For the last couple of years, my wife has hosted a “Back to School Kickball Game” for friends and neighbors. The group that usually gathers is a very eclectic mix of parents and children. A fun array of ages, backgrounds and family sizes; including foster families, adoptive families, toddlers, teenagers, tweens, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts…and all of their different connections, temperaments and beliefs would make this list almost exhaustive.
Most participants of the kickball game are eager and follow along with the general rules. I say most because not all participants were eager or following the rules. The honest truth of the matter is that I was a reluctant participant of the game this year with feelings of obligation driving my actions. I also have to admit that I did not initially follow the general rules of the game. I broke the unspoken rule to “take it easy” on the younger kids when I threw the ball at my six year old son tagging him out before he made it halfway to first base. Naturally, he proceeded to run off the field crying. Not the best experience for my son or me. My participation in the game was driven solely by obligation and my actions reflected my poor attitude. I am happy to share that on this occasion, however, I quickly realized my mistake and became determined to finish the game with a more engaging and cooperative attitude.
Our friendly neighborhood kickball game marks the start of a new school year for me. As a parent, therapist and Social Worker, I realize now that my participation in parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings, back-to-school nights, and the like, have historically been driven by a sense of obligation. I can’t help but believe that this sense of obligation is also felt by students who attend school “because they have to.” Is it out of the realm of possibility that this same sense of obligation drives the educational process as well? In my role as a parent of a child with special educational needs I have said, “Legally the school has to do this, this and this…”. On numerous occasions, I have witnessed different agencies and entities try to determine who was legally required to transport a foster child to school when they are placed out of district. I have also participated in countless discussions about who is “required” to provide services to a child whose needs have exceeded available resources. In every one of these situations, a lot of time and energy is spent identifying who is obligated to do what and not enough time deciding what we are willing to do.
When my wife, in all her wisdom, instituted the family tradition of hosting an annual “Back to School Kickball Game”, she did so in an effort to ease anxieties during what is typically a very stressful time of year for children, parents and those involved in the education of children. I now see this tradition as also an exercise for me to practice what I once viewed (embarrassingly) as an obligation instead of what it really is—an opportunity. Likewise, as the new school year looms ahead, I am determined to replace my feelings of dread and obligation with those of hope and opportunity in my interactions, both personally and professionally. Imagine what it would be like for the children and students that we all love and work with if all the adults in their lives made this same commitment? I can only imagine this positive approach making it easier for them to see more opportunities at school and have more hope about their educational endeavors.