When I learn from my son the lesson I spent his lifetime to this point trying to teach, I know I did my job.
His team went into the state volleyball semifinals on Friday as the number two seed, riding a 24-match winning streak, and five sets later exited the gym as moderate upset victims. They took the first two sets reasonably handily, but in the third fell behind early and lost their momentum, started hitting serves wide and long, started letting balls fall in bounds, failed to cover on tips. The fifth set went back and forth, with neither team pulling out more than a two-point margin, and his team fought off match point three times before finally succumbing.
Great, I thought, he's going to be a mess for a week. This is a kid who was devastated as a freshman when he missed a must-convert penalty kick and his soccer team lost a tournament championship, a kid whose confidence took a kick in the gut when he didn't make varsity volleyball as a junior, a kid who spent his entire junior season grabbing his head when he missed a hit and fighting back tears when the missed hit came on match point. He made varsity this year but didn't expect to play, and I spent the first half of the season watching him ride the bench and holding my breath the few times he got into games because I knew a mistake would mean he was (1) back on the bench, (2) with his head in his hands.
But after the halfway point stuff started to change. He wasn't hanging his head, even if he messed up, and he worked his way into the starting lineup and stayed there.When the last ball on match point fell short of the kid who dove for it in vain, they left the floor and huddled under the bleachers with the coach for a long time, and when they started trickling back to their parents I took a deep breath. And was pleasantly surprised. Despite the red eyes and the long hug, he was okay. They were all okay.
They got on the bus and headed back to Tucson, and when he got home he told me everyone got over it on the ride. He wished things had gone differently, but he was happy about specific things that had been a problem for him in the past, that he had done well in this match. He hit every one of his serves in, and returned every serve hit to him the way he wanted to. His Facebook update just said guess you can't win them all.
Acknowledge the bad and leave it behind, take the good with you and move on. He's doing it now, finally not letting small slips morph into capital-eff Failures that keep spiraling. Finally doing as I say instead of as I do.
And in doing so, he becomes the teacher. My work here is done.