When Josh was a toddler he marched to a drumbeat only he could hear. His physical and cognitive pace confused us on a daily basis. We got a sense of the invisible drummer when he started playing soccer at about age five. Josh hung out on the periphery of the field until a goal was scored and then he rushed in to celebrate, even when the other team scored. Tarun and I frequently exchanged nervous glances through his “tepid” elementary school soccer seasons.
In middle school he fell while running with the ball and then everyone cheered. Bewildered kid and his stunned parents realized that while falling he had accidentally propelled the ball into the net. We were incredibly relieved that he had finally scored, secretly wondering when that might happen again. To our amazement he made it to the JV team in high school. While we scratched our heads about how that happened, he was distraught for not making the cut for the varsity team. The collective family reaction was, “Dude!!!”
Josh's high school soccer coach was very demanding and expected the kids to play travel soccer on the weekends. We found ourselves driving Josh an hour this way and that several times every weekend. One Saturday, while standing on the sidelines recovering from crazy traffic and frustrated with another shoddy performance, Tarun and I hurtled over the proverbial edge. On the way back home we ripped into Josh. We can’t do this anymore. This is taking up every minute of our free time and you are terrible at this game. It isn't for you. By the time we got home, he had an ultimatum: you have one more season to step up or we are done.
We expected typical teenage blowback but that didn’t happen. He just sat there and took it in. In the next season, Josh was reborn. Time spent on the road and field was finally worth it and he delivered consistent result week after week. He assisted and scored, not once but several times! A very involved soccer parent on our school team rushed over to us excitedly several times during the season pleasantly surprised by Josh's new avatar.
Incredulously, we asked Josh - what happened?!
He smugly replied, “You told me I was terrible and I didn’t like that!”
Logical next question: "What about academics? How come you aren’t doing your best there?"
His answer froze us in our tracks: "Because you never said I am terrible at that."
Wait, WHAT?? This kid should have come with an instruction manual!!
From that day on, parental guidance was crystal clear: You won't be able to do that, you are not as good as your brother, you won’t get into college, you won’t get out of college, and you won't get into med school. In return and at every step, Josh has defied us and proved us wrong! This week, he sent a beaming selfie with the caption, “First day of 3rd year!” - of med school. This proud mama sent back a heart emoji.
Big brother was less generous. He responded with a bleary-eyed, scruffy-faced, exhausted-looking selfie captioned: “Day 304 of 11th year, this is what you have to look forward to!”
Little brother: "I cannot wait!"
Drat, we keep forgetting that bad news fuels this boy!
I suspect the invisible drummer will continue to guide him on paths unknown for years to come. Now that he is achieving without prodding from us, I frequently want to say, "Well done!!" but I am petrified that positive feedback might propel him to his toddler days on the soccer field.
So, shhhh....(go get 'em kiddo).