The Sports Mom (ahem….Tiger Mom?)

It’s hard to be a competitive person by nature, and to channel that trait in parenting active and athletic boys (good thing my boys are not anywhere near Olympic potential or I’d surely be in trouble!). I stress out enough as it is, trying to instill the values of sportsmanship, of having fun, of playing your best, of staying in there for your team, of respecting and listening to your coach, of learning the game and not worrying about the score. After all, let’s be honest – the boys are only 8 and 6!  Of course, these little guys are hard-wired to be competitive – you don’t have to keep score, they keep it themselves! They know who won! So my typical pep talk has nothing to do with scores or winning, despite what my loud cheering on the sidelinesflag football might lead you to believe otherwise.

This Spring my older two played flag football (not “real” football because I’m a mother and I’m a pediatrician and I have a fetish about keeping brains intact). My eldest is not a natural at football but he seems to really enjoy playing and names it consistently as his favorite sport. So we arrived on the field and I was all smiles and happy to find out that he’d be coached this season by a former NFL player. Wow. Swoon. Or not.

Soon I was dealing with a sad, disappointed player who spent more time on the sidelines than he did on the field. And when on the field, he was allowed only one chance to actually carry the football, because there were 3 or 4 other players who were really good players. And they got to be quarterback and they got to be running back and they got to catch the ball and run. And it gets a little hard to have your boy look you in the eye and say, “Why don’t I get to play, Mom?” (especially when you know you paid $140 for your kid to PLAY!)

At the end of the first game, the coach went around the circle and told every single boy what he noticed about their play during the game. “S, way to get the flag that time.” “J, excellent run, you had great speed today.” “The medal goes to JL for that end-of-the game interception.” And when he got to Super Tall Guy who was last, he said, “Um, you man, you have two eyes.” Ouch. Now there’s a self-esteem builder. Two eyes. Fortunately Super Tall Guy is not socially savvy enough to know that he was just offended – but his mother is.

So, the next week, I decided to double check my perception. I grabbed a notecard and a Sharpie from the gym bag and recorded who was off the field in the first half. Kid #15 was on the sideline for 16 plays (his mom said he asked her if he could play his DS — I mean, really?!? The kid is sitting on the grass for so long that he wants to play a video game because he’s bored!)  #29  was out 11 times, Super Tall Guy was out 9 times….and the two coaches’ sons stayed in the entire half.

Don’t mess with Mama Bear.

Being much more bold than I almost EVER am, I marched right up (timidly) to that 6 ft- 4 in muscular giant and said, “Coach, you are not rotating the kids evenly. Some of them are spending a lot of time on the sidelines” and I showed him the card. My heart pounded!! He looked down at me and said, “I play them only if they are paying attention and every kid gets to carry the ball once.” Once? That’s football?! You get to touch the ball one time?!  And you want 8 year olds to sit on the sideline and learn by watching? I believe developmental research indicates that children learn by doing! Heck – most adults learn by doing!

Shaking from the interaction, I returned to the other side of the field and watched Super Tall Guy get out on the field at least a little a bit more that week. Over the rest of the season, though, he was called up mostly when the team was on defense (he’s a solid mass, probably seems more intimidating than his actual flag-pulling ability). And if he got on the field for offense, he got to snap the ball – and get his one carry. Not only did Super Tall Guy notice this, but the coaches of the teams we played against also noticed that the talented players played more.

Believe me, I’m not naive. I understand sports. I know that you’re not going to be able to

play if you’re goofing around. I know you have to work hard. And some day, if my boys want to try out for a school team and expect to play in the games, they are going to have to figure it out. I won’t be coddling them. But for this season, I invested in this particular sports league because of its promise to be non-competitive, to focus on the joy of the game and learning all aspects of the game, and to play every kid an equal amount of time. I want my boys to have fun. I want Super Tall Guy to feel like he is part of a team. I want him to look forward to the games.

