Parenting by the balls (a metaphor gone metastatic)

You are a ball. Your child is a ball too.

You’re the bigger ball: you have more power, more weight, take up more space in the world. This is inevitable, because you have been rolling around and growing, Katamari-like, for many years longer than your little baby/child/teenager ball.

Your child-ball started out tiny, a glass marble: it had its needs, and that was that, and it was small, and noisy when it rattled around, and hurt if it was used against you, and you were always aware it could shatter if dropped, but that’s ok, because it was tiny and couldn’t move on its own and you could pick it up and carry it around with you more or less wherever you pleased. It could be in a plastic container, or tied to you with a soft cloth, but as long as you got it out every once in a while for a nice polish (and the noise of it rattling around didn’t drive you insane), it did more or less ok, and so did you.

Now your child-ball has grown a bit, and is bouncy as rubber; not as rigid as the glass it once was, it’s nevertheless as inflexible as a hard rubber mallet (and can do as much damage when it gets going and strikes against something). It’s still much, much smaller than you, but moves on its own now, and often bounces in ways you don’t expect and out of all proportion to the amount you nudged it. And it keeps trying to bounce off you, pushing and pushing and testing you everywhere, over and over again, from all different angles, trying to map out what it’s going to look like and act like and move like when it’s all grown up like you.

Now, if you’re very, very lucky and very, very skilled and have done lots and lots of work over the years, you are a large, soft, heavy, agile, but unshoveable ball, and your little glass ball baby was nurtured deep in your soft warmth, and now your rubber ball child finds only warm embrace when it bounces into you, while you, unfazed and undamaged, stay exactly where you want to be, moving only as and when you decide to.

But if you’re like the rest of us, you have a few scars, a few spots that never got softened out, some leftover rubber (or fragile glass) shell. And inevitably, your darling rubber child finds these, and bounces off them again and again and again. Rather than sinking into you, held and comforted, causing you not a bit of pain nor unwanted movement, it bounces off, bounces away, and probably rocks you back a bit (or maybe a lot) in the process. You bounce off each other, until something breaks, or something gives, or (rarely) it gives up, or you manage to turn so your child ball hits a soft, fully-grown spot and you can be near each other again.

If you’re lucky, and you have resources, and you work hard, you can learn to make these scars smaller, and reduce the scarring your rubber ball will carry in to its adulthood. You can learn to turn them away from your child, learn to redirect its bounces into the areas where you are lovely and unbounceable. And sometimes you’ll still bounce off each other over the years, but as your child-ball gets bigger and bigger they’ll get softer and heavier too, and you’ll be able to roll together, comfortable and content in each other’s presence, able to be near or far from each other as each of you choose.

If you are not lucky, or you don’t have resources, or you don’t work hard, or your hard work proves not enough — or you buy into cultural beliefs that say grown-up balls are supposed to be unyielding and hard, rather than soft and heavy — you’ll keep bouncing off each other. Your child ball will learn that to be a grown-up ball is to be hard, to push away. As it gets bigger, each bounce leaves it farther and farther away. You may feel grateful, because finally you’re not being rocked around all the time. But you likely also miss the closeness you used to have with your little marble, and wonder what happened.

Let yourself be a fat ball — big and strong and soft and warm — and dance with your bouncy rubber child. Don’t blame your kid ball for being bouncy, because that’s how it’s supposed to be right now. And don’t blame yourself for having rubber bits, having glass bits (even cracked and sharp broken bits), having bits that hurt you, having bits that hurt your beautiful baby ball: you grew the best you could given the area you rolled and bounced and grew bigger in. But map those bits, so you know where they are. Love them. Heal them, as best you’re able. Be the soft spot for your ball-baby to land.

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20 Responses to Parenting by the balls (a metaphor gone metastatic)

  1. LOOOOOOOOVE this!

    Extra-bonus points for Katamari reference <3

  2. Aww, what a tender and wonderful article! I love analogies that go on and on. Thanks!

  3. Am I supposed to have shed tears whilst reading this? Cause I did.

  4. I love it! Very creative and a pleasure to read.

  5. Really sweet image. I’m picturing my two little children bouncing around and it makes me happy. :)

  6. May your trolls always hit a very bouncy spot and bounce away…

  7. Win. Many, many shades of epic win.

    I think I must have bullseyes painted on my hard spots…

  8. You had me at katamari lol. But I was waiting for that part of the metaphor about rolling around and picking up junk :) who knew katamari was a metaphor for life! This is really interesting because parts of it reminded exactly of the scott noelle exercise I mentioned recently. Gotta show it to you!

  9. Beautiful! Still pondering how best to thank my 1st born ball for softening enough areas to give my 2nd born a gentler start? I especially love the reminder not to ‘blame them for being bouncy – it’s what they’re supposed to be’ and will adopt it as a mantra when toddlerhood strikes. THANK YOU.

  10. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.

  11. Beautiful. As always.

    And I’m with Jeanie – my firstborn softened me enough to give #2 and #3 an easier bouncing life, and I’m so grateful to her for all she taught me and all she healed in me.

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  13. simply beautiful. thank you.

  14. I’m glad to see that I’m the only one who was reduced to tears by this. I’m not sure that’s what you were going for, but you got it! This is so profound and perfect and beautiful in so many ways. Thank you, thank you!

  15. Tears here too. Permission to be imperfect. I NEEDED to read this today. Thank you thank you thank you.

  16. Ohh..this is so beautiful. I love the imagery and wish i could be that soft big ball that my baby could bounce into and find warmth every single time…but as you said..its easier said than done, but am trying :)

  17. scholasticamama

    I needed to hear this today. We’ve always been a bouncy family and my little marble was broken a bit last week and the shards she shed impacted me greatly (let’s just say today’s random faces hit home). I haven’t known what to do at all, but hearing that I need to be the soft spot for her to land, the place to roll the sharp edges until they heal, has been a boon for me today. Thank you.

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