It’s that time of year where women like me (and their long-suffering husbands) watch You’ve Got Mail and sigh for 90 minutes straight. We buy bouquets of pencils and take back to school pictures and meet the teachers. We start drinking Pumpkin Spiced Lattes (I've had two this week) and lighting our Pumpkin Spiced Candles and searching for Pumpkin Spiced Everything on the internet.
It’s a magical time of winds changing and fresh starts and all the glorious autumnal things that make suffering through summer worth it.
(Or if you’re in Ireland, “suffering” through the three weeks of summer in July, which isn’t really suffering because it’s windy and in the high 70s and you’re 20 minutes from frolicking at the beach or the mountains or the country, so when Autumn actually comes you’re surprised because you haven’t sweated through your skinny jeans yet. But I digress.)
It’s also that time of year when I suffer from what I like to call Athletic Mom Guilt. What is that, you say? It’s the force of shame that is self-afflicted by mothers who have not the stamina, nor the desire to encourage (or coerce) their children to participate in team sports.
Pitches (fields) that were blissfully empty all summer long are now filled with young footballers and cheering parents and we are at home doing Pokémon battles and playing hide and seek with the dog.
First off, I have to be honest: athletic prowess? We just don’t have it. With the exception of Ella who just runs full stop, and Asher, who likes soccer until he picks it up with his hands and runs away, we’re just not all that interested, nor do our bodies seem to be made for it.
The apple, also, does not fall from the tree. And if it does, it gets bruised up pretty easily.
Clumsy genes come from both of my parents, which implies I should be wearing a helmet and knee pads at all times. I’ve passed this “gift” on to two out of three children who are prone to falling, tripping, dropping, tipping or flipping over anything at any given moment. This in itself is amazing and, at least to me, signifies that this is how God made us and He does not want us to do any more damage to our tender bodies through organized sports.
One of my children, who shall remain nameless, played Upward (church basketball, for those not in the know) at age 8. He really loved it, but what he loved most was cheering his friends on, skipping around a bit, dressing in a uniform and the post-game snacks. He did make one miracle basket, a buzzer beater in his very first game. It was so glorious, in fact, that it was never to be repeated again.
Another child, also nameless, joined her big brother for Tae Kwon Do/self-defense classes for the better part of a year. Even though she had a brief, adorable fling with Camogie, she says she doesn’t need to do sports anymore because “I’m fast” and “I already know how to defend myself” and “I can kick strangers.” So…
The last one, our wee lad, is the final hope. He’s got plenty of energy and seems keen on anything involving a ball, but I feel like it’s too soon to introduce him to the world of competition and defeat. Activity is all joy for this one. I’m afraid to dilute it with scoring systems and injustice. Also, he doesn’t handle rejection all that well. Last week his Blue table didn’t get the Friday prize at school. This week, the Blue table did get the prize, but he had been moved early on in the week to the Orange table. Inconsolable, I tell you.
But… what if I’m doing irreparable damage to them by not encouraging them outside their lazy comfort zones? (Sure enough, just this week we had a troubling teasing incident wherein classmates somehow suddenly realized my child was not adept at scoring.) What if they’re missing out on friendships and teachable moments and perseverance by not playing sports?
Athletics here (and back home in the US) is such a huge part of the culture. Are we keeping them from fully investing in life here? Are we the lazy ones, not wanting to make that big of a thing out of it?
We aren't morally opposed to sports. The children we know and love who actively participate are perfectly well and thriving. They're not home in front of the telly everyday (in fairness, we wait till homework is done and rooms are clean – I’m not a monster!), but they’re exercising and learning discipline and self-control.
I want my children to experience those things, too. I just don’t want to pay a coach and a league and drive all over the country every weekend to do it. I’d rather take them to the beach and let them climb rocks, or drive into the mountains and hike a trail by a hidden lake (with first aid, of course; see above).
I want them to explore the beautiful outdoors of this gorgeous island, and I want us to be the ones to show them. But, they won’t get trophies or a cheer from the crowd for that.
And maybe, that’s where the Athletic Mom Guilt comes from.
I can only cheer so loud.
* * *
What say you? I posted a Facebook status lamenting a few of these things and I was immensely relieved to see a few parents felt the same way. If you are in the team sports sphere, are you happy there? If not, is the trade-off worth it? And what activities do you replace sports with?