Somehow, against all odds, I’ve become a sports parent. On a very small scale, anyhow. Despite passing on a genetic makeup ill-suited to non-typing activities and an attitude that views athletics more as something to watch than something to do, my wife and I have done the responsible thing and signed our kids up for a few activities.
Our older child, the girl, plays field hockey and basketball and swims and dances. Our son does karate and will be starting basketball pretty soon. They both do a kids running thing, which I won’t be mentioning again because they’re actually OK at that.
The idea, I guess, is to nurture healthy, assertive kids who value teamwork and can overcome adversity or whatever, but so far that seems more aspirational than factual. The more factual manifestation of this parental effort was illustrated last Saturday, when my daughter marked the last day of the field hockey clinic season by stomping into the house, still cleated, yelling about freedom and liberation and the end of her protracted torture at the hands of her coaches.
The next night, she started stroke-and-turn, the beginning of the pool pivot from “training not to die” to “learning how to swim well.” But “started” fails to capture what actually happened—that is, she sat on the side of the pool refusing to be sorted into any kind of ability-based group. I guess she is learning assertiveness.
She likes basketball a little better, although she’s mainly a defensive specialist there (i.e., she prefers not to shoot the ball, or even touch it on offense, unless there is literally no alternative, a feeling I remember well). But she seems to enjoy running up and down the court, which is the point of the thing, and definitely enjoys talking to the other girls on the bench when she’s subbed out, which is probably inevitable.
My son, meanwhile, enjoys karate for all the wrong reasons (hitting things, jumping over things, yelling “ki-yaaaaah” like a ninja turtle who swallowed a train whistle), while the theoretical lessons (respect for instructors, discipline, etc.) don’t actually make it past the dojo door. He excels at snapping to attention and bowing, though, which is better than watching more cartoons.
He played lacrosse for a little while, probably a bit earlier than he should’ve, but he delighted in it briefly because he thought the lacrosse stick was a butterfly net, and he had always wanted a butterfly net.
So what I’m saying is, my kids don’t naturally gravitate toward playing sports. Watching them has been a different matter. They don’t always get the rules and they don’t always understand which plays matter, but they have taken a certain (and no doubt short-lived) pleasure in sitting with us and cheering for the local teams, especially when it buys them a few extra minutes before bedtime.
There are worrying hints that the inevitable annulment of this dynamic is already in play, as it were. Whenever my daughter sees me watching a game that doesn’t include a local team, she asks who I’m rooting for. At which point, any mealy-mouthed answer (“I’m just rooting for a good game” or “I don’t really care” or “A meteor”) is summarily rejected and I am forced to choose a side.
Matters escalated when I turned on this week’s early morning NFL game in London while making her breakfast. “What’s the point of football?” she asked me, with a look that was part eye roll and part George Clooney’s ER-era acting style. I started rambling about downs and touchdowns and points, and she cut me off. “I know all that. I just mean, why do you watch so many games? What’s the point?”
I know that From-The-Mouths-of-Precocious-Tykes is a fraught rhetorical device now, what with months of “My 7-year-old saw Donald Trump on TV and asked why an eldritch horror from beyond time was addressing a crowd,” but this actually brought me up short.
I gave some standard answers: Provincialism! A short schedule that maximizes the importance of each game! The fact that adults need things to make small talk about! The emptiness of modern American life! But I could tell she wasn’t buying it. She spent the rest of the day seeming vaguely annoyed by football as a concept.
I’ve understood my kids’ ambivalence about participating in sports. I know, deep down, that they probably inherited that from me via either genetics or osmosis. But indifference about even wanting to watch sports initially seemed much more confusing.
That is, until I realized how many other families had taken their kids to a pumpkin patch last weekend instead of staring slackjawed at a TV all day like characters in the world’s dullest Black Mirror episode. Now my kid is resentful AND we still need a pumpkin.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.