To Protect, or Stand Down?

MGMT @ Live Music Hall Cologne
I don’t know what “Kids” by MGMT is about. I suspect it’s not the U.S. Constitution. (MGMT @ Live Music Hall Cologne. Photo credit: AndiH)

A few weeks back, Ryan came to us with an idea for a school storytelling assignment. He was really excited about his idea. His parents? Not so much. We tried everything we could think of to persuade him in a different direction.

He was insistent. He was stubborn. We tried enlisting his aide, over email, to help change his mind. She assured us all would be ok, and we gave in, as it became obvious that insisting on doing something different was going to lead to an ugly confrontation.

Still, we worried. We were sure both Ryan and his aide were wrong.

We were certain he was going to embarrass himself and we felt it was our duty to prevent it. Sending him off to school that morning, it felt like we had failed in that duty.

You see, Ryan’s take on the storytelling assignment was to turn his story into a song parody and perform it in front of the class. The story was about our backyard street hockey games, and the song was a pretty obscure country music track. Ryan has a lovely singing voice, but the whole thing just felt … off. From the topic, to the music, to the way he moves when he sings — wandering around and moving his arms like a football referee calling a false start penalty, something he does more the harder he concentrates.

We pictured Ryan, already struggling to fit in with his peers, getting laughed at. Getting humiliated. Or even worse, getting laughed at and not realizing he was being made fun of.

That afternoon, the reports started to filter back from school.

And they were raves.

His teacher, his aide, and Ryan himself all told us how well he had done and how impressed his classmates were by his performance.

We were wrong, something he gladly told us, over and over. And over.

This week, Ryan will sing a parody about the amendments to the Constitution, set to one his favorite songs, “Kids,” by MGMT. He gave us a sneak peek of his performance, and the same worries came back. It’s a five-minute song, full of lengthy instrumental breaks and a very repetitive chorus. Ryan wrote his chorus lyrics to match those in the song and they didn’t make any sense.

An argument ensued as we tried to convince him of the need to make all the lyrics about the Constitution. Emboldened by experience, he refused, reminding us of what happened the last time we doubted him.

We eventually convinced him the he would not get a good grade if he didn’t adjust his lyrics. Riley, who loves song parodies, stepped in to help. A satisfactory conclusion was reached.

And so Ryan will head off to school with a karaoke version of the song and his carefully constructed lyrics that remind the listener of their freedoms and that soldiers cannot quarter in their homes, among other things.

We’re not as worried as last time, but we’re won’t be completely relieved until — and if — similar reports come back.

There’s a balance we’re trying to strike, protecting our son from hurt without stifling his abilities and confidence. I can’t speak for Veronica, but I worry because I project my fears, about embarrassment and humiliation, on to him.

Ryan doesn’t share those fears. From my point of view, that’s due to a lack of perception and awareness of how people react to him. But my son takes in more than I give him credit for. I’d hate to think I stifled a creative urge or unique ability by projecting my fears on to him. Maybe Ryan can pull off singing in front of the class — something I can’t imagine doing without wishing for a giant crack to open in the earth’s surface and swallow me whole — because he’s good at it. Maybe his confidence is borne of the reactions he’s processed more than any he any he may have missed.

I am a parent. I want to protect both my children, but it’s different with Ryan. These experiences remind me that my protective urges have the ability to stifle Ryan’s growth if I’m not careful. I will continue to try to shield him from cruelties that life can dish out, but it cannot be at the expense of him growing into the person he wants to be.


One thought on “To Protect, or Stand Down?

  1. I would feel just as you do (and singing in front of my class was NEVER something I could have done, I still refuse to sing in front of people–and if you heard me, you’d know why!) I look forward to reading your update and am hoping for the best for Ryan!


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