The trembling lip I could take. But as my four-year-old, perched in the front row of the children's program, wailed "Mommmmmy!," my frustration boiled over. What was wrong with this kid? I made a hunched-over dash to where Ben sat. His arms wrapped around my neck.
"What is wrong?!" I whispered.
"I ... don't...want...to...!" he stammered.
"You like these songs," I reminded him. "Just sit here and sing."
"Noooooo!" he wailed and tightened his grip.
All right. Fine. I hauled Ben and what little pride I had left back to my seat. My friend Barbara, a seasoned mother of five, was sitting next to me. She patted my hand. "It's OK," she whispered, "don't push him." I felt prickles of irritation. What did she know? Her children were winners of trophies and stars of programs, while I was agonizing over a son who had accidents in preschool because he couldn't ask to go to the bathroom.
"You know," Barbara confided later, "Ben reminds me of my son Greg." I thought of her all-sport 15-year-old and wondered aloud, "How?" Apparently, little Greg had been afraid of everything, and the more they pushed him, the more he resisted. Finally, they gave up and let him pursue quieter interests. "Suddenly when he was 10, he decided he wanted to play baseball, and now we can't keep him away from the ballfield." She smiled warmly. "Just relax; let Ben be Ben."
Easier said than done, as her words echoed down the years. Ben was my first child and I worried about his quiet personality. I knew how kids treated the klutzy, shy kid. Starting school helped a bit; he was less shy but still too cautious, I thought. For his own good and his future social standing (I said to myself), I wanted a son who was a sports star and social magnet. Ben, however, didn't see things that way. His natural element was Legos, art kits, and modeling clay, but I secretly wished he were, well, more rough-and-tumble. OK, I didn't just wish; I nudged.
We tried soccer when he was 6. While he loved kicking the ball up and down the field, he would not defend or try to steal it. "I might hurt somebody," he explained. Hmmmm. Didn't look as if he had a competitive bone in his body. He did discover his value at comic relief. His teammates roared at his antics. They loved him; we were either proud or embarrassed, I'm not sure which.
He reluctantly endured a month of running with me and one summer of tennis lessons because he had a crush on his coach, but refused to consider any contact sport. After four years of piano, he could play fairly well, but no way would he play at a recital.
Somehow, while resisting all our efforts, he began to shine in the areas he loved. In elementary school, building and drawing consumed him, resulting in a first-place science fair project about domes and several beautifully illustrated fantasy epics. His room became peopled with skillfully sculpted wizards, dragons, and warriors. I was awed; humbled, even, by these abilities he certainly didn't get from us.
At school, his sense of humor and respect for others drew to him a huge circle of friends. The kid had tons of talent and character; his lack of desire to excel in sports and spelling bees gradually faded from my list of worries like the color from the ribbon that hung by his window, a relic of his fleeting soccer career.
It was when I could appreciate Ben's unique gifts without even a pang at high school football games that he surprised me. "Mom, can I sign up for junior basketball?" Wow. Seems a coach's comment about his potential as a center was all it took. Life is ironically wonderful.
Now I offer Barbara's "ease up" advice myself to frustrated young mothers. Ben is still his creative self, plus being ninth-grade president, center on his basketball team, an A student, and an award-winning miler in track. He recently performed Pachelbel's Canon in D on the piano before a large audience. Willingly. Best of all, Ben is a confident young man who believes in himself and loves others.
I've learned that having the son I wanted was not the point, it was wanting the son I have. Thanks, Ben, for being my son.