A Team Player? How Does THAT Happen?

Having a “team player” attitude is what most work organizations want and obviously what sports coaches want.  After doing this sports parenting thing for over a decade and deciding to grow up personally and actually have a career and not just a job has led me to the conclusion that I probably am not the best role model for a team player.  As a person who has always been drawn to Sociology and who teaches it, dealing with groups is difficult, because the idea is that we study them; obviously.  When we are part of them (whatever group) terms like “group-think” and “norms”, and “social control” are always there.  More disturbing is the reminder of Zimbardo’s study or the Milgram experiment; i.e. our human capability to just “go along” and become Nazis.  Absolute obedience is something to be feared, maybe not all Sociologists feel this way, but I do….
I remember my first Sociology course and the only college course, where there was a “bell curve”…actually there was no bell curve, because I kept getting 100% on tests  therefore taking away the curve and also giving the Professor an experiment to work with.  He told the entire class what grade they MIGHT have gotten had I not gotten that 100%, yes he used my name so everyone knew who was to blame.  He referenced the “prisoner’s dilemma” in this case and I understood I could either continue doing well or do less well for the good of the rest of the class.  I chose to continue acing tests, because I am competitive and what I found pointless to do in sports (after the time I broke a 3rd baseman’s leg sliding into the base and realizing that even though I did exactly what I was supposed to do to get on base, leg-breaking was not the best skill to hone unless I joined a mafia), I did however find the competitive spirit in getting better grades than others.  Actually, knowing how to run fast and slide did turn into a good skill set when I had to run from a certain classmate, who decided that I was the reason she would fail the Sociology “bell curve” class since I continued to get 100%.
The valuable lesson I learned too is that the class became split, between those who were passing and admired me and those who were failing and hated me.  I could deal with both those things.  Is it better to be loved or feared?- that question has never really been answered, but if you want to be a team-player, you better be loved instead.  You sometimes have to downplay your abilities and you can’t go around breaking your teammates legs (did I mention this was in a scrimmage game Varsity V. Reserves and not against a rival team?)- even if I used perfect form when I slid into base and did just what my dad told me and my brother to do in baseball/softball and obviously he knew what he was talking about since my brother’s picture hangs on the wall at the High School for being a superstar player.  My dad and his dad were also Letterman in sports and evidently so was my uncle until he ran away to New York and finally Florida where he currently lives under an overpass.  My cousin though from the same side of the family is also on the wall of fame for wrestling.  I have obviously surmised that genetics play a big part in this too.  It is split between wondering who will become homeless and live under a bridge in Tampa or who will be a superstar in life.
So having three boys is not some misguided Feminist attempt to allow myself to live vicariously through them in all the things I could not to (or at least play with teammates with sturdier legs) or to prove that a single mom can guide kids just as well as a father could do – well I am competitive, so I do want to prove I can at least teach them some things.  Teaching them to be team players has proven the hardest.  I made that mistake with my oldest, but granted I was still in Graduate School when he started sports and being a younger parent and being confused as my oldest son’s sister led me to begin randomly yelling things out, because no one’s sister actually cares enough to do so.  More education in Sociology and my fear that if my son just went along” with everything, he could become a Nazi, led me to even more sideline yelling and coach confrontations.  That fact that he is an “all about me” teen at this point, should be no surprise, but he should do alright, considering his father owns a business and business-owners don’t have to be team players anyway.
Enter in the middle kid and my sudden understanding that people with grown children, no children, or men did better in their careers, because they had the time to put into them…basically work was their life.  The “women can have it all” myth was shattered and I dealt with it by appointing myself the boss of absolutely everything I was doing, including “coaching” kid 2.  Unlike kid 1, who I put upon a pedestal (and he was a good athlete), kid 2 was not put upon the same pedestal, instead I became obsessed with things like his technique or even worse his coaches choices for plays.  There were times I flat-out told coaches that he would not do “x” play, because “x” play was not working and even hand out a PDF of what plays would work better.  Inadvertently he has become a team player, since his teammates and coaches were obviously more normal than I was at the time and they were an escape from my insanity.  It is also important to mention that this son is from a second and also short marriage and his father also ended up in Florida.  I once thought after not hearing from him in years that he was in the Witness Protection Program, but then he popped up on Facebook and I had to tell kids 2 and 3 that he was not in fact working to build homes for orphans in Africa, but he was in Florida and….changed the subject.  So kid 2 cares about his coaches even more because they are father figures and at least is no longer jealous of those imaginary orphans with new imaginary homes, which is ridiculous anyway.
Kid 3 came as a surprise from the second he was born, firstly I was advised that I was now the parent of a redhead (how is this genetically possible?), secondly the moment I held him, he had a deathgrip on my finger from which I had to literally peel his tiny fingers away to give him to the nurse thinking this one will be the football player and not ever changing my mind because thirdly, he was not a natural athlete at every sport he played (how is this genetically possible?), but the first time he ever got to tackle a kid, it looked like he had been doing it for years.  Therefore, kid 3 became about intensity.  I was at a point in my life where Recession and the knowledge that my CV just-sucked- made it easy to want to give up. I also realized that I was such a competitive student that I actually married “case studies” to have something to do outside of school, because just being married for the sake of being married never actually made any sense to me.  Of course, I can say that my kids are all legitimate and that was important, I suppose.  So, I watched motivational videos and began being a huge Ray Lewis fan (wondering what sorts of things I might have learned from him if I would have picked better case studies).  I didn’t try to overanalyze every thing with kid 3 or put him up on a pedestal, but instead saw that his lack of fear and genetically unexplainable toughness and the rest made him into a natural leader.  Every team needs one, but a leader is still a good team player…because they care enough about their teammates to bring out the best in them by example and from a parenting aspect; quite by accident.  I also realized that as long as they didn’t end up in Florida (which I always say with the same unsubtle distaste as I do when I say “Nazi” or “soccer”) then it can’t be THAT bad.
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Failure or Animal Lover?

