There have been times when the worry that I have screwed up one of my kids keeps me up at night.
Then one of them will say or do something to make me realize (a) any mom guilt I carry around is probably unwarranted, because (b) everyone I’ve raised likely stopped paying attention to me by about kindergarten anyway.
Take the thing with sports. Since the kids were enough to walk, we’ve had them in one sport or another, season after season. It’s not that either of us is particularly athletic. And if we ever wondered whether anybody around here harbored some latent talent that would one day fund college, that ceased to be a question the minute somebody lobbed a ball into his own team’s net, or became so engrossed in conversation he forgot he was in the game.
Really, our only objective in keeping the kids involved in sports was to avoid raising slugs who couldn’t pitch a ball across home plate in P.E. class.
Even if the only fruits of our efforts would one day be a shelf or two of “participant” trophies, the years have been marked less by fluctuations in the weather, than by the sport in season. Soccer, swim team, baseball, skiing, basketball, track. There was a brief flirtation with football in there, and one with golf, but no lasting relationship.
Every season has been heralded by the frantic assembling of shoes, shin guards, athletic cups, hats, jerseys, trunks, mouth guards, cleats and/or mitts (which explains a certain corner of our garage).
With every afternoon came the assembly of said gear, along with water bottles, folding chairs, blankets, and snacks. There was the process of smearing some reluctant kid with sunscreen, plenty of whining and under-the-breath swearing and proclamations of “never again, I swear to GOD,” and “I’m going to get in this car right now and leave you here.”
There were meetings for parents who expertly avoided eye contact, whose arms were latched to their sides when the call came for fundraiser, referee, equipment manager, assistant coach.
It took me a while to learn such avoidance skills, which lead to online searches for coaching tactics, nervous scanning of the rulebooks before a game, and more than a few antacids consumed to calm a roiling stomach.
I was umpire for two, full seasons in a sport I’ve never played, and in which I have zero interest. I marched out onto the field every week knowing that by the end of the fifth inning there was likely a parent or two who wanted my head on a stake. The mask gave me a headache. I got shingles. And a free cap and shirt.
We sold raffle tickets and cookie dough and flower bulbs and chocolate, becoming members of the “I’ll by your kids’ stuff and then you’ll by mine” club at church services and parties and service club meetings.
We patted ourselves on the back for being supportive but not overbearing. We tsk-tsked at asshole parents who berated coaches and yelled at their kids.
Last year was the hardest. We’d moved Jack to a small school that had no sports programs. None. I made arrangements to pick him up every other day and schlep him to the YMCA for a youth triathlon program. I’d come back to Colin’s school to get him to the Y for swim team – a 90-minute trip. I’d “work” in the lobby while waiting amongst kids singing songs from Frozen, and seniors yelling at each other to turn up their hearing aids.
We’d come home a full four hours after I’d pulled from the driveway, on the cusp of dinnertime. I’d have a bike on the back of my car, a bag full of wet swimwear, and a house full of angry-hungry people. Arsenic hour.
The evening would deteriorate from there.
With sports, we had two rules: (1) pick one you want, but only one per season, and (2) after signing on, you’re at every practice, every game – unless you’re puking or bleeding out your eyeballs – until the season ends. No quitting.
With our rules came plenty of cajoling, yelling and sticking to our guns, people around here as prone as they are to changing their minds mid-season. If we pushed it was because a team depended upon our kid (and likely upon one of us to referee). We didn’t care if we raised athletes, we just didn’t want to raise quitters.
But there were times when the mid-season whining made me question my steadfast adherence to rule number two.
This year when the kids said “meh” to sports, we didn’t press. This would be the year our kids joined the throngs who drop out of organized sports and onto the couch.
Suddenly we were free of the uniforms and fundraisers. We cast off the shackles of Saturdays full of matches and meets. No more onerous volunteer assignments. No more checks to write. No more squirming kids trying to avoid a vigorous sunscreening.
Yes. It was glorious.
Last month Colin brought home a permission form for sixth-grade track: the most awesome of all sports. No special equipment, parent coaches, or fundraisers. Daily after school practice, finished well before dinner. No end-of-season party or need to order trophies for every team member.
In other words: heaven.
Which is how we found ourselves at a meet last week, enjoying the sun and watching Colin discover his sprinting ability.
That was when Jack tossed us under a bus.
This kid for whom I learned to coach and referee, the one for whom I schlepped bikes and spent money on swim trunks and special soap for washing them, whose basketball games were diligently photographed and enthusiastically cheered, for whom I took Friday afternoons off to drive to the ski hill for lessons.
This was the kid who, when asked by his grandparents: “so, Jack, are you into any sports these days?”
Said “Nah. My parents haven’t really pushed me.”
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