratego and Chess and other strategy board games he consistently loses for no apparent reason.

Shane has made absolutely phenomenal moves that could easily win him games.  He has the brains for it, and I’ve no doubt that he could win.  He enjoys the games, and he enjoys watching and waiting to see what happens.  But he’s never on the offensive.  He never chooses to attack.  He doesn’t seem to care if he wins.  He just enjoys playing.

He’s this way with his friends, too.  No one stomps all over him, because his friends are kind-hearted and mature about winning.  I’ve noticed that brilliant friends also tend to be more empathetic than kids of average intelligence.  They’re always gracious winners (except Dylan, who is more of a typical big brother) and Shane is accustomed to playing with kindness.

Johnny didn’t play that way.  He fought hard for his wins.  At one point, Shane said, “How old are you?”  Johnny said, “Nine.”  Shane, also being nine, must have thought, Huh. It seems unlikely that both of us are the same age.  But he kept right on playing, never complaining – and never even mentioned the game (which was the last thing we did) on the long drive home.

It’s hard to say what goes on in Shane’s mind.  If I were Shane, I’d have silently beat myself up the entire way home for my pitiful play.  But Shane?  He just read a book.


Why Not Save the World?

Dylan rarely does homework at home.  He crams everything into completion at lunchtime.  But he had a project to do for science, and asked me to buy him a foam ball before Friday.  I bought him a lovely sea-green foam chunk, the size and shape of a softball, and he sat down to work on his project.

It was going to be a 3-D model of a cell.

He started with scissors, slicing a huge triangular quarter out of the ball.  He sliced and sawed and swept up foam dust for 15 minutes.  Since I don’t know the eight parts of a cell, or its functions, I don’t know whether or not he did it correctly – but it looks awesome.  He used pipe cleaners and toothpicks and little pieces of orange paper and markers and foam. Then he typed up the eight cell functions, wrapped the typed page around an old plastic cup that perfectly fit the foam ball, and now he has a model of a cell.

Dylan may not be organized, or able to turn in homework on time every day, but wow that kid can create!  He took a bunch of junk and, using nothing but his powers of design and imagination, made a cell.

The next day, he recreated “wet tramp” – the boys’ idea of a good time.  Dylan has designed a way for two hoses to reach our backyard trampoline.  He sets them up just so, and the kids jump with water pouring upon them from above, and squirting up from below.  Rather than looking like a simple hose spray, he also sets the nozzles so that there are different pressures and delights depending on where and how one jumps on the trampoline.

Dylan has spent hours designing a dam for the creek across the street, to catch litter and then discard it properly.  He’s built a giant swing out of nothing more than a rope, some sticks and a tree.  He has a flair for designing, inventing and engineering something out of nothing.  He takes junk and turns it into a game.  He takes a game and turns it into a more challenging game.  He’s not content to let something be the way it is.  He wants everything to be better, stronger, faster than ever before.

Unfortunately, he’s limited to the junk he finds in the woods near our house, and in the garage.  If he had unlimited resources, the kid could save the world.  Best of all, he has the heart for it.  He actually wants to save the world.

Who knows?  Maybe he will.

Whatever Should I Do?

Shane has a completely different set of issues than Dylan.  His personality is practically opposite that of his brother, and it astounds me when I see the differences – especially when Shane struggles to do something simple.

This morning, for the first time, Shane was supposed to practice his instrument for five minutes.  He plays percussion, which includes a drum pad and a xylophone.  It also includes a xylophone stand – which is basically a stick that screws into a hole under the xylophone.

So this morning, he hauled everything upstairs to set it up.  Ten minutes later, I came in to his room to see the xylophone stand upright, with the xylophone balanced precariously on top of it.  Shane was walking in circles – around and around and around and around – hanging onto the xylophone and laboriously screwing it to the stand.

He didn’t look up.  He didn’t stop walking around the stand.  He just said, “I’m dizzy.”

I waited.  “Is it on yet?” I asked.

He stopped walking and jiggled the xylophone, which was barely hanging on.  “Yes!” he said, and started playing it.

Shane doesn’t do anything the easy way.  He also doesn’t respond quickly to problems.  Yesterday, he opened a milk box at the playground and the milk poured out over the top, right down onto Shane’s shorts.

“Uh-oh,” he said.  He didn’t do anything.  If he were two years old, I’d expect him to sit there.  But at nine years old, I expected a bit … more.

To be fair, he gets this pitiful trait from me.  I’ve watched my husband solve problems like lightning.  His brain is hard-wired for solutions.  My brain is hard-wired to do nothing but wish there was a better way.

When Bill and I were first dating, he came over to my apartment.  It was back in the days when ice cube trays were in fashion and, while I didn’t use ice, I had ice cubes at the ready for guests.

My freezer opened from right to left.  When I moved in, the ice cube tray was on the right side, in the back corner.  So when I refilled the tray, I put it on the right side, in the back corner. Of course, I filled the freezer with stuff, so getting to the ice cube tray became quite difficult.  Frozen vegetables would tumble into its space when I took it out, and the door would start to close on me when I was putting the tray back.

Bill liked ice, so I used the last few cubes for him and refilled the tray with water.  I moaned a bit about putting the tray back into the freezer – veggies falling, door in the way, blah blah blah.  Bill opened the freezer and, with one arm, swiped all the frozen stuff over to the right side of the refrigerator – leaving a huge, empty space for the ice cube tray on the left side.  I could open the freezer, plop in the tray, and all would be well.

I think that’s when I subconsciously decided to marry Bill.  It has turned out to be a wonderful match – with my anally organized ways and ignorance, and his obscene disorganization and problem-solving skills.

Unfortunately for all of us, though, Shane seems to have acquired the ignorance gene.  I’d better go check to see if he’s trying to unscrew the xylophone by walking in circles in the other direction.

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