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Of following urges and speaking up

Of following urges and speaking up

Posted on 16. May, 2010 by gilly in BE

Where do you draw the line between what is and isn’t your business? How do you decide whether to step in or sit on your hands and bite your tongue? Those who know me will testify to my being fairly at home in the speak-up-say-it-like-it-is- -bitch-at-will-pull-no-punches-mode.

And yet, for the first time in a remarkably long time, I found myself in an out of character dare-I-don’t-I-say-anything-trepidation yesterday.

Perched on the edge of a bench, in bleachers overlooking a set of badminton courts, I gazed admiringly at my son who was beating what seemed like a good natured opponent. Other than the occasional “Great shot!” or “Way to go!” my progeny prefers we refrain from any distracting commentary whatsoever, nay, any live involvement in his badminton matches. Understandably. Instead I support him in loving silence, sourcing him confidence, ease, and all good things.

So yesterday, out in Villers-le-Bouillet (you really have to be Belgian, or francophone, to appreciate just how quaintly incongruous the name of this dorf sounds, it’s also a full 100km from Brussels) where we sat through a number of matches, I could not get over the relentless interference coming from said opponent’s mother, up in the bleachers, 5m away from me.

Utterly qualm-less, the woman was hollering instructions at her son, speaking at him after every exchange and dispensing all manner of weird advice while gesticulating to demonstrate. Now I have seen badminton coaches in action and she was not one of them. On the court, the sweet boy kept glancing up at mama between every point, as if on cue, wide eyes searching for guidance and ears perked for what she had to say. Kill the sound and you’d think the mother was remote-controlling the boy or using him like some freak avatar.

It was so distracting, so insulting and unfair to him, it was painful to behold. I have rarely seen someone demonstrate so little faith in their child, so publicly and so unabashedly. Whatever badminton potential the kid had, these shenanigans were destroying it.

Needless to say, within 15 minutes of this, I was silently beside myself. My son seemed unperturbed and was hitting deliberately gently as he’d gauged the other boy to be a less seasoned player. My husband, silent as per our way in these tournaments, shook his head at this, “should we tell him it’s patronizing and insulting to an opponent to not play full out just because you’re better?”

By now I was far too consumed with active seething at the controlling-mother to even begin to wrap my head around that thought track.

“She’s unbelievable! I mean: does she have any idea of how she’s ruining her son’s chances?! Not to mention pleasure? Or life?”

After 5 more minutes of this I stood up.

“I can’t take it anymore, I’m going over there to tell her.”

“Go for it.”

“But I can’t, it’s her mothering style, she’ll take it personally. You can’t tell people they’re bad parents. She won’t get it.”

At this point I’d sat and stood up, neurotic jack-in-the-box fashion, 4 times.

“Come on. You’re a coach, you can handle it. She needs to hear it from someone.”

Before I knew it I was there, standing right alongside her. She looked at me, a bit surprised, and I said, quietly and emphatically: “May I volunteer an observation? Here’s what I see: your son is more engaged with you, more tuned into what’s happening up here than he is on the game. His focus ought to be on the court, not on you.”

Not entirely surprisingly, she turned away like she hadn’t heard a word.

My mind still on fire, I left it at that and returned to the other end of the bench.

“Feel better?”

“She totally ignored me. Pretended I wasn’t there. It’s ok, I’m used to people not wanting to hear hard truths.”

I have no idea what the impact of my opinionated, potentially patronising intervention was or will be, if any (possibly just dinner conversation “a crazy, possessed woman verbally assaulted me today!”). I harbour the innocent hope that my words will someday decant into her heart. Better yet: that her son will find it in his to tell her to shut up and let him play and be his own person.

And that may never happen. Who knows?

Should I have kept my urges in check? Suppressed my indignation, remained silent, polite, minded my own business? No doubt, I must have sounded self-righteous, possibly scary. In coaching jargon: I made myself right and I made her wrong. And yet, for reasons I’m still not entirely clear on, I’m so glad I spoke up.

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