Zone Defense Parenting

In a “zone defense” sports players are responsible for guarding an area or space, rather than guarding  a specific person.  It is most readily used in high school and college basketball.  Zone defense gets a bad rap.  It is effective.  Players don’t get as tired playing zone defense.  They have more time to devote to the offensive end.  Bad, lazy defenders can be hidden in a zone defense.  Hall of Fame coaches have made millions of dollars instituting zone defenses.

I guess I need to back up.  This is not a sports blog. There are plenty of those (though I’d still love for sports fans to read this).  There are also plenty of mommy blogs (though I’d still love it if moms read this).

This is parenting from a guy’s perspective.

This blog is intended for use for new dads that are curious, want to be entertained, need support or guidance, or simply would like to hear what works or doesn’t work for others.  By no means is this a tutorial on how to be a perfect parent.

Our fraternal twin (non-identical) boys are almost five years old.  I’d like to think that I have accumulated a lot of parental knowledge in these last five years.  Most of that knowledge has come from trial and error.  Outside of family members, I didn’t have a parenting mentor, a blog to read and most of my friends were still single or recently married.  Babies (plural) happened fast for us.  Like the first month going off birth control fast.  We were clueless but excited and determined to be “good” parents.  If we tried hard enough, we thought aloud, our kids will become productive, kind, well-adjusted, honorable young men.

But back to zone defense…

One day, when my boys were almost two years old, I took them to the swankiest mall in our metropolitan area.  My wife needed a night with friends and I was getting braver and braver taking them in pubic places solo.  I had watched them alone many times in the past, but things had always turned out pretty well.  This night was different.

I dressed them up nicely for the outing as to keep up with the Joneses at the dressy mall.  We sat down to eat in the food court and Cooper poured a full chocolate milkshake down the front of his pants.  Teddy had just sat down and started eating his meal and started crying when I told him we had to run to the bathroom because Cooper was freaking out about his milkshake soaked diaper area.  Once in the bathroom, I realized I had plenty of diapers and wipes to clean up Cooper, but I had forgot to pack a change of clothes.  While changing and cleaning up Cooper, Teddy, curiously stuck his hands in the toilet and tried to make “waves for boats.” Not sure what that meant, but he’s the type of kid that is tough to argue with.  Needless to say, I was straddling the line between yelling, laughing and crying.

I disinfected everyone (including myself), changed everyone’s diapers and got the hell out of that family bathroom which still gives me nightmares to this day.  We sat back down to finish our meal (Cooper sans pants) and they barely ate any of it.  I threw most of it away.  That drives me batty, but that’s a whole different blog post.  You see, they had seen other kids (about seven years old) throwing pennies in the mall fountain downstairs and they were dead-set to follow suit.  Of course, I had no pennies.  We marched into Victoria’s Secret with a five dollar bill, Cooper with no pants on, and Teddy with a faint smell of mountain fresh toilet freshener emanating from him with each step.  I persuaded the clerk to hand over 500 pennies though it was against store policy to make change without a purchase.  She knew, and I knew, she was making that change and she was going to do it fast.

The boys were elated and I felt embarrassed, but I was ready to sit back and take a few deep breaths while they tossed penny after penny into the mall fountain.  Upon walking to the fountain, the boys began to argue about who had the most pennies and who was going to throw them the farthest.  They were running on the edge of the fountain and nearly falling in.  I was chasing them, attempting to micromanage and over-parent.  For a calm guy, I was about to blow a gasket.

At that moment, a weathered man who appeared to not fit in with the swanky mall scene approached me.  My head was surely slumped over in my hands.  This dude had to be fake.  He was like a modern day guardian angel.  He was in his mid 60’s, probably a grandpa to somebody.  He noticed my sports ball cap and hit on a sports theme that he thought might strike a chord.

“Sometimes zone defensive works better than man-to-man,” he joked.

He waited to assess my reaction.

What did he just say? You’re talking about sports at a time like this!?!? My kids are absolutely out of control, nearly tackling themselves into the fountain of doom and you drop a sports joke?

I paused trying to think of a witty reaction that would make him smile then walk away, but I had to think a little more about what point he was trying to make.  After an awkward pregnant pause, I simply told him thank you.  He smiled and winked, seemingly knowing that something deeper may have clicked.  I never saw him again. He vanished like Moonlight Graham.

This Clarence Odbody of a man wasn’t talking about sports or defense, he was talking about attitude, sanity, confidence, and loosening the parental grip.  I was micromanaging the situation and had lost control and perspective.  My level of stress and failure was feeding into the explosiveness of the wild scene.

But was the scene really wild? Who really was watching and who were the children negatively impacting?

No one.  It was just me on the scene… looking very defeated.

We were all alone and upon second glance, these kids were actually having a pretty damn good time.  By telling me to switch to zone defense, I don’t think he was being literal.  Hovering around the kids, waiting for them to fall, telling them to stop would have continued to be counterproductive.  After all, they weren’t even two years old yet.  They were acting their age and being two year olds.

I sat back and played some zone.

I took it all in.

I was watching them, but watching them in a manner whereas to only etch the moment in my memory for my end of life, “see the light” moment.

What’s the worse that could happen? They’d fall in the fountain and get wet pants?  They are in their diapers! They aren’t wearing any pants!

Out of the corner of my eye, a young couple walked by.  They smiled and I returned the gesture.

I told them I was playing zone defense.

They said it looked like it was working.

As a parent, sometimes zone defense is the best strategy, both literally and figuratively.

Has a similar circumstance ever occurred with you and your kids?  How do you strike the balance between being protective and allowing your children to make and learn from mistakes?



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