Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Parenthood pt.4: Meta Chicken (but actually 561)

I feel like I’m locked in a meta game of chicken with God.

When Michael Phelps was seven his mom enrolled him in swimming because Michael had been diagnosed with ADHD and she needed an activity to help release some of his excess energy. Michael’s parents divorced at nine. At eleven Michael’s swim coach comes to his mom and says, “it’s time we started training for the Olympics. Or he can walk away.”

Of course she says, “whatchu talkin’ bout? He’s eleven.” But she agrees and four years later, at fifteen, Michael Phelps is in Sydney, swimming in the 100m freestyle final. He doesn’t medal, but we all pretty much know the story from there. Couple of things I notice:

1. It’s impossible to say, but with another coach would we have “Michael Phelps?” What if the coach had had a bad year? What if he was looking for another job? Would Phelps have been just another kid? The greatest club sport swimmer in the history of UMASS? (In an interesting footnote, when Phelps chose Michigan, Bob Bowman (the coach) became the head coach of the Michigan swim team. Now that Phelps has graduated and is moving back to Baltimore, Bowman will be the CEO of the swim club Michael will swim at.)

2. What if mom had said no?

3. What if she’d dropped him at the rec center to play basketball instead? Did he have a say? Did he choose swimming? Did he ever want to quit? What if he did? What if they had let him?

I’ve played this game of chicken with God before: In which we barrel down the spiritual interstate at each other to see who will ditch first. Of course He doesn’t ditch. God’s not the ditching type. And He’s not so much barreling toward me because He’s God—He barrels away omnipresently and I choose to step in His path. I can get on board or get smashed by the God barreling.

But somehow it’s easier for me to play this game when it’s just me. I’m pretty comfortable with my actions and the repercussions that go along with them. I can deal with the mistakes and life course-locking decisions I’ve made. I’m content in and understand the whole “God’s in charge and I can’t screw that up, even with this pesky free-will thing on the side”. I think part of it is also that I’m 35 and pretty much know who I am by now. I know there’s still some radical stuff out there for me that God hasn’t barreled at me yet, but I know I’m never going to be an Olympian. While that’s terribly disappointing for me, I can (finally) accept it as reality and live with it.

But now I’ve got this seven year-old who probably won’t be 6’4” and isn’t interested in the piano. Behind him is the five year-old who’s only interested in being a princess. (In China if you don’t exhibit world-class gymnast tendencies by five, after two years of intensive training, you’re relegated to the Old Navy factory or something.)

And I’m thinking, CRAP!!! We’ve got to get them started! We have to find THE THING that they’ll be brilliant at!

Asher I’m not so much worried about. He’s going to be huge. He’ll be an outside linebacker for the Titans. That one’s sewn up! Whew!


Pick up here tomorrow.

1 comment:

Todd said...

I love the God barreling.

And I had the EXACT same thoughts as you when I heard the story about Phelps Coach coming to Mom.

So MANY ways that could have gone different... and he's be the tall pudgy kid training to be in realestate.