Reframing Adversity

My colleague Gordon Firemark used a phrase recently that I think could be a mantra: “Reframe Adversity.” He and I just finished teaching an online pilot program for other attorneys who want to be the “go-to” experts in their field, and seek to leverage 21st century tools to reach clients. We know we have tapped into an important issue--not just for lawyers--that can be summed up as “the art of turning lemons into lemonade” through personal introspection.

Just this past weekend, I reframed adversity just by thinking about, and now writing about, my son’s very first “away game” soccer match. I am in awe of my youngest child, mostly because he is so unlike me. He spent so much of his early years in and out of emergency rooms because of terrible asthma (though an asthma diagnosis is apparently forbidden until an older age), but he would always grind his way through. Unlike me, he has always been tough as nails, prickly, sweet and cuddly with animals, extremely sure of himself to the point of defiance of others, possessed of unlimited energy, killer instinct, and coordination. I will not lie; it can be a real challenge taking care of someone whose personality is so different than my own. But it’s also a tremendous learning experience.

When we helped him prepare for his first game on the road, I suggested he put a sweatband on his head, as I had already been outside and noted the stickiness. He was sure he didn’t want one. We had bought a bunch for his older brother, who had asked for them when he dallied with basketball, and wanted to be like LeBron and Carmelo. That didn’t last long. He’s the exact opposite of his brother, and approaches adversity differently. Which means we parent them differently. At this time, we are working on nurturing independence in our older son. He didn’t want to go to his brother’s soccer game, and we decided to leave him home alone at the ripe old age of 10. His babysitters live across the street, we reasoned. We did not regret that decision.

It was hot and sticky and the sun decided to peek through the clouds. And there were yellowjackets. Our older son was attacked by yellowjackets not so long after we moved into our new house; the nest had grown in the wall of his room. We are still working with him on his justifiable fear. Some might say that this could have been a teachable moment. I say we dodged a bullet.

I’m not bragging when I say that watching my younger son on the soccer field is a delicious sight. I imagine it’s not so different from watching a lab rat scurry through a sculpture garden. The opposing team are usually the sculptures in this scenario. But not this time. As a child, I always wished I could be as intense and agile as he is, but this time, he seemed human. Nobody else seemed to notice. I turned to Devra and said, “Something’s wrong. He’s not acting like himself.” She agreed, but we were on the sidelines, and didn’t want to be “those parents.”

Ten minutes later, his coach screamed out for me. I couldn’t see so far away, but apparently my son was crying. I ran over. He was inconsolable. “It’s too hot!” I tried to stay calm. I wanted to walk him off the field, get him somewhere cooler. But I didn’t. I handed him a water bottle. He drank. “I can’t see. All the sweat is getting in my eyes.” I wanted to remind him he should have worn a headband. I handed him a microfiber cloth that I use to clear sweat from my glasses. He wiped his eyes. “I can’t breathe!” This scared me. He never has trouble breathing anymore. And, as I started to feel genuine panic over not having an inhaler in my pocket, I felt a sharp pain in my hand that pierced me. For a moment, a very self-centered moment, I didn’t think about him at all. I stared at the pinprick in the middle of my palm as the skin around it whitened. A yellowjacket stung me. I stifled a moan, but was useless for that moment.

Another parent had an albuterol inhaler wrapped in Saran Wrap and handed it to him. He took a deep breath. As my hand throbbed, I asked him, “Are you okay?” He nodded. “Can you play?” He wiped his eyes with the microfiber cloth and stuffed it between his sock and shinguard. He ran out there and became his superhuman self again. They still got destroyed. But he didn’t seem to mind. He even said something I never thought I’d hear him say, “I’m kind of happy for the other team. They deserved to win.”

As we strolled towards the car, he held my hand, the other less swollen one that didn’t feel like it was about to calcify and crack apart. He told me he would wear a headband next time for his sweat. And he couldn’t wait to tell his brother about all of the craziness on the field, even if they did lose. I interrupted: “But please, do me a favor, don’t tell him about the bee. We want him to see you play again.”

He grinned, and promised to never tell a soul.