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June 14, 2018

"I Haven't Given Up"

A story of resilience and grit.

Jules likes to seek attention. It's understandable this would be the case as he spent much of his first years neglected and alone. He's a sweet kid who loves to hold my hand when we walk places, likes to lean against me when we're waiting in line.

However, there were times when Jules would seek attention in ways that were not so endearing. If we were having a conversation about dinosaurs with his classmates at lunchtime, he would sometimes feel he was not being heard. He would tend to yell over people and interrupt, and I would remind him that when talking to our friends, it's just as important to listen as to talk.

When running around at recess or at a park together, he would purposely fall and be "hurt," looking for me to run to his aid. Mostly I would encourage him to get up and keep striving, talk to him about perseverance and grit, and how to communicate his needs with his words instead of flopping on the grass. Unusually he would get up and keep striving; sometimes, he would stay laying on the grass bemoaning his circumstances.

In times like the latter, I would sit down next to Jules and ask him what he needed, trying to get him to think about what his options were outside of falling over and stopping altogether. We would come up with strategies like taking a break, asking to do something else or taking a deep breath and keep going. Most of the time, Jules would bounce back quickly when he was feeling like giving up, I could see his resilience growing little by little.

Last week, Jules surprised me. We went to Sam Johnson Park to spend our outing time together. I had brought books to read in the shade, lots of different sports equipment, and, of course, we spent quite a bit of time on the zipline. After we had been to the park for a while, we switched gears, and Jules saw the whiffle ball and bat I’d brought. He'd never swung a baseball bat before, and he decided he wanted to give it a shot.

We went out into the field, and I showed him the basics. A baseball swing is a pretty complex action, but Jules is a great student, and he listened attentively to everything I showed him. As one would imagine, he missed the ball a lot more than he hit it, making contact maybe once every fifth pitch. I kept praising him for the good mechanics of his swing and reminding him that even the pros get a hit, maybe one out of every five at-bats.

His face was a mask of determination; after every miss, he would throw the ball back and reset, getting into his stance. As the minutes ticked by, he was making progress, getting more and more hits. I was in the middle of tossing the ball again when lowered the bat and said,

"I've been doing this for a long time, and I haven't given up yet." He was so proud, prouder than when he hit the ball thirty feet.

I walked to where he was batting and got on one knee. I told him that he was doing a great job hitting the baseball, but that I was most impressed with his grit. We had been hitting for almost 20 minutes, a long time for a six-year-old to do anything. I gave him a hug and asked him if he wanted to bat anymore.

"Maybe a couple more." We kept going for another 5 minutes after that. On the way back to his house, I asked him if he would want to go to a Bend Elks game with me over the summer. He lit up.

"We can do that?"

"Sure," I said. "We can definitely make that happen."

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