You hear a lot of crazy stories about kids’ sports. Parents who are living out their own dreams through their kids, elite leagues for the super-gifted-tee-ballers, grandmas arrested for noise violations at the soccer championships.
It’s not that I really bought into any of that, but I was decidedly ambivalent about my own children’s participation in organized sports. I figured if my kids asked to play sports, I’d let them, but I wasn’t going to force anyone to sign up.
They did martial arts for a few years, and then we moved again and I just wasn’t thrilled with starting up at a new studio again. So I signed them up for a homeschool P.E. class at the YMCA, let them spend time every day riding bikes and climbing trees, and figured they were good as far as physical activity. (I still think that.)
I also had this dream that my children would enjoy a childhood like my own, which consisted of roaming the neighborhood, building forts, playing board games on top of neighbors’ roofs. (Well, maybe not that last part.) But I visualized a suburban utopia in which every afternoon a Sesame-Street-esque rainbow of children would meet up at the field for a pickup game of stickball or Calvinball or what-have-you. Making up their own rules, figuring out what was fair, running around constantly and perhaps an enterprising youth setting up a lemonade wagon. I maybe listened to a little too much “Free to be You and Me” as a child.
One of the primary reasons we homeschool is my feeling that kids’ lives today are far too overscheduled. There’s very little space to read, dig up the back yard, rummage through parents’ art supplies, and other formative experiences I look back on from my own upbringing.
My parents were pretty hands-off. In response to an achievement of some sort, my mom used to say “I’m so proud of you, although I’m not sure what I had to do with it” and she was exactly wrong, because it was the fact that I grew up among my parents’ books and conversations that let me flourish in school and remain eager to learn. I was also eager to win ALL THE THINGS, which is a topic for another post, but mainly, I had my afternoons and weekends free to do whatever crazy thing I dreamed up.
Here is the thing, reader: nobody lives like that anymore. Nobody. Not even in the stickball capital of the country:
“Sure, stickball,’’ he said, one hand rubbing the back of his neck, a sure Letterman-like shot to the blind side about to be delivered. “Yeah, you’d maybe go to, oh . . . 1958, I guess?’’
Ouch. Not only embarrassing, but correct. Like Joltin’ Joe, stickball here has left and gone away.
The City That Never Sleeps, it turns out, is just like the USA everywhere else in that kids rarely play outside anymore. Sure, they play, if it’s an organized league with parents in control of scheduling and transporting and rule making and, of course, paying. We have no shortage of parents forking over big bucks to get their kids in games, in private instruction, on travel teams to chase the next $5 plastic trophy.
But for reasons we all know, few of our kids are either compelled or equipped to dash out the door after school or during the summer to play pickup anything.
If you have a social butterfly for a child, who makes friends in thirty seconds, it’s no big deal. But if you have a child who is anxious about meeting other kids, and a perfectionist about everything, ever, well – that child is not going to scour the neighborhood to put together a kickball game. And even if he did, he wouldn’t find anyone home. (cue MUSIC OF RIDICULOUS HYPERBOLE AND DOOM) Because everyone, everywhere, is at Activities.
We decided we could either do exhaustive research and calendaring to find the other hippie-dippie-free-range people in a 3-mile radius and coordinate play dates and manage expectations, or we could…take a second look at Activities. Maybe, just maybe, we (and by we, I mean me) were being big fat babies about the whole thing and didn’t actually know a thing about kids’ sports.
The 11-year-old was not excited. It was no coincidence that he’d never expressed an interest in trying a sport, because why would you try something if you don’t know if you’re going to be excellent at it?
Good Lord, what a way to look at life. We need to nip that in the BUD. Enter Little League.
Here’s the thing: if you wait until your child is 11, many of the other kids will have been playing since they were 4 or 5. That’s just how it is. And it’s going to be harder for your 11-year-old to jump in and try out for the team, and you will want to cry in sympathy, but he’ll live. And he’ll get better. We are not all-stars by any means, but we had a great time this season.
And so that is how I found myself, a week ago, standing in a torrential downpour at the end of the pool, with one hand on a stopwatch and the other holding down the canopy. Whooping it up when my daughter made it across the pool doing the butterfly without being disqualified, celebrating that my son shaved a couple of seconds off his freestyle time, and generally thinking, “this is all pretty fun, even though it would appear to be insane.”
Good parenting involves helping each of your children to discover his unique gifts and learn to use them well, but I’m starting to think an even more important skill is the willingness to try something you may be terrible at and have a sense of humor about it. It took me a long time to mature to the point that I would attempt something outside my comfort zone and not really give a rat’s rear about how good I would be at it. And I would argue that this ability has actually contributed more to my overall happiness than the various things I’ve always been good at. I’d love to know if that’s been true for you, too.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to register both the boys for Fall Ball.