Sunday, October 24, 2010

Aspirations and Abilities

 I'm sure most parents run into this at some point, and probably more than once with each child:  your child wants to do something, and they're convinced they can do it, but you know that their aspiration is outstripping their ability by a considerable margin.  What do you do?  There's sometimes a fine line between encouraging and lying - kids need to try new things, and we want to tell them that they can do just about anything they set their mind to.  But, the reality is that sometimes they reach much farther than their grasp, and you can just see the fall coming like a train down the track toward Wile E. Coyote.  There seems to be a fine art to encouraging your child to reach, but not overreach (and isn't that still hard for us as adults?), to be willing to take a risk and give their best, and to learn whether they succeed or fail.  But they also need to learn to evaluate the risk and see if the effort is worth the possible failure.  And, equally hard, is knowing as parents when to tell them honestly that they just aren't cut out or ready for something they think they can do.

This is on my mind today because our son wants to play basketball.  Because of his precocious height, people have been telling him for years that he ought to play basketball, as if height were the best/only criteria for success in that sport.  The fact is, our son doesn't have much natural athletic ability; he never has, and he doesn't have that competitive drive that fuels many other kids.  I can see him getting eaten alive by much more skilled players, both in the sport and off the court.  Kids can be cruel, and competitive kids sometimes aren't nice to kids who don't play well or "let the team down."  Truth be told, if our son tried out for a real team, he wouldn't be accepted, and I don't want to encourage him to try out when the odds of his success for that kind of team are so low.  But, our school district seems to have handed us a perfect solution for now.  They're offering a basketball fundamentals clinic, an intramural league for less experienced players, and a traveling league for competitive players for the winter.  The fundamentals clinic and intramural basketball are one after the other on Saturday mornings.  So our son could get the drill and practice he needs, then go right to a game with kids near his own skill level.  It seems to be a win-win, and he's excited to get to play.  I hope it works out well for him and that he has fun, and he still hopes to be able to join a higher level team someday.

Looking farther out, our son lately has been saying he'd like to pursue a career in law enforcement.  Now, I can see that as a person with Asperger's Syndrome that being a street patrol officer is not likely to be a realistic goal for him.  He simply isn't likely to have the personal and relational skills to read and react quickly and accurately to emotionally loaded situations.  But I'm not going to crush his dreams - he's only 12.  If he isn't cut out for a particular career, eventually he'll come to that conclusion on his own, or (more likely) he'll just change his mind and find a new interest.   Goodness knows we've been through enough intense interests with him!  Until the next obsession arises, he can dream of being a police officer, and of driving the totally awesome patrol cars full of radios and computers and gizmos (which is what he's really interested in anyhow).  I'm not going to spend his youth telling him what he won't be able to do, or isn't well suited for.  After all, he's likely to surprise me in the end anyway.  So, let him dream.