Mommy, I’m not good at basketball

Child: “Mommy, I’m not good at basketball!”

This was right after I heard the familiar sound of the back door swinging open and a toddler running/stomping down the hall while trying to catch his breath.

Child: “Mommy!” (They never say anything just once. I hear “mommy” 7,500 times per day.)

My first instinct was to say back to my three-year-old: “Baby — no! — you’re AMAZING at basketball!”

Because I mean, he truly is. He’s incredible, actually. He can throw the ball really well, and he’s getting really good at dribbling.

However, in an instant, I had four mutually dependent thoughts:

  1. He’s really good because he’s naturally very talented, but more importantly, because he’s been practicing.
  2. Growing up, I didn’t have a trusted person in my life that told me the truth, no matter what.
  3. This next thought is complicated — but — I struggle enormously with practice. I CAN force myself to practice. Especially when I have to. But it’s so, so difficult for me to emotionally overcome not being instantly good at something.
  4. There’s something bigger here. It didn’t feel like he wanted/needed praise. He was coming to me with a problem. Regardless of what I thought, he had assessed himself, and he didn’t believe he was performing at the standards that are considered acceptable to HIM. Yes, he’s three. Yes, it’s my job to reinforce his self-esteem. But I’m always quick to praise him. He knows he’s good at a lot of stuff. His cup is full.

With all of this flooding into my mind at once. I carefully responded: “Oh?”

Child: “Yeah. I’m not good. I’m just not good at basketball.”

He started getting really upset.

Mommy: “Okay. So you just need to practice more, right?”

Child: “Right.” (whimpering)

Mommy: “Okay, listen. Mommy will come outside and we can do drills together. And I want you to work on practicing with your basketball. If you feel like you’re not good at something, you just have to work harder, okay?”

Child: (instantly resolved) “Okay, mommy! Mommy, thank you!”

And he happily ran along and played and we had a great day.

The ups and downs of toddler emotions are more severe than I’m able to explain. I can’t make this stuff up.

Here are four more thoughts to close this out:

  1. I’m not a perfect parent. I say and do so many things that keep me up at night, worrying if I’m ruining another human.
  2. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have a secret formula.
  3. I don’t know if this would have been an obvious solution to another parent. But it wasn’t obvious to me at first—I really had to stop and let myself think—so there has to be another person out there who is interested in this scenario.
  4. Every single day, my interactions with my child either teach me or remind me something about myself that I need to work on. Because I’m trying to help him be a better human. And in doing so, I’m becoming a better human myself.

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