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Monday, July 04, 2011

Balancing Act

For the sake of this exercise, let's assume that everyone reading this knows how to play baseball, and finds the experience enjoyable.

Picture yourself playing baseball on a perfectly manicured field. 

The weather is perfect and the sun shines pleasantly on your shoulders as you enjoy the wide open landscape and revel in both your ample skills and intimate knowledge of the rules of play.

You are in good shape and confident in your abilities as a player... and the well maintained field seems beautiful, if not particularly challenging.  There are no rough spots to cause bad hops, and the base paths are perfectly groomed to allow for full out running, as well as sliding when necessary.

All in all, the experience is a perfect marriage of fitness, skills and environment.  Even the presence of a well-matched opposing team is of no concern since you, and your team-mates, understand the rules of the game and seem well matched to the challengers.

Now imagine that midway through your baseball game you forget some or all of the rules and lose one or more of your senses.  Imagine also that the field suddenly grows a bunch of oddly placed trees and the basepaths develop ditches.

If it is only your sense of smell that suddenly goes missing, it is of little concern.  Many allergy sufferers routinely engage in sports without their sense of smell intact.

But what if your sense of touch suddenly abandons you mid-game... or worse, your sense of sight or hearing?

It would be terrifying to be flying down the base path and suddenly not know if you were about to run into a tree or step into a hole.  And if the ball is hit to your position, what do you do if you suddenly can't remember if you're supposed to throw home or look a base runner back to first base? 

And worst of all, you are the only person on the field who is impaired or in the least bit bothered by the changes.  Everyone else is acting as though everything has remained unchanged.

This is the world in which our younger son lives.  Every new experience, no matter how similar to something he already knows, is fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt.  And until he manages to learn and master all of the skill-sets, rules and sensory knowledge necessary to excel in a new situation, it is as terrifying for him as if he had suddenly gone blind or deaf... or had forgotten something that everyone else knows and takes for granted.

Our youngest child is a fantastically gifted athlete, a giving and compassionate friend, and a very adept academic pupil. 

But take him from an old class to a knew one... from a game whose rules he knows to a similar one with new parameters... from the safe confines of the first grade into the wild blue yonder of summer camp... and he suddenly finds himself grappling with the terrifying prospect of running blind into a metaphorical ditch or tree waiting in his path.

But once he learns the new rules and memorizes the fresh environment, he is once again the master of his domain.

Yesterday was Yonah's first day of summer camp.  He was not happy (to say the least) to be taken there in the morning, and it was only by sheer force of will that Zahava was able to extricate herself and leave him there.

But this morning at 5:30 AM he was standing next to my bed telling me excitedly about the day his camp staff had planned for him (and would I please get up so he wouldn't be late!!!).

Two years ago the transition from comfort zone to terrified unknown back to comfort zone might have taken two weeks, or even a month.  Now it is down to a matter of less than a day before he feels secure enough to enjoy himself.

It is a balancing act that he will have to tackle throughout his life.  By the time he is a teenager the lag may be down to a matter of hours... and as an adult the 'ok-to-terror-back to ok' phase may pass un-noticed  (by others) in a matter of moments.

But no matter how good he gets at managing life's transitions, every new experience will be akin to being asked to play a new game... blindfolded.  And as his father, I wish I could somehow take on some of his crippling self-doubt, so that just once, he could walk confidently from one life task to another, secure in his ability to adapt.

Posted by David Bogner on July 4, 2011 | Permalink


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Sigh. You put so very well what every parent wishes for his child, and can never ensure. Your situation is more extreme. I am inspired by your ability to understand your son, and to accept who he is and what coping mechanisms he will need. He is fortunate to have parents who understand him as well as possible. Halevai, all kids should have that from parents and educators. Too often they are faced with a world that expects them to "get over it, get with the program." Nice explanation!

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jul 4, 2011 1:56:49 PM

What is even more miraculous about his attitude this morning is that it followed a serious, first-mid-day trauma.

The camp officially ends around 1:00 pm, but since I am (B"H, pftu, pftu, pftu!) quite busy work-wise, I have him signed up for after care ending at 4:00 pm.

At 1:15 I got a frantic call from a W-A-I-L-I-N-G child begging me to pick him up because he didn't know where to go for aftercare and was no longer willing to go since he'd missed the info/instructions.... To make matters worse, our call got cut off. And I was off the yishuv....

It took 10 solid minutes to get him back on the phone, calm him enough to get him to give the phone to his counselor, and work it out with the camp staff....

I was told by the aftercare staff that he only needed about a half hour to recompose himself... but my stomach was in knots until I picked him up at the end of the day....

Posted by: zahava | Jul 4, 2011 6:05:46 PM

So well written... give that young boy a big hug from his auntie val.

Posted by: val | Jul 4, 2011 6:40:05 PM

That was a real eye-opener for me. I work with children who have sensory impairments, sometimes profound. Only the kids I work with have one more thing against them; they are also cognitively impaired to varying degrees. If changes can be so scary for your little guy, who is an intelligent, expressive kid, I can only imagine how scary life is for some of my kids at work.

Now if you can translate the post to Hebrew so I can share it with all my colleagues, that would be excellent. :-)

Posted by: Baila | Jul 4, 2011 8:06:02 PM

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