I’m tired. Really tired. Worn out. I’ll make my case, and you can roll your eyes and tell me to buck up. People have infants, or children with special needs, or two jobs, or three jobs, or an active social life. People are busy. People are used to being busy. I’m not.
The week that just ended was all about coaching. Growing up, my kids didn’t play sports. No soccer, no baseball and softball, no basketball. I spent my first fifteen years as a parent without ever sitting on a sideline. As an introvert uncomfortable making small-talk with strangers, I saw this as a blessing. While other parents cheered their children on frigid March mornings, shivering in small groups talking about mortgage rates and gas prices, I sat on my couch writing. Weekend family activities included afternoon hikes and bike rides and an occasional car ride to DC to visit a museum or the zoo. I was coddled.
At times I worried about socialization and teamwork and perseverance and all the other crap kids are supposed to get from sports, but my kids didn’t want to play, and Susan and I weren’t going to make them. This changed abruptly when Sophie hit tenth grade. “I need to buy a tennis racket.” This, out of the blue. “Jackie saw me play in gym class and said I should join the team.” Suddenly, I sat on the sidelines—really behind a fence—and I liked it. The following year, Sophie added Rugby to her team sport list and then I joined the rest of the parents huddled under blankets watching March matches through snow-squalls. I liked that less.
A few months later, Eli joined a mountain bike team. This is a neat story: Eli games. Like most teenage boys he owns a gaming console. And like many, he spends more time gaming than is probably good for him. We like some aspects of it. For one, he’s made some really close friends while gaming. Most, he claims, are his age. One lives in Belgium. One, Nathan, lives only a half hour away. Susan asks “Do you want to get together with Nathan?”
“No, Nathan’s a gaming friend.” But really too much gaming. We wanted him to do something else. Preferably, but not necessarily something active. Run cross country? No. Join the K-Club? No. Tennis? No. Student government? The kid’s not a joiner.
Susan works in Harrisburg. It’s fifty-minutes and a world away. As Pennsylvania’s state capital, things actually happen there. It’s urbane compared to sleepy Gettysburg. Susan grabbed a copy of The Burg in a Harrisburg coffee shop. Harrisburg is big enough and busy enough to have a give-away city paper. As she drank her coffee and flipped through The Burg, an article about a teen mountain bike team caught her eye. After reading for a few minutes, she realized she was reading about a Gettysburg team. Even Eli thought this sounded like a good fit.
That was last year. When the season ended, I bought myself a bike so Eli had someone with a car to ride with through the winter. This year, I’m coaching. Calling me a coach might be a bit of a stretch. At a minimum, I’m a much-needed extra adult. Every now and then I make a good observation that turns into a practice theme, but mostly, I’m just an adult. Because we need two adults riding with each group, and we break into three or four groups at each practice, we need a lot of adults.
Suddenly, I’m busy. We’re hosting a state-wide race next weekend. Apparently, this happens every year. We descend on a close by campground and try to resurrect the trail system that sat dormant since the previous September. With weed-eaters, loppers, chain saws and leaf blowers, we hack back all the flora that grew over, encroached and choked out the four-mile race course over the past year. In southern Pennsylvania, that’s a lot of flora.
Every night this week, we’ve had trail work or practice. Sometimes crisp edges go soggy and fine lines begin to blur. Am I being selfish with my time if I’m helping my son? I volunteered to coach because I knew they needed the help, but come on, it’s mountain biking. I might have signed up even if I didn’t have a kid on the team. This morning, Eli and I left home at nine for three hours of trail work. We popped home to grab our bikes and some lunch and walked out twenty minutes later for an hour and a half practice. Susan stayed home alone and sanded and painted our screened porch.
Mountain bike coaching is a much larger time-sink than cheering at a Saturday morning soccer game. And with this sport, Susan can’t really participate. The out of town races even require a night in a hotel. Repeatedly, I ask Susan if she feels blown off. She says no, she’s ecstatic that Eli and I are doing something together, but we’re the family that always did things together. Now I’m so busy coaching, we hardly eat dinner as a family.
I know I’m complaining about something that every other family starts when their kids turn four, and it doesn’t end until they’re out of high school. It’s the American way. I’m spoiled, or I was, and now I’m trying to get used to something new. A different family vibe, a more separated relationship with my wife after twenty-five years of marriage.
When we first dated, Susan and I frequently mountain biked together. We drove deep into the DC suburbs to one of the few trail systems that allowed bikes. After we rode, we went to a shopping center restaurant like Chili’s for chips and margaritas. Mountain biking was a lively date.
Susan has no interest in joining our mountain biking adventure–which looks certain to last for two more years. My fingers are crossed that once this race is done, things will settle down and Susan and I can spend more time together doing the things we like. Eating dinner, bike rides on the road, and sitting on the couch reading books.