I played team sports and participated in individual sport from age 8 to 18 [soccer, swimming, cross country, track] and had mostly positive experiences along the way, BUT.
I am not a huge fan of sports-turning-into-life type metaphor. I do not follow most major national team sports that others find so appealing in the United States. I love the camaraderie of team sports, and to some degree the competition. The trust and intimacy developed on the field or track is either painstakingly or easily achieved, and often both experiences result in a life-realizing space where one begins to understand, challenge, accept and push through one’s limits emotionally and physiologically. The benefits of being a member of a team – a recognized, respected member – are many.
The drawbacks seem few. In fact, the one sport in which I did my best but far from excelled was swimming. I still swim today, but not for speed (I couldn’t be fast if I tried). I don’t have the motivation by myself in the water to go much faster than is comfortable. Though I knew there were teammates out of the water cheering me, it didn’t feel much like “team” to me. I know many swimmers would disagree, but I always felt slow and a bit lonely in the water as part of a team. It wasn’t until I swam on my own – as an adult with children – that I learned to treasure the silence of the swim. My experience in open water remains limited, but those river swims have been exceptional.
The cold water, the rush as one jumps in as a group, and the fear I feel as I wonder at the last minute what the hell I am doing and if I will make it, and not come in last.
Team sports aren’t for everyone.
My kids were born with a streak of competition running through their tiny veins. Pumped up, they are fast, peppered with bruises, and give tough guy looks like the best of them. Not until today did I once think, hmmm, what if I had given birth to a girl child?
A sweet darling who would wear pink and lavender and not plunge their hands up to their elbows into the mud puddle at the corner as we walked to the store? A young thing who would smile and listen and tilt her head to the side when I suggest doing something like drawing or writing or reading quietly… taking a break from the nearly constant jumpingrunningtumblingcrashingcryingscreamingrollingleapingclimbing game that is their full time job right now?!?!
I’m so tired sometimes.
It’s no secret that our youngest, our to-the-MAX, is a handful times four. He is age three, and then some. He antagonizes his older brother to no end. He is charming and sweet and a good sleeper. He grazes throughout the day, preferring sweets but crunchy baby carrots will do if he is given no other option. I’m trying to focus on the good stuff, because the bad stuff is making us crazy.
Love ’em. Hate ’em. Don’t understand ’em.
Like most of us, I grew up in a pack. I get that our youngest is in the pack and that he is struggling to find his place. So many of us never stop struggling. We stretch and sigh and critique ourselves in the mirror. We lash out at each other when we’re feeling sad, hopeless or cranky, instead of pulling ourselves closer together, and choosing a kinder approach to temper worry, embrace fear and mediate stress.
Can three-year-olds be stressed out?
My answer is an unequivocal yes. They are stressed because sometimes they don’t have time to get to the potty. Or because they cannot have more cookies. And definitely because they are not allowed to choose their own bedtime or bathtime. And so I get to give him choices. Pick your own shirt (any one, for the love of God, but just PICK one!). Pick out what you would like me to read. Choose your snack: banana or apples (drown out pleas for chips). But yes, you HAVE to hold my hand while crossing the street. And no, you CANNOT write with permanent marker on your hands (never mind Mama has a tattoo).
Yes, my son is stressed, stressful, and stress-inspiring multiple times per day. But he is also a sparkling burst of sunlight, a courageous climber of trees and furniture, a skinny and wriggly bundle of energy that sometimes has no place to go except in his tiny balled fists as he rages at the lack of independence he experiences at age three.
We are the pack. Family life is a team sport, as is parenting. Sometimes my kids run with the ball. Often one or both parents fumble. We acknowledge when stuff really hurts, or when someone’s just a diver. I love my team, this pack of testosterone-filled pretending-more-often-than-not to be racing cheetahs, roaring dinosaurs, and sometimes very sweet and gentle kittens. They are my team sport for life, my reason to continue to challenge myself into becoming a better human being.
A more honest person. A better listener, a more available friend, a more patient wife and mom, a kinder sister and daughter.
A tougher woman.
A more creative soul.
A person who knows that by teaching my sons to play together nicely (the hardest thing ON EARTH right now) and that winning isn’t everything and sometimes refs suck and that you just have to get up and keep on going and being a family is the RIGHT thing to do.
I know that someday my sons will be older and I’ll have to answer questions that make me remember and reflect on heartbreaking injustice happening right in our own backyards and scary lands like Florida and I think one day I’ll need to talk about the really tough stuff and not repeat endlessly that popsicles are not for breakfast nor can anyone opt out of brushing their teeth.
And I consider that one day my sons might be raising tiny tumbling people, too, boys OR girls, and I think, okay, we’re playing a respectable game so far.