First we were soccer parents. I used to feel that we were the worst soccer parents in the world — we didn’t own a minivan, for one thing, and we had no real connection to the sport, for another. Our daughter started soccer in kindergarten, in part (if I’m totally honest) because it offered an additional hour or two of care after school once or twice a week. The shift from 9-5 daycare to 9-3 schooling had left us a little unprepared — and soccer helped fill the gap.
The first year or two it was fun. I enjoyed watching little kids in soccer uniforms running around in packs, occasionally remembering that they were supposed to be kicking a ball. Sometimes games were held at a field that overlooked some train tracks, and if a train went by play would stop as all the kids rushed to look and wave. Some kids would stop in mid-game to inspect a dandelion in the field, or perhaps just an interesting dirt patch — we could never quite tell.
But soccer grew tedious when the games started to get more competitive, and were held on cold October evenings, or even colder November mornings. A few years in to elementary school and it was already clear who was going to keep playing and who wasn’t. Our daughter liked the social aspects of soccer, but seemed to have little interest in the game itself — other kids, however, not only played for the school, but joined a travel team and followed European league games on the weekends. Mariah got a trophy at the end of every season, but it was mostly for showing up.
She stayed with it until middle school, but then the groups of kids broke apart and went to different schools — and leagues — and we thought we had left soccer behind. Then her little brother came along and the cycle started up again with pee-wee soccer after school.
Except, to our great joy (I said we were the worst soccer parents ever) he quit after one season. Unlike his big sister, Nick was fiercely competitive — but, lacking any skilled players, his team never won. He gave up.
And took up tae kwon do, which seemed much better suited to his need for physical activity. After he’d been doing it for several years I joined him, and the two of us took tae kwon do classes for years; Nick reached his second degree black belt over a year ago.
This summer, though, he gave it up. We had a big vacation planned and knew we’d be away for a while, and when we got back he planned to start cross-country practice with his high school.
This was a surprise. He’s never been a runner, after all, so we had no idea he’d be interested in cross-country. But at his high school orientation the team captains and coaches had spoken eloquently about their love of the sport, and its importance to their high school lives, and he decided to give it a try.
That was two months ago. When he started, he couldn’t make it around the practice course even once without stopping. Three weeks ago he ran in his first meet, and finished his first 5K. Since then, he’s run three more, and there’s another one this week. He’s far from the fastest runner on the team, but he’s not the slowest, either.
So I find myself now a cross-country mom. I went to my first meet last week, and found out that it mostly involved standing around — just like being a soccer mom. Actually, there’s less action, and it all takes a lot longer than a soccer game — and yet I find myself far more patient with the whole process. At the first meet I brought some work to do — but ended up talking with other parents instead. It’s a friendly bunch, and it’s not so bad, spending a few hours outside on a pleasant afternoon. The kids are terrific, too — they support each other, older kids cheering younger ones on, girls cheering for boys and vice versa, each wanting the other to do his or her very best. They race, really, against themselves, always hoping for a personal record, and hoping there are others right in the hunt with them to push them along. Cross-country is already teaching Nick things — things like, you can actually get better at something by practicing it. Things like, some activities are best enjoyed together, even if they don’t really require a partner. Things like, if you have homework due Thursday and a meet on Wednesday, you’d better actually do the homework on Tuesday. Things like, you really can get up early on a Saturday morning and run 3.1 miles in the rain.
So I’m enjoying this new phase of being a team parent. Check in with me again when the cold October nights kick in, though.
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