So working at the farm this week is not an option…I feel like a failure, yet the farm has enough workers that it will not go to a standstill because I am not there, nor will it be that affected at all.  Why could I not work this week?  In the message I sent at 5am this morning, I claimed “babysitting issues” which is true- my two youngest would have been home alone, although they are generally asleep when I am out working so early in the morning,  Who needed babysitting?- my son’s hamster Mr. Chubbs.

Now people may think I am crazy or excessive or not even believe this story, which is why I omitted it under the umbrella of “babysitting”.  Mr. Chubbs in his anger over my youngest not being here, became agitated and tried to escape to find him last Friday.  He has done this before when his owner (my 9 year old) has been gone for more than a night or so.  He has even escaped while my 9 year old has been here only to be found under the couch where the kid was sitting.  He loves him.  This time in Mr. Chubbs’ effort to find him, he got his leg stuck in the bars of his cage.  Apparently hamsters will chew their legs off if they feel it necessary.  It was a horrible scene one of which was precluded by my 15 year old screaming and crying soap opera style.

Long story short (and yes that was short for me) $200 later and an amputation for Chubbs, has left me unable to leave him for very long.  I was right to stay with him, as apparently he does not like the dispensing method of his antibiotics in his water bottle and found a way to empty out the contents (how he did that remains a mystery).  So I am keeping an eye on him for signs of infection and will not hesitate to take him back to the Vet.  This all makes perfect sense to me, but can you imagine telling your employer you can’t come in because your kid’s hamster’s leg was amputated? Luckily this was only a side thing off the career track and I am doing most of my work from home and have 2 weeks before the Fall semester begins.  Mr. Chubbs should be on the mend by then and thus I will avoid making it to a website for the “craziest reasons to call in to work”- aka I have to babysit Chubbs the hamster.

