Confessions of a Reluctant Sports Parent

This week, my 13-year-old daughter played in her last soccer game ever in her small K-8 school. Next year, if there are any sports, they will be high school sports.

I have been a sports parent for a long, long time. Ever since around 2007 or so when my oldest made his first foray into community tee-ball, in a long yellow team shirt and a helmet that looked much too big for his tiny face.

I remember being shocked at the time at how much was expected of sports parents. Sitting out in the rain and wind for hours and hours, day after day. Never sitting down around the dinner table for a quiet family meal, because practice was always at dinner time. And worst of all, never being able to make any weekend plans, because you would never know how sports events and practices would swoop in to change these plans without warning.

And that was only the beginning. Later there was the agony of watching your child continue to play even though you knew he was hurt. Sitting through entire innings on the bench without going up to bat once. Trying to find unfamiliar playing fields with a non-existent sense of direction which plunged me into aimless driving Saturday after Saturday.

The truth is, as I had never played sports myself, I really didn’t understand what parenting a child who plays them would entail. And I was shocked that everyone just accepted this lifestyle as if it was no big deal.

It was a big deal to me, though. And I resented it.

I dreaded every practice, every game. I sat through each one desperately wondering when it would be over. None of the rules made any sense to me. It seemed that the weather was always horrible. Even when the game or practice was over, it really wasn’t. The coach would often keep the team for a long pep talk before going home. I remember sitting on a dark, cold football field  lit by car headlights, waiting for the coaches to finish their long dissertation to the young boys kneeling around them in a reverent group.

Since those days, I’ve learned survival tactics. I always bring at least five extra layers, including a winter hat, coat and mittens. Even on the warmest, balmiest days, an athletic field will remain an Arctic, windswept tundra. Umbrellas are omnipresent during sports seasons, too. The slow cooker and the nearby pizza shop are my best friends during sports season. And a good book or a good friend must always travel along with me as a safeguard against hours of boredom during lengthy coach pep talks.

I came across a photo in my Facebook memories the other day. It was my son as a nine-year-old, attired in his football uniform. His green eyes were serious and intense, his face, still with a hint of baby pudge, tense with concentration. 

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With a pang, I realized how much I missed the little athlete in that photo. It was such a critical and beautiful moment in his development as a person. And somehow I missed it in a welter of resentment.

It got me wondering, what other important moments have I missed because I was grumpy, or tired, or stressed out?

The moments of childhood, whether sports games, holidays, play dates with young friends, or school plays and parties, streak across our lives like a comet. While we are distracted by temper tantrums (either our children’s or our own), dinner arrangements, and packing the right snacks, the moments explode and disappear in our horizon. There is never a voice reminding us: “This moment is important. Remember it.”

That little football player is long gone, replaced by a tall young man who lives on his own and needs me for nothing. My gangly teen daughter will soon be gone, too, to be replaced by yet another version of herself. 

And versions of my former self appear and disappear continually. Myself as a young wife and mother. Myself as a teacher. Myself as a newly divorced single woman enjoying her freedom. These versions of myself have come and gone without my awareness of them.

What moments will I miss in the future? Will I miss my body’s ability to go for long hikes on warm fall days? Will I miss the thrill of early-relationship bliss? Will I miss my patched-together career of picking and choosing exactly what I want to do every day? 

I don’t know what the future holds or what aspects of my present life will leave an aching void in that future. If past experience is any indication, it’s probably something that I complain about now, even resent.

Whether joy or pain, everything passes away eventually. We can’t live in the past. But we can remind ourselves that the present moment is a future memory, and cherish it as such. Resentment and all.

Because soon it will be gone.

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