Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I Do Not Miss This

This picture seems to be everywhere. I borrowed it from here.
One of my friend has two kids who are in the thick of kid sports. One of those kids is a gung-ho athlete who is always scrapping and diving, making the team and making an impact. The other--well, she wrote this about that child on her Facebook page this morning:
I guess if I have to choose between my son being a winner at baseball or being a winner at life, I'd choose life. That's what I'm gonna keep telling myself.
Sometimes I forget which parts of having young kids were not so much fun for the mother of the Boys. The asthma attacks. The class parties. And more than anything else, youth sports.

You have to sign your kid up for sports, of course, especially when your kid is a boy. In Small Town all girls do dance, all boys do sports. Much of the time, this is a good thing.

The early years of soccer when the sport is mostly herd-ball were just fine. It was lots of running and the otherwise-forbidden Little Debbie snacks after the game were the highlight of the day. When he was five it didn't matter that Boy#1 couldn't be distracted from counting the train cars that were passing by the soccer pitch, not even when the ball actually hit him in the leg and bounced away to another more aggressive player. I loved the flowers he picked and ran over (during play) to present to me in the stands. Boy#2 was a head taller than all of his teammates and highly competitive and in his first years of competition he was always picked early in the draft. He also was genetically doomed to be the opposite of fast, though, and more and more often got stuck in the goal where his height was an advantage but his quickness.... Boys#3 and #4 had similar athletic career trajectories.

As they get older, though, the stakes get higher. Teammates (and especially the parents of teammates) care about wins and loses. They care when a kid strikes out every time, or misses the easy chip-in. Sometimes they audibly groan, or say with asperity "Just watch it onto the bat." Their exasperation hangs heavy over the stands.

They don't get that this kid is watching, and keeping his eye on the ball, and relaxing, and choking up, and doing every. single. thing. he's been asked to do, and that he knows as well as the audibly groaning jerk in the stand that he's probably going to strike out again. That he's going to whiff the sure goal the star set him up to score. (That's partly because the star had never once passed to him before and seeing the ball right there was paralyzing, but that's a story for another day.)

Certain things were required in the House on the Corner. Piano lessons, until eighth grade. Church youth group. A job (or paper route) as soon as legally old enough. What Husband and I didn't require was that the Boys play sports. We would pay fees and chauffeur them to practices and games and we would be in the stands cheering for them at every single game, but the only requirement was that they finish any season in which they enrolled. They couldn't decide after three practices that (soccer/baseball/basketball/tennis) was too hard but they always had the option of not participating in the next season.

And even though they weren't good at these sports, they signed up over and over and over again. There was always the hope of a new season. This year! This is going to be the year that everything fell into place, except that it never really did. Each one of them got marginally better at soccer or baseball or basketball, but in spite of the hours invested (one summer we literally spent every single weeknight at the ballpark, with multiple games most nights) they never really became athletes.

In hindsight, this probably was a good thing. They were really, really good at other things--playing the piano, writing stories, showing up for work every single day. They turned out to be kind and hard-working, and empathetic in a way that kids who always win everything often are not. They were consistent winners in geography and spelling bees, and if they had been good athletes, too, they might have thought I was a liar when I told them that everyone is good at something but almost no one is good at everything so yay for you! but don't go thinking you're all that when you win the math contest.

They were good at the things that our society doesn't value so much in kids. A kid who can throw a perfect spiral will have his name in the headlines every week but the hoopla is much more subdued for National Merit Scholars.

This week a friend's kid won a state championship in an athletic event, and I am so, so happy for him. He's not only a great runner, he's good at life--smart, funny, humble. Not all kid athletes are. These are the audibly groaning kids and their parents, the first-chosen and the highly coordinated who don't understand or respect the bench-sitters and the clumsy.

So for those of us whose kids are good at life but not at sports? Keep telling yourself to choose life, A. And remember that someday, like the asthma attacks and school parties, this stage will be behind you.

You will not miss it.

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