Just Don’t Go

The house is quiet after a busy summer of kids coming and going, and Nick and I can now settle back into our lives of empty-nesters with a reduced slate of parental responsibilities.  I hear younger friends tell frenzied stories of ferrying kids from one structured event to another, endless hours on the sidelines cheering eager little soccer teams and hours in the locker room lacing up skates.  I listen with a somewhat smug expression on my face, since this described our lives about 5 years ago, until a revelation changed our lives.  Should I rise up like some sort of eminence grise and impart this great pearl of wisdom?

Like many of my contemporaries, I delayed child-bearing until my thirties until I was done with my medical training.  And similarly, both my husband and I resolved to be hands-on parents, tireless advocates for our children both in school and out.  Taking a page from Amnesty International, we would bear witness to every thrill of victory and agony of defeat.  We would take the best of our childhoods and magnify it and address any missteps that our parents may have taken.  My parents were swamped with six children such that daily individual attention was out of the question.  And while I might have thought that this could be one area for improvement, the truth was that in the sixties, there were fewer opportunities for intervention.  As far as I could tell, parents just packed their kids off to school; there wasn’t the competitive jockeying for teachers and grades that there is today.  In the athletic world, there just wasn’t much going on, particularly for girls.  I played on various sports teams in grade school and high school but it simply never occurred to me that my parents might attend, much less comment on the quality of the coaching, the playing time, or even the score.  There were generally no structured activities on the weekend, and we had a great time just horsing around with neighbors and friends. 

On Sunday afternoons my parents would always host back yard sporting events that varied with the season – baseball in the spring and summer, football and soccer in the fall.  This was about 35 years ago – well before any organized soccer in this country, and the only rule that we knew was that you couldn’t use your hands.  One summer my mother organized a volleyball league in our back yard, consisting of families who would organize their own multigenerational teams and show up en masse for their matches even though everyone was pretty much clueless about volleyball.   Occasionally in the winter we would play dodge ball at a local gym.  It seems like almost everyone likes dodge ball, but now my kids tell me that it is not allowed because it is considered too dangerous.   Even if you didn’t like dodge ball, you could let yourself get smacked with the ball and then peacefully sit out the rest of the game.  However, in baseball you could potentially be humiliated for a full 9 innings of strikeouts, bone headed plays and throwing like a girl. 

My kids were part of the generation where everything was organized, creating a vicious circle.  If you weren’t part of a structured activity, there would be nobody around to hang out with, so all of a sudden I found myself signing my kids up for things so that they could be with their friends.  Soccer was a natural starting spot, and I remember getting Ned or Frances ready with their uniform, cleats, juice box and snack and then arriving at the field and seeing about 200 other identical children and parents.  The sense of anonymity was overwhelming; I felt like I was in the middle of a big puppy mill.  I have always had a pair of binoculars at the ready for sighting birds, but I learned that they were just as useful at the soccer complex to scan across the endless fields to find a cluster of familiar faces and uniforms.  From above, all of us soccer parents probably looked like fevered ants convening on a melted popsicle.  Once at the field, overweening parents would mutter about coaches, traveling teams and ODP opportunities.  Clearly thoughts of college scholarships were emerging by 6th grade.   While it rarely occurred to my parents to attend one of my games, it never occurred to us NOT to attend a game.

Initially the soccer teams were coached by parents.  Nick was a volunteer coach for a team consisting of players from Lake Forest and the neighboring suburb of Lake Bluff.  Immediately, he had to start managing both parents and players.  The oddest complaint came from Lake Bluff parents who as a group complained that their kids got less playing time than Lake Foresters.  Nick didn’t even know where the kids lived.  Having professional coaches at the third grade level seemed unnecessary, but all of a sudden Solé was part of our lives – a bitter soccer player from Bosnia who clearly resented the fact that he was really acting as more of a babysitter cliquez içi.  He would mutter that the kids had no commitment to soccer, but come on – they were only 9 years old.  The team mother called announcing that Solé was available to give private lessons, and the implication was that this sort of face time might be worthwhile.  Besides Frances wanted to be with her friends.  When I went to pick her up from her “lesson,”  it looked like they were basically having a pick up game, but then I had to peel off a twenty and give it to Solé for the opportunity to do what we used to do for free and on our own.

Our kids were athletic but not destined to be elite athletes, and my goals for them were to have fun playing on a team, gain confidence and satisfaction in improving, and to meet new kids.  However, sometimes the environment would rub off and I would find myself becoming the parent I did not want to be.  Surly Solé really began to irritate me and I started to clock playing time.  I called one mother to strategize.  She said that she had successfully managed the situation by picking up her son in her husband’s Corvette with the top down wearing a tight T shirt.  Solé loved cars (and probably tight T shirts) and would always come over and chat after the practice.  You have to “butter the coach,” she said.  I certainly did not have access to this strategy.

As a goalie, our daughter Frances might have had the most difficult position on the field.  As the mother of the goalie I might have had the second most difficult position on the field.  The successes and failures of a goalie are highly visible even if you don’t know anything about soccer.  It was difficult not to comment as we drove to and from the game.  One day Frances announced that she did not really need us to be at the game.  Basically, she didn’t want us to see her muff one, and she didn’t need us to see her be a success – she got enough feedback from her team mates and other parents.  We weren’t really thrilled to be driving all over the suburbs either.  One game was in a remote suburb called Schwaben, which made me think that I should wear my lederhosen to the game.  While nonattendance challenged our perception of ourselves as parents, Nick and I took a look at each other and said – and here is my pearl of wisdom –


This “light over Marblehead” realization changed all of our lives in positive ways.  We told Frances that we agreed that we did not need to go to all of her games, but that she would have to arrange her own transportation.  She then contacted the team mother and generally rode with her.  The real advantage here was that she developed a very nice relationship with another adult who essentially gave her the same advice and counsel that she rejected coming from us.  Along the way, she developed more confidence by knowing that there was no sturdy parental safety net ready to scoop her up.  She had to handle challenges on her own and derived more satisfaction in doing so.   On our part we got our Sundays back.  We had generally horse ‘n goggled for soccer duty, and now we could do things together, which had previously been rare on a weekend.  Sure, we went to plenty of soccer games, but not all of them, and Frances did fine without us.   Now if only I could get a pick up game of dodge ball. 

The missing words in the following poem are a set of anagrams (i.e. like spot, stop, post) and the number of asterisks indicate the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with either the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve the puzzle based on the above words and context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

Overscheduled children is a topic that I would like to see debated.

But I ***** not buck the system that had been so carefully created. 

Too much competition, no more pick up games, the thought filled my heart with *****

 At nine years old, what are the lessons we are teaching them, have we been all misled?

 Will our eager attentiveness stunt confidence and create a lack of respect?

 Like an ***** rising from the sand to bite the foot that has been standing on its neck.








]Answers:  dared, dread, adder

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