As I pulled the wagon up the hill, holding my four year old, and carrying the portable soccer goals, one of my sons lagged behind, barely walking as he held his soccer ball in his hands. Everybody had low blood sugar. It was nearing dinnertime. I looked back and I noticed that my son was visibly upset, with his head looking downward, while his shoulders stooped. I stopped the wagon and saw his tears. I asked him why he was crying.
“He’s gooder than me.” The words sputtered out. “He’s gooder than me at soccer.”
There was something so painfully innocent, yet heartbreaking hearing the words escape through the gap of his missing front tooth. A beautiful seven year old boy with disheveled, sweaty blonde hair and one pant leg pulled up. I had just finished watching and playing soccer with my three boys. Throughout the games, I stopped and talked about the rules of soccer after several (overly) competitive bouts had landed one or two boys tangled up on the grass. It looked more like rugby or football. “You can’t elbow or tackle each other. You can use your shoulders. Soccer is a contact sport, which means you’re going to bump into each other, fall down and most likely get some bruises.” Their boney knees were covered in grass stains. I shuffled the teams around. My youngest boy happily played goalie, unaware or perhaps painfully aware, of the battle going on in front of him between his older two brothers.
Our walks home from the park tend to be the perfect time for talking about important issues like nature, bullying, death, or today, sibling rivalry. I talked to my boys about growing up with sisters. I talked about my older sister, specifically, and how great she was at basketball. Much better than me. She could score on any defender from any where on the court. I spent countless hours after practice in high school rebounding her free throws and three pointers. I talked to my boys about why I think I became such a good defender besides the fact that I was skinny as all get-out and I had to out-hustle all of the bigger girls. It was also because I grew up guarding my older sister. I think I should credit the majority of my skills to the fact that I usually had to guard “Miss Basketball(she literally was)” in driveway pick-up games and practices. And I had my own fair share of frustrating, tear-filled moments of my sister being “gooder than me.”
We talked about how different we all are from one another. We talked about how our weaknesses can help us get stronger if we don’t give up. That it’s okay to get upset, maybe sad or disappointed, but then we have to keep working hard to figure out how to be better. Or maybe different. I talked to my boys about how young they are, how they have so many things that they haven’t even tried yet. It’s these kind of moments, when I’m talking to my twin boys, that help me realize how important it is to not define ourselves by comparing our strengths, weaknesses, or capabilities to somebody else. Not even to our very own twin brother.
I know as a mother to three boys that I will be dealing with this battle for years to come. My husband and I work really hard not to label or predetermine the places or heights that our children will soar. But it’s a tricky business navigating the places we’ve never been or experienced through the eyes of a parent and vicariously through the lives of our children. We do the best we can with the knowledge and experiences we have, both good and bad, which sometimes feel inadequate. At the end of the day, the most important and truthful thing we usually have said all day is how very much we love them. That will be something that they will never ever have to doubt. No matter what. No matter how good they are at soccer, no matter how good they are at playing the drums, drawing, reading, riding a bike, or any other thing they try. They will always know they are loved beyond measure.