My Tornado is a sporty kid, and now I have to figure out who I am in the world of youth sports parenting. My own sports dreams began and faded with Mary Lou Retton the moment I realized what I looked like in a leotard. A hockey game will keep my attention as will highlight films of those 400 pound line backers trucking people, but that’s the extent of my interest in professional sports. Recently, I’ve realized I have no wisdom… no experience to offer my boys in this area and I’m sick about it. I’m the Sassmaster, fer fuck’s sake… every other time in my life that I haven’t known something for sure, I could skim a few paragraphs and bullshit the rest. I can’t bullshit basketball. I can’t even wanna give a shit about basketball most days. I do love to watch the Tornado play, though… at least until recently when my calm, cool cucumber was sent off the court by the ref after getting too physical with the other team and repeated fouls.
Next practice he was a bit snarly during the scrimmage too. As I watched two teammates repeatedly avoid passing him the ball (that almost never makes it from his hands to the net), and listened to them berate him for not covering his man well enough, I noted the sparkle fade from his eye and the crestfallen slump of his shoulders with a walnut sized lump in my throat.
Knowing what my reaction would have been at 8 years old, I’ve been waiting for the moment he tells me he’s all done playing basketball. It still hasn’t come… in fact this is the conversation we had after practice on Monday:
Me: I heard some of the stuff the other guys were saying to you at practice tonight… What was that like for you to hear them get on your case?
Tornado: Meh…no big deal, but they’re kind of jerks. They think they’re the best.
Me: I noticed that too… when you make mistakes on the court or your team doesn’t win, do you feel like you want to keep trying?
T: Sometimes I want to quit but I just keep telling myself “Don’t give up, don’t give up…”
Me: Wow… you know what? When I was a kid, I would have told Nana and Gramp I was never going back to basketball. In fact, I didn’t play softball, soccer or keep dancing because I wasn’t super good right away and I was too frustrated to work at getting better. I quit all the time. It makes me feel so proud that you don’t want to give up because it took me until I was a grown up to realize that it’s worth it to work hard to get better at stuff. You’re pretty great.
T: You mean you messed up at that stuff and then just stopped doing it? Why?
Me: ‘Cause it was hard… and I didn’t have much self-confidence when I was a kid. I thought I wasn’t good enough if I didn’t get it right away.... You know how you said that inside you kept telling yourself “don’t give up?”
Me: (sheepishly) when you play games, I say over and over again while I’m watching you, “I love you, don’t give up… I love you, don’t give up…” I say it so much and so loud inside myself that I hope I’m sending it right from my heart to yours. Do you ever feel that? Do you feel a little tingle?
T: I think so (his voice is neither convincing nor disbelieving… doesn’t sound like he thinks I’ve gone bat-shit crazy. Cool!)
I realize at this point that while I can’t advise him when it’s too early to cross the center court line (Hell, if I didn’t have such a good command of the English language, I wouldn’t even know where to look for the center court line…) I can help him avoid my quitter legacy. I can love him through the crappy games, and I can show him that his tenacious heart has reaching affects, so I say:
Me: You know, your Don’t Give Up attitude has inspired me… Remember last week when I went to Boot Camp class* and it was so hard and my whole body hurt all week long?
T: (laughs) You got butt cramps when we were sledding…
Me: Right! And I said to myself - Well I’m never doing that again! But if you aren’t giving up, then neither am I. I’m going back to Boot Camp…
Fast forward to tonight… I am waiting in the hallway for Boot Camp class praying that the Viking has a poop accident before class begins so I don’t actually have to go in there. Everyone heads in and I look back at the window where I can see the Tornado flash me the I Love You sign…
Completely unable to give up at that point, I take a deep breath and go in to have my arse handed to me. Well, tonight I’m still vertical whereas last week, I’m convinced my horrified body induced a migraine after class just so I would have to stop fucking moving… Tonight, I worked hard, but struggled less than last week. In the car, I said to the Tornado, “Well, I did it! I went back to Boot Camp and I didn’t give it up! What do you think?”
His response was: “Hey! It’s kind of like I’m teaching you…”
Yep… Every single day.