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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Running a Fever

I must be among the 1% of parents who has avoided a major ritual of parenthood. Until now. Every parent I know has succumbed to this force—except us. I secretly felt relieved that I was in such a small club. Today changed all that, and it seems monumental. Here I am—eleven years into my role as mom—and only now have I finally spent the better part of a Saturday watching kids’ sports.

Our son ran in his first track meet today. I always felt relieved that our kids didn’t beg and plead to do organized sports. That probably sounds pretty bad, but I like to keep it real here on my blog. Most parents I know spend Saturdays the way they spend weekdays: waking up to a squawking alarm clock, scrambling to get out the door, racing to a destination (or a series of them) on time, and much later, collapsing in a heap in the late afternoon and wondering where the day went. That’s what weekdays are like: exhausting and full of deadlines. I wasn’t interested in turning Saturday into a weekday. Weekends are for recuperating from the exhaustion of the school week—not extending it.

But my son decided to try track this year. I thought it was great that he wanted to try something new. It also seemed like a good way to test drive this whole sports thing without having to sign an iron-clad contract for every Saturday morning for the rest of my life. I sound like a time miser but it’s how I feel!

Some parents can’t wait for their toddlers to be old enough to sign up for pee-wee soccer. The moment these kids stop crawling and get vertical, their parents sign them up for soccer. That just isn’t me. I’ve never been too excited about sports. I like to create. I’m not ultra-competitive with others. I’m a first-born: I’m far too busy reaching my high self-expectations to worry about competing with others.

We weren’t really sure what to expect at the meet. It was my son’s first meet and it was mine, too. The meet was at a giant school I’d never been to before. We arrived ten minutes later than we were told to and I was panicked. Had our son missed his first event? Nope. The coach wisely had given us a lot of wiggle room. We arrived at least forty-five minutes before his first event. That was a relief but there was still a lot to take in once we arrived. There were plenty of people there, which made my son nervous. It’s hard to do something new, something you’re not yet confident about, in front of a crowd. I understood that 100%, not because we talk incessantly about winning at home but because--like my son--I find it hard to have people watch me when I’m not yet good at something. As we made our way through the throng I reminded him to try to have fun. Kids were milling everywhere, like busy ants hustling around an ant hill, industrious and full of energy. A mini city had been created at the track: a rainbow of colorful pop-up tents on the field and over the tiered seating. Our family may have been new to all this but for most of the crowd, it wasn’t their first rodeo. I took notes.

I agreed to help on the field, gathering the students before each event (and there were nearly thirty events just in his age group). I’d asked the coach ahead of time if I had to understand sports and track to volunteer. Did I need to have run track? Should I know anything about batons? Did I have to have a prescription to Runners World Magazine? No. I think she needed an adult with a heartbeat. Yep, I qualified.

Of course, I did find myself in new territory when the coach handed me her clipboard, which held a multi-page handout detailing all the day’s events. She asked me to gather the kids for the next event. I wasn’t sure if I was reading English! My eyes bugged out a little as I tried to determine exactly which event was currently happening. Short runs. Long runs. Boys only. Girls only. Co-ed. Relays. Older kids. Younger kids. Things coded in gold. Events coded in blue. I might as well has been reading Swahili for all I understood! Reading the printout was like deciphering a voting pamphlet: there’s too much information all at once. Too many names! Lots of numbers. I did my best with the lists. I do like to help, which makes me a good match for school events because there has never been a school event—in the history of schools—that has not involved the following phrase: we need adult volunteers. These days this plea is delivered via email. It used to be done using photocopied fliers sent home. If the cave men and women had schools they probably sent requests for volunteers on stone tablets. There’s just something in me that can’t seem to say no to an emailed plea for volunteers. (Occasionally I ignore emails of that type, but mostly I say yes.) I figured I could help shepherd kids to and fro. (And actually, I even did a little running while there—there was a moment when the coach sent me sprinting up a hill to get the kids at the shot put because their running event was about to start. I’m no track coach. I’m not a runner. But this volunteer did her share of running and walking today. I stood for hours. My legs feel it. Where’s Hubby? I need a massage!)

Still, helping out felt like a good way to pass the time. I knew we would be there for hours, and being on the field, participating, appealed to me more than being a spectator. I knew I wouldn’t get too excited about the events. I’m not a sports nut. I don’t care who is drafted or who wins the Super Bowl. I was there to support my son.

But something unexpected happened today. I caught a bit of a fever on that field. Being at a live sports event engaged me much more than it does when I watch a few seconds of sports on tv. I cheered and hollered and felt my heart race as I watched those kids go. Some were amazingly fast. I held my breath as runners gained on their opponents and overtook them. I watched, transfixed, as our team competed. I felt the thrill of competition! I caught the fever. Maybe not a full-blown fever but I caught it. Who knew?!

It was fun watching kids do something they have practiced. Some of the kids are beginners but some are experienced runners. It’s always interesting to watch people do something they do well. But it also felt good to watch the beginners. There’s room for them, too. Some students were willowy long-distance types and others were more compact and muscled. I liked watching them challenge themselves. I liked watching their drive.

My son did four events today. He survived his first track meet. I’m delighted that he decided to try something new. After his first event I told him how proud I was of him. To this he responded, “Okay. But just don’t cry.” Who, me? The emotional artist who cries while watching commercials? Never! I swallowed the lump in my throat and squeaked out, “Of course not.”

Nearly thirty events later, we packed up our tent and trudged across the campus toward the parking lot. We’d been outdoors for hours. I’d worn my hat and sunscreen but still, the sun had sapped our energy. It had been a full day.

There’s one more meet this season. Two Saturdays of sports per year seems manageable. I’m not ready to hand over all my Saturdays to sports but I surprised myself today and caught the fever a little bit. Watching these young kids push themselves was inspiring. It made me want to sprint, too! I think I’ll try to improve my time with my workouts. It feels good to challenge yourself. I’ll start this weekend. Right after my nap.

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