All The Sports

Years ago, I talked about how parenting is suspenseful. You don’t know which interests your kids are going to stick with and which they’ll cast aside, which things they’ll find inspiring and which things they’ll find boring, whether the firm declarations they make on one day will still be true the next day, never mind the next year. When M and J were little, it certainly wasn’t obvious that we’d be raising two athletes. We never pressed them to do a particular sport much more than we suggested that they play a musical instrument, participate in the geography bee, sing in chorus, take up babysitting, try out for a play, wear a hat, or study for a spelling test. All excellent ideas. . . but many of them were repeatedly ignored.

But here’s what we have: two seriously athletic daughters. I didn’t crave, or even anticipate, this level of devotion to sports. And yet now that it’s become so essential to our family, I wouldn’t want it any other way. The fall seasons are over, and that means we all have more room in our schedule. Honestly, though? It feels like a loss to me, and  I’m not the only one. The day after M’s heartbreaker of a post-season-ending game, she and her friend went for a run to train for indoor track. J isn’t fortunate enough to have a workout buddy, so she’s going through a small mourning period alone. For both of them, I can’t wait for the next seasons to start.

A few weeks ago I took the picture below at one of our many home soccer games. Mostly I was thinking about the ball girl. There is a tradition in our school district that if you are a 6th grade girl who’s really into soccer, you serve as one of the school’s varsity ball girls. School sports don’t officially start until 7th grade, so this is how you can participate. Like many aspects of the girls’ soccer program at school, I’ve got mixed feelings about this system. As far as I know, there’s no announcement about becoming a ball girl. So it ends up being the girls who are connected somehow, maybe because an older sister was on the team or because a parent knows the coach. M was never a ball girl. I wish the community were a little more inviting.

And yet.

At one of these games, I happened to see a woman I knew from volunteering together, and she’d come to watch the game with her daughter and granddaughter. The daughter had played on this same school team. She leaned down to her own small daughter to point out the ball girl retrieving an errant ball, and the grandma and mom calculated how many years it would be until this preschooler was working the sidelines at one of these games.  Now, maybe that kid will want to be an actress instead, but the idea behind the tradition is lovely.

The ball girls take their jobs seriously, and the older girls are kind to them. Not everyone is, necessarily. M reported that this season one obnoxious man in the stands shouted at a ball girl to hurry up, and a member of M’s team came to her defense: “This isn’t life or death, and also, she’s eleven!” she yelled. Good for her.

Also: sigh. Again, it’s all a bit of a mixed bag.

But really, irritating parents and all, I love watching these games.  It is lovely to be outside under a blue sky, to watch your daughter trot joyfully out onto the field, to see these younger girls rush to serve girls who seem impossibly grown-up, so that sometimes you mistake a ball girl for your daughter, and then realize you’re thinking of the daughter you had five years ago.

And it’s not just the ball girls. . . I love those modest neighborhood houses in the background that set us firmly in this town, this place. I like watching the cars slow down as they pass because the drivers are trying to see who’s playing and what the score is. And I like noticing that they’re slowing down because I recognize it, since I’m always checking the fields, too.

I love, love, love that we live in a neighborhood where, if you’re driving around after school, the chances are high that you will see small flocks of high school students running along the streets like a scene out of Juno. I love that I pass them and then realize, as I see them in the rearview mirror, that the tall one went to our kids’ preschool or that the kids who are going to prom together are running side by side.

And meanwhile, in the gym, there’s quite a bit to love, too.

One of the best things about volleyball is how many mistakes everyone makes. No, really. My sweet, perfectionist J spent years training her butt off to try to present flawless performances in gymnastics. And now, in volleyball, pretty much everybody makes mistakes. Sure, the better players have a higher proportion of great moves to bad moves, but no matter which team wins the point, the girls on each side of the net do a quick embrace and move on the next point with amazing speed. I didn’t know anything about volleyball before J started. If someone had told me that J would find an activity that she’d love in which she’d learn how to shake off failures and move on fast, or that she’d be described repeatedly as really aggressive, or that she’d find herself in a group of older girls who would be so kind and supportive,  I would think it was too impossibly great a gift from the universe to be true. Not impossible, but truly a gift.

I love watching these unbelievably fast, strong, brave awesome daughters. I wish I could watch them play every day.

I’m super-sad that the high season of fall sports games is over. Even though it was sometimes really tough to keep up with all of them.

(In my defense, I’d already run back and forth several times by the time I filmed this, hence the panting.)

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