Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

It’s Not Easy Being Big

May 6, 2011

I heard Ben’s feet stomping onto the porch before he got to the front door. He turned the knob and threw his body against the door so hard it banged into the wall. I imagined the dent he left there. 

 I was washing dishes in the kitchen. “Hey, hey, that’s not how we come in the house,” I called from the kitchen . What’s up with you?”

 “I’m Big, and Dumb, and Clumsy,” my eight year old yelled.

 “Wait a minute,” I said, wiping my hands on the dish towel and walking to the hallway where he stood.  “Who said that?”

 “Nobody,” he replied, head down, his voice quieter now, the toe of his sneaker kicking the baseboard. “I just am.”

 I put my arm around his shoulders, and together we walked to the couch for one of our pep talks.  It became a ritual of ours through his elementary and middle school years.  

 At twelve, Ben was six feet tall, but he had been well above the hundredth percentile on his growth chart since birth. Everyone expected him to act his size.  He didn’t. Teachers, coaches, other children, and parents of other children called him out for not being more mature, smarter, stronger, faster. If anything he was a couple years behind his peer group developmentally.

 Not only was Ben hugely conspicuous in a room, he learned differently from his peers, and he suffered abuse in silence. He did not retaliate. He wasn’t a round peg, fitting neatly into a round, public school hole.  He was a high energy, inquisitive, hands-on learner, with no concept of personal space.  If he liked you, he loomed over you, and presented you with smothering bear hugs.  If he didn’t like you, he tried his best to stay away from you. From Kindergarten on, a kid named Justin, and a handful of other smaller children surrounded and threatened Ben daily. He hated those boys, and he hated school.

Ryan, Ben’s younger brother by six and a half years, found a pre-school book at a yard sale one year and wanted to buy it for his sibling. The cover sported a smiling Big Bird of Sesame Street fame. The title was: It’s Not Easy Being Big.

 “Ben would like this,” Ryan said. “He doesn’t like being big.”  With the taunts and bullying his brother endured, I knew what Ryan meant. No matter how we attempted to bolster our boy’s confidence, his self esteem suffered. He had one friend his own age, another social outcast; and we spent hours each night with homework just to keep Ben on grade level. Baseball, and being his little brother’s hero kept his head above water.

 Sam, Ben’s favorite baseball coach, instilled confidence in the boy’s abilities on the field.  No matter how many times Ben tripped and fell, struck out, or threw wild pitches, Sam put his arm around the boy and said,  “You just gotta grow into that big body of yours. Gotta have big feet to hold up that frame.   You wait, one day, you’re gonna catch up to that pitch and knock the cover off the ball.  Pretty soon,  you’re gonna find that strike zone with a killer curve ball.”  Ben believed him, and tried harder.

 One day, Sam suggested we visit Miller, a small private school with individual attention and a faculty that fostered individual learning styles and tolerance. Sam had just been hired as their new baseball coach.

 We visited, spent the day monitoring classes, ate a meal in the dining hall, and discovered the cost of tuition. We cringed.  Bruce and I would never be able to afford it. Of course Ben loved the idea of playing ball for Sam and his first visit to the school reminded him of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter book series. Ben believed in magic.

 At the end of the day, our boy had an appointment to meet alone with the headmaster.  Bruce and I stood on the lawn and watched him walk slowly, with rounded shoulders up the steps to the front doors. Students were sitting, standing, and lounging on the marble stairs.  Halfway up, Ben tripped and dropped his notebook, scattering papers. I held my breath.

 Not one student laughed. No one called him names. Two boys helped Ben back up onto his feet, and asked if he was alright. Several girls collected his notebook and papers, handing them to him.

 “I don’t care how much it costs,” I said. “If they accept him, he’s coming here.”

 They did, and although the schoolwork was rigorous, and he still struggled to pass classes, he received the extra help he needed to succeed in his studies. By his senior year, he was a more confident young man and had the privilege of pitching a complete game to win Miller its first State Baseball championship.   He also applied to a four year college and was accepted.

 At 6’6” he’s still a big boy.  His size fifteens aren’t quiet as he bounds onto the porch.  He bangs the front door against the wall as he pushes into the house with an armload of laundry.

 “Hey, watch that door,” I call from the kitchen.

 “Come give your best kid a squeeze,” he calls from the hall.

 I walk out wiping my hands on the dish towel.  He drops the laundry onto the floor and looms over me, bestowing one of those killer bear hugs of his. 

 “You ready for the news?” He asks.

 “I’m not sure,” I say, closing my eyes.

 “All A’s this semester. How’s that for a way to end my college career?”

 How’s that indeed.