Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Back to the Mundane, Sort Of

I spent the weekend in sports mom mode. My M.O. is not the norm for this area, where helicopter parenting is considered slacking off. My method is somewhat extreme, but in reverse. It works for us.

My son, D., got accustomed to my hands-off style because his dad's work trips kept him away from home so often. He came to prefer it, in fact. Dad is a teddy bear, affectionate, prone to spontaneous hugging and cutting up, shouts of "what about Jiggly Puff?" -- references to Pokemon figures he thinks are hilarious, but are criminal acts to a secure, outrageously loved and cared for now-teenage boy.

In addition, our son is painfully aware of his dad's presence on the sidelines. He makes a play, glances at his dad. Grabs a ball, glance, does something else, another look, fidget. In my way of thinking, even though they are supremely comfortable together -- they are clones -- the same thing makes them too wiggly in a sports setting (I'm a scientist, can't you tell?). This is an irony considering D.'s father is the very antithesis of the nasty sports fathers who spoil the fun for everyone, on the field and off.

When I asked why he preferred my company to his dad's on these trips, D. hemmed and hawed and came up with this: At the baseball field once dad scratched his back on the home plate fence. The fence was there, handy, and my husband availed himself of it with a quick back swipe or three. A friend pointed it out to me and we laughed. No harm no foul.

But oh the humiliation!

So often, I take the boy to his games, matches, whatever. My husband still travels, but even when home usually stays back. He works from home, maybe playing golf, getting things done, calling frequently and telling me to pretend it's not him on the phone. He doesn't like this, at all. But he adjusted. Especially after a travel soccer mom with a son playing goalie gently suggested to me that we "leave dad at home, D. does better with just you here." D. was a defender her son relied on, she was just looking after HER baby.

So. My method? The appearance of deep apathy. I'm also smaller, and it's easier for me to disappear.

I grew up in a sports crazed Alabama, ruled by the Alabama and Auburn college football teams. I've been at weddings where family members sat in the car listening to the radio during the actual service because the Crimson Tide game was still on. I mean, these people MISSED the weddings of their relatives!

I was not immune to this religious fervor. But that was back in the day.

I remember lying on the floorboard of our car in the driveway, curled in a fetal position, pilfered key in the switch, listening to the Alabama games. I couldn't take watching or listening inside with my brother and father. They were intense, grouchy, explosive about distractions. Athletes both, they critiqued the plays with the authority of men who had played the game well. Besides, I had work to do.

I prayed. I needed God to give the Bear just one more win. Every single Saturday. For instance: "Jesus, we really need that national championship. We need it really bad. I'll be good, I won't pretend to be sick on Sunday mornings anymore. I'll sit still in church. I won't mark my sister's arms with a pen. Well, I'll try on that one. If you and God can just help the Tide out just a little bit. Maybe you could send the Holy Ghost. I just hope he's not too busy."

Those were some of the most intense times of my life, praying the Crimson Tide to victory. Because we did need those wins. Even as a child, I knew Alabamians were pariahs for the searing images portraying our racial shame: George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door; horse-led charges onto a bridge of peaceful praying demonstrators; beatings and firehoses; Ku Klux Klansmen, flaming crosses, lynchings. And I can barely write this although I should every single day lest we forget -- the bomb that exploded in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing choir girls Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, and injuring 22 others.

So, amid the horror we grasped for relief. And there it was, on the pages of the newspapers -- the Crimson Tide, the national championships, a nudge from the Bear that led to the eventual desegregation of the South's football teams, these were good things, happy things. So in my mind, sports was crucial, vitally important, and not just for the usual reasons.

So, last weekend I sat in the bleachers at my son's basketball games, huddled under a lime green pashima, hoping it hid the novel I was reading. I got lots of time for that. I also sat at the very top of the bleachers once and meditated a bit, eyes closed, hoping no one could see me. My son did, but he's used to his mother the non-fan. He prefers it, even. He's sorry for the players who chafe under the scrutiny of yelling parents, who dread the tense rides home.

He had great games, I was told by other parents who kept me updated on his scores, and then I did peek a bit (don't tell D.). So here is my analysis.

The Irish, solidly whipped all season, pulled off a win for the very last game. After being asleep at the switch for so long, the boys had plenty of energy banked, even though they barely managed enough players to field a team for the playoffs. The Irish had caught fire. The team incredibly won the first playoff game, which I had not predicted, saying "don't worry, we have plenty of free time this weekend since your team will lose the first playoff game."

The win was unexpected. The Irish were supposed to be pushovers. Tempers flared. A technical was called on a boy who threatened mayhem on the court. The foul-er argued, mightily. The ref was yelled out and he yelled back. The kid stalked out of the gym in a huff, followed by his mother. Fueled by righteousness, the Irish then won their afternoon game. But they couldn't keep it up. With only one sub (the other team had plenty), the Irish barely lost the championship the next day in overtime. But yeah, they still got trophies.

Then, this week, my son had the first scrimmage of his high school varsity tennis career. He's a freshman, ranked fourth on his team, whatever that means. I managed to make it to the courts after he had played his singles match. He lost, 7-10, but the coach was happy -- D. had turned in the best performance of any other player on the team, even the returning varsity veterans.

I'm a happy sports mom. It's easy to be at games these days. Not that I watch.


  1. There are SO many things in this post that I relate to - not that I was a sports mom, but I'm the child of southerners who moved back to the south and have sat in the Cotton Bowl watching the Cowboys play Alabama, with Bear Bryant pacing the sidelines in his signature hat.I relate to the insane fervor over football - from the high school level right to the pros. I relate to shame over racial crimes and inequity - will it ever fade completely? I think there is a lot we could talk about!

  2. When I moved to D.C. in the '80s, a cab driver from Nigeria asked me about my accent and origin. When I told him he laughed and said "George Wallace!" and I said "NO NO NO NO! We don't all like him!" An excellent lesson in sterotyping. And I bet we could talk ourselves hoarse, Miz Cotton Bowl. HA HA!