Monday, August 15, 2011

Are You Ready For the Wild Shots?

This is a little embarrassing to admit, as the wife of a tennis pro: I am terrible at tennis. I haven't picked up a racquet in years, but recently I have been thinking about the first few times I played tennis with Nick. We had just started dating at the time.

We also tried to play once when Louise was a baby.

Nick fed balls to me from across the net. When I managed to hit them back over, sometimes (usually) my shots would be headed outside the lines, or even all the way back to the fence. He chased down every wild shot I hit, and somehow redirected them right back to me in the center of the court. As long as I didn't hit the ball into the net on my side, Nick could keep the rally going, seemingly forever. I was impressed.

I remember thinking about how much fun it was to hit with him, because he made me feel like maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought (I was). He made it look easy, and that made it fun. He never got annoyed with my wild shots. He never tried to "punish" me by making me go get one that went outside the court. When he did give me some pointers about how I might want to adjust my shot, he did so in a gentle way, one that did not detract from the fun we were having. He mostly just did his best to keep the ball in play.

I thought about this yesterday because Louise (4.5) was having a difficult day. She was short-tempered and impatient and that lead to her yelling at me a few times. I thought about how I could have responded. I could have ignored her until she figure out how to talk to me more politely. I could have said something rude to her about how unacceptable her yelling was. I could have yelled back at her.

Instead, I stayed calm. I figured out what she needed. I granted her requests, even though they weren't perfectly executed. I did for her what Nick did for me on the tennis court.  She was hitting wild shots in my direction, and I chose to chase them down and hit them right back to her, as best I could. And so, the rally continued, uninterrupted.

Nick could have tried to teach me something by letting each wild shot go past him and making me run after the ball to pick it up, but the lesson I would have learned may not have been about tennis. It may have been about him. What I might have learned was that he wasn't fun to play with. That he had the ability to keep the ball in play, but was unwilling to put forth the effort.

Instead I learned some wonderful things: that he was patient, caring, and skilled. I learned that he would rather keep the ball in play than stop to teach me a lesson about how bad I was. After all, he was trying to build our relationship, not to improve my tennis game.

This is how I look at the way I relate to my kids. I'm focused on building my relationships with them. They will learn the things they need to know in the process. Other people might watch me react calmly, respond gently to my daughter's anger and impatience, and think I'm missing out on a chance to teach her how to speak politely, or that I'm too lazy to punish her or to fight back. They might shake their heads at my chasing down the wild shots. 

But I have thought it through, and I just want to keep the ball in play as best I can. I want to give her lots of chances to hit more shots, rather than waste her time making her run after and do-over the ones I could have easily gotten. I want to make it look easy. To make her feel good. I want to hit even the wildest shots back to her like a pro.