Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Universe Gets My Attention

I said this "Laura has finally figured out what the universe has been smacking her with for the last couple of weeks" last night on Facebook and this "and then sometimes the universe hits you on the head with a brick..." on Twitter.

In the hours between 5 and 7 last night I had a major revelation about something that has been niggling around the corners of the summer so far for me and Max.

Max has been playing a lot of Toontown and he's advanced enough that he spends a good deal of time in some pretty high pressure boss battles. Over the summer, I've noticed a funky behavior pattern when he's playing. In a heated battle, when things are at their most intense (usually 15 to 20 minutes in) he sometimes just panics and bails out – and then is furious at himself for not finishing the battle, complete with yelling, tears and slammed doors.

We have talked about sportsmanship and chilling out. "It's a game. It's supposed to be fun!" We've taken away game privileges as punishment for his outbursts, but the behavior still shows up on occasion, like it did last night.

Last night, Max bailed from a battle just seconds before the boss was defeated. He screamed in frustration and stomped. I sent him to his room and firmly closed the door to give him some time to calm down. A few minutes later after three deep breaths and a slow count to ten I went to his door to go in and talk to him. I turned the doorknob and it just spun in my hand. The knob wasn't functioning. I could not open the door.

Full stop. Max started to panic and I went into super calm Mom mode, talking to Max through the door. Frank was able to fix the doorknob in about five minutes. The crisis was averted but the distraction did something really interesting. It derailed my standard line of thinking about Max's outbursts just long enough for me to figure something out.

We talked afterwards and Max confirmed that what is causing him to panic and bail is fear of failing and the dark feelings that come with losing and failure. He would rather bail on the battle and suffer his own frustration than risk the way losing makes him feel.

I think he learned this from me.

I don't like risk and will do almost anything to avoid appearing foolish. I am supremely self-conscious.

This summer I've done a lot of talking about moving my writing career forward and I've taken a few steps but they're baby steps. They feel safe, little or no risk involved. Then the planets aligned and I signed up for Jen Lemen and Andrea Scher's Mondo Beyondo course. Ever since that day Max has been listening to me voice my fear and hesitation, my insecurity and second guessing the decision, my predictions of spectacular failure, my worries about not being good enough or talented enough, of being completely out of my league.

I'm afraid to risk failure. Max is afraid to risk failure too.

So, we sat down last night and talked about the things we are afraid of and how failure makes us feel. Why it can be so scary to risk yourself in a video game or an online course, or out in the larger world.

Today we are talking about bravery and courage, about taking a chance on yourself, win or lose, about how experiences with winning and with losing grow our hearts and make us stronger.

Brené wrote this week that parenting is not for the faint of heart and I couldn't agree more. The simplest solution would have been "no more Toontown" but then what would we have learned? I have newfound appreciation for the game and the things Max is learning about winning and losing with grace, about taking risks and believing in himself, about being afraid and trying anyway. And I have made a vow to embrace this course. I'm going to be proud of myself for taking a chance on growing my dreams, even if it means risk and reaching through some of those dark fears.

These aren't necessarily the lessons we had in mind for this summer, but they are what the universe has given us – and if I'm going to be searching for courage and faith in myself, if I'm going to be struggling through some fear and self-doubt, who better to share the journey with than my son.


  1. Thanks for making me ponder, Laura. :)

    Remember when they/we were babies, and there would be a period of fussiness, sometimes a fever, before some new milestone? There's the struggle and then the growth, I guess. Like pushing to be born in the first place, then pushing for growth our whole life long. The struggle. The release. The growth.

    Blahblahblah -- must have coffee ...

  2. I have tears in my eyes - WHAT a mom you are! How beautifully you processed all this (and yeah, i'm sure it wasn't sweet and beautiful IN the working out)...there's something so vulnerable and touching in you telling that you are afraid of risking failure - TELLING it, writing it - right out here for everyone to see - to me that's deeply courageous - thank you for this post!

  3. Thanks you guys and hi there, SPP. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by...

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