My Turn

We’ve dodged a bullet, hundreds of times. My kids are teenagers. Well one of them is; the other one is twelve. So not a teen, but almost. And for all these years, they’ve been the least scheduled kids I know—they’re not committed every afternoon and evening. Not on team sports. Not in church youth groups. Not in community clubs. We fiddled with Scouts, but only for a couple of years, and that was years ago. Susan and I, unlike our siblings, unlike our friends, haven’t spent hours each week, year after year, shuttling our kids around town.

My brother, his kids about four years older than mine, has been driving a ninety-mile radius every weekend for the past decade. Both his kids are involved in travel sports—soccer, swimming, baseball and basketball. With the drive-time and the hours spent watching games and meets, his weekend days seem to be exclusively about sports.

Every nephew on Susan’s side of the family is a Boy Scout. My in-laws spend their lives chauffeuring kids to evening meetings, weekend camping trips, and community service outings. They have lots of opportunities to spend bonding time with their kids—in the car, getting them to where they need to be.  Oftentimes, the commitment doesn’t end with a ride—Scouting relies heavily on parent participation.

My evenings and weekends, on the other hand have been selfish endeavors mostly focused only on me. OK, that’s an overstatement, I’m still a parent and homeowner; I have responsibilities, but I always have time for a long run or a workout, woodsy hikes, spin classes, creative home projects or just spending time on Saturday afternoon sitting in the sun, reading. I’m always willing and able to drive my kids to a friend’s house or support them when something special is going on, but for the most part, when I want to be lazy, I’m lazy.

This is changing. Last fall, Sophie announced her intent to try-out for the high school tennis team. She’s a reasonably active kid: when the weather is warm she heads out for hour-long bike rides on the Gettysburg Battlefield park roads… but joining a team? This was out of the blue. I asked the obvious question: “Have you ever even played tennis before?” It turns out that she has, in gym class, and she was fairly adept. More importantly, she has a friend on the team who told Sophie she would do fine.

Suddenly, Susan and I were coordinating calendars. Making sure one of us was available to pick Sophie up. I even went out and bought myself a cell phone just so I could keep in touch with Susan while waiting at the courts: < don’t light the grill yet, they’ve just finished the first set >. For the first time in my life, I was leaving work early to watch my daughter compete at something.

This fall, I’m getting a double-dose. Sophie joined the rugby team, and Eli tried out for middle school soccer. Like Sophie, Eli has only played sports in gym class, and we don’t watch sports around the house, either. The only time sporting events ever play on our TV set is during the Olympics every two years. And even then, we’re mostly drawn to the individual pursuits. Team-sport rules and theory are completely alien to Eli.

The day before soccer tryouts, we bought a ball, cleats and shin guards and went out and kicked the ball around a muddy field. Then Eli and I set up the kitchen table with salt and pepper shakers, spare change and various knickknacks, and we reviewed the rules of soccer. Apparently, our preparation was satisfactory. Eli is now on the Junior Varsity team.

Eli’s practices are right after school and they end right around the time I want to leave work. Plus, his school is only a half mile from my office. The impact of Eli’s soccer participation is that I now get out of work at the proper time on a more frequent basis. Rugby is a different story.

This is the first year of the high school rugby program, the team is still feeling its way through the organizing process. Being a club and not a school-sanctioned sport, they get crappy field time. Sophie’s practices are from 4:30 until 6:30 in the evening. Because I like to exercise right after work, and one parent needs to cook dinner, rugby pickup is putting some serious constraints on my exercise program.

Apparently, high school girls’ rugby is somewhat exotic. There are no other schools in our county with teams, and the “league” draws opponents from a ridiculously huge radius. On Sunday, Sophie played a (fortunately) home game against North Pitt High (from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, four hours to the west), and next weekend she has an away game in South Jersey (three hours to the east). Last week, she played against a team from Tennessee that was traveling up and down the east coast looking for opponents. Rugby competition is hard to come by.

A few weeks into the season, Susan and I are still catching on to the infrastructure needed to support a sports team. This past Sunday, our first home game, a few of the parents organized a food table for an after-match meal. As I waited for Sophie to finish socializing with her friends, I was nagged by the realization that I wasn’t helping out the other parents. Three parents were supporting the team, and I, alone, was sitting on the edge of the parking lot. There are fifteen girls on the team. I have no idea where the other parents went. Maybe they were sitting in their cars so it wasn’t so obvious that they weren’t pitching in.

For the coming road-trip to New Jersey, I’m under the impression the team has a school bus to transport the kids. Because my primary source of information is a fifteen-year-old, I can’t be sure that this is correct. Last night I told Sophie that if the team needed drivers to get the kids to the game this Sunday, to please let me know. No, I don’t actually want to spend ten hours this Sunday driving to and from a rugby match in another state. But because the other parents have been saddled with these responsibilities for fifteen years—while I’ve been sitting in my sunroom reading—I feel like it’s now my turn to help out.

10 thoughts on “My Turn

  1. I love your parenting style–particularly as it parallels mine. I try not to overcomplicate my kid’s (and my) life. One or two activities, hand selected to fit my schedule and appropriate to his age and inclination are all I’m willing to do. And I think that’s just fine. Everybody wins. And it sounds like you and your wife are just the same. Not having alone time or leisure time to just BE would be a serious miscalculation of what constitutes happiness in my opinion–which would negatively impact everyone.
    And yet, I totally understand the shift. The kids took the lead, you’re just choosing to follow. That’s as it should be.
    And I have a super fantastic and inspiring friend who played rugby in college. Those women are WONDERFUL and full of self-confidence and joy.

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    • I’ve definitely needed to turn something off in my brain to accept the level of responsibility/scheduling I’ve picked up over the past year. I’m not kidding though when I say I’m more grateful for the years of respite than I am mournful for the new expectations. I’m happy my kids are finding things they want to do. The fact that they are health pursuits is simply a bonus.

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  2. My older daughter did a couple years of competition cheer because her best friend was on the team. The practices were within walking distance but the competitions were all over place, even a weekend event in Las Vegas. It was an expensive sport also. Luckily she and her friend got tired of it after a couple years. My younger daughter was happy doing ASB and any weekend events used the school’s van, driven by the teacher/advisor. I let the girls decide what they wanted to do and then supported them. I think some parents can push too hard on the sports/activities. Kids and parents both need down time, free time, breathing time.

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    • We’ve pretty much let our kids steer as well, they just haven’t wanted to do anything. THis is all unexpected but not necessarily bad. Just different. It takes a reevaluation of my time and how I want to spend it. I read more blogs now as I wait for practice to end.

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  3. We were that family that when the big kids were younger, we told them they had to pick an activity. One for the spring and one for the fall. Just something to do, to try. Baseball, softball – soccer turned out to be a fave. That led to travel soccer. Then basketball and football got added in. Catelyn also went for theater. Tonight, one had soccer from 5-7, the other fom 7-8:30. My face is still frozen. But let me just add – in all of the kids sports the farthest we have had to go is 1 1/2-2 hours away maybe? You’ve got some serious traveling ahead. But if Cate came home and told me this is what she wanted to do, then I would do it too. Way to jump in!

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    • So far, a lot of the older girls parents are mostly taking the lead in planning. I can see an increasing level of participation in the coming years. This really isn’t my sort of thing, but forcing myself out of my comfort zone isn’t necessarily bad. But… New Jersey?

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    • I find these “newer sports” rugby, lacrosse, etc to be more interesting than the old school ones. I’m glad Sophie has the opportunity to play, as I doubt she would be playing field hockey or running track.

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