My Chicken Little is having a hard time of late. In addition to temporary hearing loss, which has made aspects of home and school challenging, she is not enjoying her place on the school basketball team. Monday morning, I took her to work with me for a couple of hours before her doctor appointment for ear issues. Exhausted from days upon days of straining to hear, of not feeling well, and a little school stress, she broke into tears on my office floor. What she said wasn't anything uncommon to the woes and worries of a middle schooler in many places, but my heart broke for her.
"The kids yell at me on the court. And I can tell they talk about me behind my back because I am not like them. And it is hard to be the only White kid on the team. I am just not as good as them at basketball. It isn't my route."
"Baby girl," I said gently. I told her how she has twice the courage of the other kids to get out on the court knowing athletic talent is not her gift, knowing she is different. The fact that she tries is what counts here. "You are the heart of the team," I said, "even though it is hard for other kids to understand." I tapped my chest and continued, "You have it all in here."
Last night, my husband and I lounged over coffee and dessert, and discussed the situation. What kind of decision should a parent make here? Earlier that day, I had called Chicken Little's dad, who discussed the value of learning how to live as the minority in a situation (which, really, is one reason I choose to keep my kids in city schools) and how we tend to learn when put in places of discomfort, which for this little doll of a child, would be a sports setting anywhere. My husband wondered if we were setting our girl up to fail--putting her in a situation where she is this little awkward child among gangly, strong ballplayers. I see each man's point of view. The person I really want to hear from now is my daughter's coach.
This morning, I wrote a note to the coach and reminded my daughter that until she takes her feelings to the coach, we cannot help her. This may be a situation where my daughter works her way off the team on her own accord or it may be a situation where the coach has the magic words to provide reassurance, comfort, and motivation to stay.
This isn't a life or death decision, but it is one that counts down the line as it bonds with critical memories of struggle in middle school. Whatever happens, I am sure our little girl will be fine, but I hope that the present time isn't extraordinarily painful for her.