I swung futilely and vulnerably at the serves my then lover gunned at me from the other side of the net. We had walked to the local courts to play tennis. I had taken a few lessons years before and played casually at best. He grew up playing and had been on a high school team.  He knew how to re-string rackets and defeat opponents.  I knew how to keep score and hope for a string of volleys. As we walked over to the courts I remember thinking, This is good.  I’m taking part in some of the things he loves.  I can be his partner in recreational activities.  It’s a nice evening.  It’ll be fun to hit the ball around. But when we actually played it didn’t feel like playing  at all.

It was him trying to impress me or beat me. He couldn’t stop slamming the ball at my feet in such a way that there was no way I could hit it. Our match was short-lived.  I was emotionally done within minutes. He was frustrated with me and possibly himself. My sunny vision of us being tennis partners, enjoying a sport together, was wrecked.  My sense of togetherness assaulted by his competitive drive. We walked home in quiet hurt.

Gunning for Kool-Aid Mom Title

I was reminded of the tennis fiasco because I recently felt a similar pang of hurt when I orchestrated a scavenger hunt for my children (ages 13, 11 and 9). I found the meaningful list (below) on Pinterest. I was excited to get the kids outside looking for natural treasures.

scavenger list

As a stay-at-home mom, I am always looking for ways to entertain the kids that we all find engaging.  I thought I had a winner here, in the sense that we could all enjoy it. When I introduced the idea to the kids the first thing out of my middle son’s mouth was, What is the reward for finding everything? I said, I don’t know. Let me think about it.  This was hard because I didn’t want to reward the kids for playing. I especially didn’t want to lure them with material goods or food. Honest praise and parental attention are the ultimate rewards, right? Turns out no, not in my family. My kids wanted a prize or they weren’t interested in doing it.

Kool Aid Mom Epic Fail

Where did we go wrong in their upbringing? Can I blame technology for its quick payoffs and instant gratification?

In my introverted mind, I assumed the kids would find joy in the searching for beautiful things. I thought time in the sun, poking under rocks and listening to the breeze would be fun. I imagined us going through the items they collected and oohing and aaahing over the coolness of it all.

These are the prizes that ran through my mind: 1. A box of Golden Grahams all to themselves.  It’s the current hot cereal at our house.  It’s the only sugar cereal in the cupboard. 2. Special time with me, two hours doing an activity of their choice. 3. An ice cream run. 4. $5.00.

I know #2 is the prize a Parent-of-the-Year type would choose, but that one had several things plaguing it. First of all, it’s difficult to carve out one on one time, period. Secondly, we’d have to think of something to do. And lastly and most significantly, the other two kids would be desperately jealous of the winner.

So we went with the five dollar prize.  I know. I know.  Don’t judge me.  I just wanted to get them to do the darn hunt.playing in a tree

I gave them each a paper bag with their name on it, a copy of the list and a half an hour to complete their search.  They had to find everything outside, no looking in the garage.  They ran out the door into the gorgeous sunlit day.  At first they stuck close to the house. They whined when I told them they might have to look in the forest for items. The woods are right behind our house. They didn’t want to venture out too far from the prize center? They didn’t want to venture out at all?

My middle son was back within 15 minutes, all sweaty and wild-eyed.  Did I get everything? Does it all count? Did I win? He broke down into tears when I told him I didn’t consider a clump of dirt something fuzzy

My oldest son reported in next. He had had a hard time finding something that makes noise but a few rocks in a glass bottle sufficed.  He didn’t think he could find a chewed leaf so he picked one, chewed on it and threw it in his bag. That worked, but he was still missing something beautiful. Back out he went.

Both boys were back again with completed lists before my daughter was done.  She came into the house anyway because she knew her brothers were already finished so there was no point in trying anymore.

I ooohed and aaaahed over fuchsia flowers and colorful rocks.  They hurried me along, wanting to know if the item qualified as a check off on the list or not.

My oldest son couldn’t believe he had collected everything and there was no big surprise at the end.  He had somehow confused a scavenger hunt with a treasure hunt.  He asked, So there is really no treasure at the end?  We did all this for nothing?

I stared at him, mouth agape.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination. Aw, Forget It.

I said the fun was supposed to be in the activity itself – the searching.  I mildly launched into the, it’s the journey, not the destination speech knowing it was going over the heads of my audience.

My own mother happened to be visiting and took in the scene.  She announced, You kids are taking all the joy out of this.  Where’s your good sportsmanship? Finally, someone who gets it!

As we cleaned up the dirt crumbs from the table and recycled the paper bags, I felt that quiet hurt inside of me again. I was disappointed in my kids.  I felt the sting again of not being able to share a meaningful experience with someone. I felt like I reached out with what I thought was a fun chance to connect and play together but in return was slammed with an inability to see that as important.  I almost felt stupid in my idea that they would like such an activity. The experiencing wasn’t important. Winning was.

As an introvert, I am often awash in the experience. My mind and heart are deeply intertwined with the moment I am living. Pulling me out of this moment to moment  reverie is difficult.  I despise interruptions. I resist rushing.  I love, love, love experiencing and feeling. One of my truest desires is to share this intense experiencing with others.

Do introverts have high expectations for others? Too high? Do we try to make everything too meaningful? Do you become your highest self by being the best at something or by experiencing deeply?

** After thoughts:

The scavenger hunt debacle did serve as a springboard for a meaningful discussion I had later that evening with my oldest son regarding introversion, religion, relationships and over-thinking.

I should have made duct tape the prize for completing the scavenger hunt first.  My kids find duct tape enchanting.;)

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:

In Defense of Introverted Parents (space2live)

I’d Rather Not Compete with You:For Introverts or Anyone Who Prefers Excellence Over Dominance (space2live)

Peak Experiences in Self-Actualization: Gifts That Transcend Your Head (space2live)

18 Things an Introverted Mom Wants Her Kids to Know (space2live)