I know plenty of parents whose most intense moments of existence are lived vicariously through their children's sports teams. I also know a few parents who consistently dismiss sports as a stupid waste of time. I lie somewhere in the murky middle. My older son took little interest in sports, so I took little interest. My younger son took great interest in sports, so I took great interest in his interest. I myself never played on a team as a child, being always too booked up with violin responsibilities. Plus, my mom is a physically timid person who didn't have the wherewithal to encourage me to overcome my own physical timidity. My sister, who is very athletic, forged her way without as much parental oversight as she would have liked, which has created a mixed legacy as regards her anxieties about her own children's activities. My point here is not to diss the various parents I've mentioned but to say that the answer to "how can I be a good parent?" is not particularly obvious.
Maine's state track-and-field championships were held yesterday, and conveniently enough, Paul's high school hosted the class C (small schools) event. By 9 a.m. the temperature was already 90 degrees, and the edges of the football field were covered in bright tents and milling people. It looked like a medieval jousting field, except for the missing chargers and armor and pointy damsel hats.
Paul ran off to join his team, and I spent some time searching for shade and standing in the bathroom line and eventually hanging around with a friend who was cooking hamburgers for the snack stand. Then, out of the crowd, Paul materialized. He strode up, threw his arms around me, and began to weep into the top of my head. After a while he managed to tell me that he'd been bumped from the relay. We stood there for a long time in the hot sun--this giant sad almost 16-year-old crying on his mother, his mother filled with the familiar admixture of heavyhearted love and plain old public embarrassment which this child has inflicted on her in sporting event after sporting event over the years.
I managed to coax him into walking around the perimeter of the track with me. As he wailed, I interjected what I hoped were calming words. But even as I tried to make the best of the sad moment, I couldn't help but be perplexed by the situation. The relay team was in no way competitive at the state level. They were seeded fifth in the first (i.e., slow) heat, and the kids weren't expecting to score team points in the event. The replacement runner was more of a sprinter than Paul is, but he wasn't experienced with this particular distance. I suspect the bumping had been last-minute coaching jitters, which I can completely understand, but nonetheless it had left me with a mess on my hands.
As we walked, I convinced Paul that we should watch his teammates run, and then, by good fortune, he caught sight of a friend in the stands and he zoomed off to her. I stood by myself at the fence, sweltering. By this point (10:30 a.m.) the heat had become ridiculous. None of these Maine kids had been training in such weather, and they were suffering. The relay team competed as well as could be expected; but by the time the 4 x 800 ended, and I was watching one of Paul's teammates vomit into a trash can, I was frankly relieved that my child had been bumped from the race. Even he admitted that he was slightly relieved. He was ready to shed his broken heart. But before we left, I made him go into the track shed and congratulate his friends and see what he could do to help out the sick one. Sometimes I feel as if my life with this boy is a constantly running instructional video. "Disc 5: Learning to Exhibit Good Sportsmanship under Adverse Situations."
Anyway, we went home and ate watermelon and popsicles, and later we sat on the couch and watched a hockey game, and then Paul learned that his school had in fact won the state championship. He was as joyous as if he hadn't been bumped.