The Stories we Tell

There is one absolutely awesome thing about being a parent, certainly there are many, but my absolute favorite is being able to scare my children via stories.  This may sound cruel, but it isn’t, because I can say with about 90% certainty that my sons will never fall into a lake, become Carnies, pick up hitchhikers, or wander out into traffic.  Mind you the boys are tweens and a teen, so things that I used to scare them away from are useless and the interesting part is they have realized that my stories (even when they are completely made up) are interesting.  They now know there is no such thing as a “swamp witch”, an evil creature that was said to lurk at the end of my parents long driveway, but they stayed away from the road and the snapping turtles throughout their youth.

Some of these stories really have no purpose other than in telling them, they create a legacy.  Stories live on.  For example, stories that end in “and this is why you should never camp by a river” or “that is why jumping on railway cars is a bad idea” have no moral, but they are fun to tell.  Of course, I have to construct an elaborate tale of the time I jumped on a railway car and ended up in Missouri where I was mistaken for a wanted criminal, who had escaped on a railway car from Mississippi.  I then had to stay in jail for days until the police sorted the whole thing out and my picture was in the paper in St. Louis and this is why you stay away from the railroad tracks and/or never ride on a train.

There is always some grain of truth to these stories, as I would not consider my life boring in the least.  I don’t tell them these tales because it makes my life seem interesting, I tell them because I can.  I have tried to write stories, but who am I, Aesop? Telling stories requires a certain type of gift to weave in truth and fiction and captivate your audience through inflection or other rhetorical devices you can only do with speech.  You must also be prepared for questions and demands for future stories…the latter inevitably leads to me saying something like “well after I picked up that second maniacal hitchhiker, I think I learned my lesson, wouldn’t you?”

Of course we can always tell stories that are 100% true, but what is the fun in that?  Actually I have told some of those, but only in dire times.  The story of being rufied by a female bartender and calling the National Guard in (and yes someone from the Guard did come to the bar I was at, but I forgot what I called them for…it remains a fuzzy picture of someone in uniform with weapons ready) has been told and my kids are more afraid of ending up doing something ridiculous than something bad happening to them.  The story ends with “and this is why you don’t drink….do you want to call the National Guard and embarrass yourself?” It remains a funny story to them and it actually isn’t funny really.  I simply chose to remember the more dramatic parts of my life (a theme) then an actual plot (everything else). There does remain a moral to that story and it is that you have to be careful who you trust and The Hangover was a funny movie, but that tiger could have eaten them…. “and this is why you never feed animals at the zoo…”

I seriously doubt other mothers do this.  The only thing even close this that I have ever seen is in the movie Big Fish, which admittedly makes me cry every time I watch it.  Ironically I also have a story to tell as to why it makes me cry that ends up with “and this is why you never fall in love with someone who is dating a princess”, although I don’t actually tell that story, because it is of no use to boys at all.  I have strived to be more elaborate in my stories as I have grown older and it was something that I remember, really one of the only things, about my Grandpa.  He told “tall tales” about catching alligators and armadillos although he lived nowhere near those kinds of animals.  I used to think it was a Southern trait, but I realize that isn’t the case, even though Big Fish might have a person think otherwise and my Grandpa being from the South and all…

The only problem with this is that people never know when you are telling the truth or weaving a fiction.  This isn’t the same thing as lying, of course, but it does effect the quality of time I have together with my kids and I have learned the hard way to tell these stories on neutral ground where they feel safe.  They will refuse to sit by a campfire and listen to a story, for example and they cringe when we go fishing and I have a Loch Ness monster story to tell.  But when the power goes out and we have nothing to do other than to talk to each other or we are in the car, I begin “Don’t ever think it is a good idea to become a rodeo clown…” and I just bet that they will remember every last detail even though I will forget it as soon as I have told it.  They can now, after all, describe the swamp witch in vivid detail and to my delight, I think that have added some extra details to the story…