Super Tall Guy has played two other seasons in this league. He’s not dumb. He knows this isn’t right or fair. But he also can’t quite figure this out in words. He can’t express the disappointment he’s feeling. And he’s certainly too shy to try to talk to a coach. Until he learns how to stand up for himself and be able to demand what he is due – until that day, then it is my job.

I do not like confrontation. I am a peace-maker. But I will also fight for fairness and justice for my boys, for your boys, for your girls, for all children.

I asked Super Tall Guy to write a thank you note to each coach as we do every season the boys play. He wrote it willingly, sealed the envelops and addressed them to “Coack” (spelling his own). I know the coaches volunteer. I am grateful for their willingness to share their time and talent. I truly am. But I will also hold them to a high standard when they touch the life of a child.

Sure glad to be done with this season. Tiger Sports Mom is moving on.

Unpacking I love you

In the middle of the field, I stopped a running Micah, knelt down in front of him and tucked in his football shirt before replacing the flag belt around his waist. In that split second of not even thinking about it, I said “I love you.”

Sometimes I wonder if the boys know how much is packed into those 3 little words.

If they know that the “I” is me, a woman who has given up so much of what I used to know and do in order to become someone so completely new and different that sometimes I don’t even recognize myself. Do they know that responding to the word “Mommy” is second nature now, but at one point I actually struggled with having a new name….and a new identity. That I could tell them everything they ate today and the last time they brushed their teeth, but wouldn’t be able to answer many questions about myself.

Do they know that the “love” is so complete and so total – that when I say “forever, for always and no matter what” every night as I tuck them in bed…. that I actually mean that? And it doesn’t mean that I’m happy all the time or that I am at all pleased with them in those moments when they pee on the floor because they don’t want to clean up the toys….and yet I still love them. Sometimes Noah knows it – for when I was “displeased” with his behaviors at bedtime tonight and kept a frown on, he finally asked “are you ready to smile yet?” He knows the love is there….right there.

Can they understand that the “you” refers to the entire beautiful, delightful, energetic and winsome little boy that they are? That they are each unique and fantastic. That it is not based on anything except the fact that they are my Micah, Noah and Seth and that I love them.

motherhood

From Huffington Post

So when I look into Micah’s eyes and whisper “I love you,” I hold within me so much — he can’t even imagine the depth of the phrase. He doesn’t know that in the same moment, my brain is also saying “wow – this is hard.” That I’m wondering whether I’m doing the right thing.  Even in the small things – do I have him in the right sports at this time? Is he getting out of it what he needs to? How can I get him to stop fiddling with the mouth piece the entire time he’s on the field and maybe look up for a minute and see if he should be catching a ball.

And in the big things when I worry about what school they will go to? When I wonder if I’m balancing work and mothering at the right level? When I silently thank God that my children are so healthy as I walk through the hospital hallway ?

Yesterday was the party for Micah’s 7th birthday. A friend who has four boys all around the same age and I sat on the side of the sandbox and talked for a bit in between dodging flying scoops of sand and settling property-rights disputes. She said “sometimes I wonder if I had to do it all over again, would I?” I know those words and those thoughts. I know that mothering is my greatest challenge.  I know the struggle of trying to do what’s right for the boys and yet not knowing really what that is. I know the weariness.  I have also started to remind myself – shortly around the time that I’m reminding myself to be jello – that it should get better in another couple years – once they can all use words instead of intonation to get their points across, are able to handle personal hygiene without my assistance physically or in repetitive verbal prompts, and when 5 minutes of quiet within the house does not herald a serious sense of foreboding and impending doom.

Yes, I know the weariness.

Sometimes in my work in setting up a crisis nursery as a break for stressed families, I use an analogy that I recently heard – families in stressful situations are trying to get a sip of water out of a gushing fire hydrant. They want a simple drink, but life is coming at them so fast and so hard that there’s no chance of stabilizing, making a good decision, or reflecting on how to make the right changes and do the right thing.

Then I look up and see the fire hydrant right in front of me.