Yesterday, we went bowling with some friends. Bowling is always an adventure, partly because I’m terrible even though a dear friend of mine has given me plenty of lessons (hi, Don!). For whatever reason, even though I know what I’m supposed to do, some part of my body doesn’t always listen and my score rarely approaches – let alone breaks – 100. For the kids, it’s more fun because we let them use bumpers.
Last night, we were all bowling terribly. Well, the kids were and I was. My friends weren’t doing too badly, compared to us. That’s just how it is sometimes, and it doesn’t make the bowling and hanging out any less fun. Unless you’re Mister Man. He was so frustrated with himself and so upset that he wasn’t winning that I could see him physically tensing. Of course, this was after our food arrived at our lane and I handed him his silverware wrapped in a napkin with the admonishment that there was silverware inside and a warning not to drop it. He, of course, dropped the silverware on the bowling alley floor almost immediately. It happens, but what set me off was his immediate reaction of, “It wasn’t my fault!”
Well, yeah, Dude. It kind of is your fault. It’s your silverware. You were holding it. You were told it was inside there and warned to be careful not to drop it and less than 10 seconds later, it was on the ground. Who else would you like to blame exactly? The lack of taking any responsibility drives me bonkers. Mistakes happen, but you have to acknowledge them and move on, making them right. Trying to distance yourself from anything going wrong and insisting that it isn’t your fault isn’t just unattractive, it’s an unhealthy attitude to have.
So less than five minutes after that, he throws himself onto the couch next to me in frustration, and I see him starting to dig his fingernails into his leg as hard as he can, obviously trying to draw blood or mark himself in some way. It’s his punishment, and it scares me. It’s easy to see this quickly spiraling down into an ugly night that no one enjoys, and I feel somewhat responsible for it since I didn’t let him abdicate responsibility for dropping his silverware on the ground.
I suggested that the two of us take a walk and excused us from the rest of the group to have a private conversation.
“Mister Man,” I started, “did you see my score when I was bowling?”
He shook his head, and I smiled. “Dude, I had a gutter ball my first ball, and I knocked down only one pin my second ball. I had a grand total of one point after the first frame. Even now, I’m still losing. By a lot. I’m terrible at bowling, but that’s ok. I have a lot of other things that I’m really good at, and it’s ok that I’m not good at bowling. I can still have fun doing it even if I get a really low score.”
He just looked at me suspiciously.
“Are you really good at lots of things, Mister Man?” I asked.
He nodded, somewhat sullenly.
“It’s not possible to be really good at everything. You wouldn’t be much fun to be around if you were perfect, you know that? You have lots of talents with math and building LEGOs and at tae kwon do and in your creative stories and so much more. Right?”
“So it’s ok that bowling isn’t your best thing. No one cares if you aren’t great at bowling. No one cares if you win or lose. We’re playing for fun, and the scores mean nothing. The only time someone cares about how you’re doing is when you make an issue of it. When you get super frustrated and have a bad attitude, it shows, and it makes people uncomfortable. No one wants to be around that, and it takes the fun away. And that’s when they make an issue of it. Remember our conversation about choosing to have a good day? Same thing, Dude.”
“I am sort of an expert at LEGOs,” he piped in, somewhat belatedly.
I smiled. “And I’m happy to help you with bowling. I can give you tips and pointers if you want, but no matter what the score is, the part that matters is that we’re here with our friends doing something fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. Can you lose the frustration?”
He nodded with a little more conviction this time. We headed back to the game, not wanting to delay everyone else too long. And he had relaxed. It took another frame or two before he truly lost his frustration with not getting all the pins knocked down (or most of them), but he finally started to have fun, which meant we could all relax and have fun again. Because really, who wants to hang around someone who’s perfect all the time?
We’ve been inspired lately by a quote from an audiobook we’re listening to now. “You don’t have a good day or a bad day. You choose to make it that way. So if you have a choice, why not make it a good day?” I’m just glad he was able to turn it around and have a good day and a fun time. For all our sakes. And I’m crossing my fingers that this is a skill he continues to develop in life because if he doesn’t, I’m a little afraid for him.