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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABCs and PhD's: Bah, humbug?
March 3, 2010 - 3:48am

The Olympics have just left town. Although we’re collectively gearing up for the Paralympics in a couple of weeks, the big crowds are gone. Classes were suspended at universities and community colleges in the region ostensibly to allow students the opportunity to volunteer at the Olympics. However, the primary reason for the two-week break in the middle of the term was transportation gridlock, cancellation of bus routes and the need to turn university parking lots into park-and-rides for Olympic events.

I spent the lead-up to the games dreading the disruption and generally feeling disgusted with the commercialized, over-budget circus that is the Olympics. The news here in British Colombia is rife with reports of school closures, huge budget cuts to education and health care, and lack of affordable housing for the homeless, while costs for putting on the Olympic world party are astronomical. It’s hard not to feel cynical, and my husband and I talked about leaving town (alas, so did thousands of other people, and the cost of plane tickets to go away soared beyond our budget).

Yes, I’ve been generally grumpy about the whole thing, but as a parent I’ve also experienced very conflicting emotions. How can I let my own cynicism cloud my kids’ experience? My five-year-old doesn’t really get the whole thing, but she will in a few years and I think she’ll feel like she wanted to be part of it. With all the chatter among his teachers and buddies at school, there’s no room for anti-Olympic sentiment in my eight-year-old son’s life. It’s been important to keep my negative feelings to myself, but he’s old enough to understand a little of the controversy (with gentle, age-appropriate explanation, of course). For example, we took the bus downtown one day to stand in really long lines to do some of the free Olympic stuff. I felt it was important to point out a tent city that had been erected in an Olympic parking lot as a protest against poverty and homelessness. The protesters were allowed to stay, and the anti-Olympic signs they’d put up around the area were good talking points for discussion with my son. I wasn’t going to dampen his spirits, but I wanted him to see the other side of the rosy Olympic picture.

And then I had moments where I was open to the thrill of Olympic spirit. A friend asked me if I was going to watch the Olympic torch relay, scheduled to pass in front of my son’s school. I initially said no, without going into reasons why (most people I know are more pro-Olympics than I). All I could think about was the potential traffic, my dislike of crowds, the rain, and above all the views I’d expressed about Olympic hype and commercialism. I’d feel hypocritical giving into the nagging thought that this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” But then I thought of my son’s euphoria when he rushed in the door after school one day to announce that he would get to see the torch. Would my daughter ever forgive me if in years to come she realized what she’d missed because I didn’t want to bother? Throwing my Olympic disgruntlement aside, I really wanted to watch my children see the torch! I wanted to be caught up in the purity of their enthusiasm. And of course, wasn’t I just a little bit curious?

The day of the relay, an Olympic advance team brought a torchbearer to visit the school playground at recess, and my son and his buddies got to touch the torch that would be lit by the Olympic flame. My daughter and I later joined my giddy son and his classmates along the road in front of the school to await the flame. Police cars and trucks emblazoned with Olympic logos and advertising from corporate sponsors rumbled down the road well ahead of the torch. The loud music and dancing women on the sides of a Coca-cola truck were mostly ignored by the crowd, who continued to look up the road in anticipation of the flame. When the flame arrived I cheered along with everyone else and snapped pictures with one hand while holding my daughter up in my arms so she could see over the heads of the line of 3rd graders on the curb. After joining arms and doing a little high-step twirling dance together, the torchbearers exchanged the flame right in front of where we were standing. I wasn’t watching my kids’ faces to experience their joy; I was caught up in my own misty-eyed excitement.

Once the games began, there were some great moments for women athletes that further highlighted for me the positive aspects of the games. In particular I became a big fan of women’s curling, and I was sorry to hear that U.S. network coverage didn’t show very much of the competition. Many of the world’s best players are women my age (give or take a few years), with not always perfect (but very flexible) figures, who show such skill they make the sport look easy. I hadn’t appreciated before what a heady game it is, like chess on ice, except that to take out an opponent’s piece one has to, with the help of teammates, “throw” the rock so it hits precisely. There appeared to be a real intimacy and sisterhood within the teams of four as they collectively made decisions about strategy, and I enjoyed seeing the support teammates gave one another when a team member didn’t perform as well as she’d wanted to. (Not so for the men. There was lots of bravado, blame, and defensiveness…”You should have swept when I told you to.” “It wasn’t our fault!”)

And on the final day of the Olympics I whooped and wept with my son and my husband over Canada’s gold medal hockey win (sorry for my bias here). Any thoughts of commercialism, boondoggles, and Olympic bills were far from our minds. Bah, humbug? Once again my kids have given me another view, and I’m actually glad we were here when the Olympics came to town. It was kind of fun after all.


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