When Your Kid Isn’t Special: Or, How to Embrace a Duck Butt

My son made this picture when he was in 5th grade.  It may have been for one of those fundraisers where your baby creates a masterpiece and then you have to buy it from the school for $49.95, but I can’t remember.  Either way, it has taken up permanent real estate on our refrigerator for the past three years.
When guests come over we ask them, “What do you think this is?”  The answers have ranged from “turtle” to “paddle” to “beats me,” but, according to my son, it is a bird.  The front-part of the bird, I might add, despite appearances to the contrary.  But to me, it will always be a study in duck butt.
I think it is safe to say that when it comes to art, my son is not special.  He will not become a Basquiat, or a Picasso, or an O’Keefe.  He will not change the way people look at the world of color and light, and he will not have his work hanging in the Louvre.  In a word, he sucks.
I feel very comfortable saying that, because he doesn’t even like art, nor does he aspire to greatness in the field.  So, we can exist in mediocrity and feel no pain if he isn’t picked for the exhibition or the painting club.
However, he does love basketball.  And when I say love, I mean, he L-O-V-E-S it.  If he isn’t playing, he’s training, and if he isn’t training, he’s planning, and if he isn’t planning he’s in the REM cycle of sleep, probably dreaming about basketball.
This is where we get into trouble. 
Because my son wants to be special in basketball. And, even worse, I wanted him to be special in basketball too.
When he was in 6th grade, he went out for the team and did not make it.  That was a very, very, VERY bad day at our house.  I think when your child is rejected, all of the emotions explode inside you like a grenade. Anger, Disbelief, Hopelessness, Grief, Desire for Justice, More Anger…
Once the dust settled and the tears had been shed, we took another look at the situation.  My husband and I began talking about how to move forward when we realized something:
We aren’t raising a basketball player.  We are raising a young man.
He can make all the teams in the world, but if he acts like a jerk while doing it, then we have failed. There isn’t a big enough trophy to hide ugly. Our efforts shouldn’t be on producing the next Lebron, Stephen, or Kobe, but to see our child grow into a loving, compassionate, hard-working adult.  I mean, we certainly won’t poo-poo it if he makes the NBA, but it’s not a requirement to be a successful human being.
There is more to basketball for us now than just making the cut or getting the most playing time.  There are the life lessons of respect for coach and team, commitment to hard work, graceful acceptance of defeat and humble embrace of victory.
And that’s why we keep the picture on the fridge; to remind us that we don’t need to be special – we need to be good.
P.S.  My son worked his little duck butt off and made the 7th-grade team.  And that was a VERY HAPPY day at our house.


  1. I think there’s a moment in every parent’s life when you think your kid WILL be the next <> and then the realization of how unimportant that really is in the grand scheme of things sinks in… either that or you’re just exhausted because they’ve worn you down and you just want them to graduate high school. Not that I have any experience with this… it’s hypothetical, of course.

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