Thursday, October 13, 2011

It gets better...right?

I have a five year old niece-in-common-law, and for all intents and purposes I’m just going to call her my niece from here on out.

I was babysitting my niece and we were watching every child’s favorite show: College Football.

I asked my niece, “Do you like football?”

She responded, “No. Hockey!”

It’s true. The kid loves hockey and even putt-putts in a perfect Happy Gilmore hockey-stick-swinging stance. I have no problem with hockey and changed the channel to whatever NHL game was on at the time.

I asked her if she wanted to play hockey and she said, “YES!...but...it’s really hard to stay up on those things.”

My niece was trying to describe how painfully awkward it is to try to balance on ice skates, let alone swing an L-shaped stick to command something that’s the size of a hamburger.

Then without really thinking, without really comprehending what I was saying, I gave my most natural, innate response, “It’ll get better...when you’re older.”

As soon as I spoke those six words I was overcome with memories of my childhood: adults towering over me, squeezing my cheeks, and chanting “It’ll get better when you’re older” – a response fitted for everything from homework, acne, rude children, and the limitations of a childhood palate.

I wanted to vomit. My niece, on the other hand, smiled at me and then went back to throwing the bouncy ball she had been playing with; seemingly unfazed.

I was sick with myself because I am a liar.

I told my niece things get better no matter what – as long as you grow up – but do they really? Is there a magical switch that flips between childhood and adulthood where everything is easy and every action comes naturally?

I don’t know if my niece is going to be a good skater or not when she grows up – but she has to be, thanks to me and my stunning logic.

Perhaps it is the optimism that is childhood that compels us adults to paint pictures of perfect worlds. We are determined to preach to children: you will be good at anything and there’s nothing to be afraid of.

An overwhelming amount of children grow up in this bubble of positivity to only be slapped in the face by reality later. Things don’t always work out the way you want. Things aren’t always as easy as they seem.

I was the head coach of a varsity lacrosse team for three years and there is one common thread that seemed to tie (almost) all of my players together: Entitlement. I had players who said we shouldn’t do any running during practice because it's "hard" and "not fun." I had players who would disappear for the last half of the season and show up for the end-of-season party expecting awards and presents.

There was a general lack of accountability and work ethic. I found myself running into a lot of parents who shared the mentality, “I paid for the season, so it doesn’t matter if they show up or not because you’ll still get the money.”

Sigh.

I would like to believe there are parents who still expect their kids to try and give a real effort at something. Anything. I would hope that parents would encourage their children to work their very hardest and to see a goal to completion.

I spent a lot of hours wondering how these parents could be so blind. I wondered how the parents never realized they were molding children into people who believe you've earned something just because you're breathing.

Then there I was, “coaching” my little niece on how hockey is going to magically come easy to her just because she’s older. I felt like a hypocrite. I spent so much time frustrated with my Entitled players, and I had just caught myself pouring gasoline on the fire.

This is what I should have told my niece, “You’ll get better with practice!” I should have given some indication that it takes work to be good at anything. It takes time and dedication.

But my niece seemed ok. Hopefully this will not reverberate into some long-lasting psychological issue where she finally reveals to a therapist years later, "My Uncle Brook told me I'd be good at hockey no matter what!"

That's what I plan on giving all children of the world: a strange blog post and false hope.

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