Last month was my mom inauguration into the world of kids’ “team sports.” I was more of a “mathlete” than an athlete in school. In fact, JV club cheerleading for a season (a disaster) and managing the high school volleyball team for a bit were as close as I came to a playing field. Ever. Unless dating a football player or two and powder puff games count. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget all of those times I was picked last for kickball in fifth grade. What can I say, I was a short and scrawny 9-year-old. I could run pretty fast though. My friend Melanie Z. always beat the boys squarely in the Presidential Fitness test distance runs — but I was usually the second-place girl. Somehow, that made me feel a little better. I didn’t pursue track, or any sport after that really. Mostly, it was difficult for my single mom to manage the cost and schedules that athletics required. And, I didn’t have a love of sports that compelled me to push for it.
Fast forward 20 years and here we are. You know the stereotype – middle-class suburban family, minivan, three kids and counting. We’re surrounded by families who live and breathe sports in our tight-knit community. Their three-year-olds are playing. Moms and dads are coaching. They l-o-v-e it. It is part of the fabric of what makes their families tick.
Somehow, I have never been able to feign excitement about waking up on a Saturday (especially in the winter) and spending the morning watching my 5-year-old run up and down a court, or a field or swimming in a pool while my toddlers sit idly by (who are we kidding, screaming like banshees and spilling goldfish and milk all over the floor). My aversion, in large part, is because I’ve been a military spouse with a deployed (or unavailable) husband since our oldest was eligible for team sports. And partly because, dare I say it, I just don’t enjoy watching sports that much. Yeah, even my own kidlets (now that’s honesty).
So, in my quest to produce a “well-rounded” child with minimal impact to the family, our go-to sport was karate. For me, it was the perfect sport! First, he loved it. Second, it is indoors. Third, we go twice a week for 30-minutes a pop. Fourth, NO games (ever). No weekend commitments. Fifth, my toddlers could run and play during the lessons. Sixth, he made “sports” friends. And finally, they get cool incentives like belts and patches. Who needs trophies or team pictures when you can kick, and shout and get a “listening” patch for obeying your sensei? Oh wait, there’s one more, a sport that teaches discipline and respect. Sign the rest of the family up too! Unfortunately, 15-month-olds were not eligible.
Somewhere between white-belt and red, I watched my darling, newly athletic son crumple to the floor in a heap when he didn’t win a relay race. Again and again. Someone was a sore loser. Of course we would have talks about winning–and the point of it all. That’s supposed to be fun, right? But, at-home monopoly games still ended in tears when you-know-who wasn’t the victor.
After every karate practice, said oldest child would get to toss basketballs in the gym. This became such a favorite activity that he was just as excited to play basketball afterward as he was to go to karate. He asked to join a basketball team.”We’ll see, honey,” I said, which pretty much meant, “Not a snowball’s chance in, err…summer.”
Gah. One child, two sports at once. I could see where this was headed. We will have four children soon. That could be eight sporting events a week and we will never enjoy a Saturday again. Or quite possibly a weeknight either since that means at least eight practices. Wait, there aren’t even enough days for all of the practices. No way. Not us. Not ever.
Of course, we caved. Well, I caved. My husband is an avid sports player/fan. He loves basketball and tennis and grew up playing everything that he could. Of course, “our kids should have the same opportunities.” We disagree a bit here, but since we only have one kid on a team, the games are walking distance from our house, and dad could help with the schlepping, we decided to give it a go. So one practice a week and one hour of Saturday morning for 12 weeks is filled with dribbling and shooting and passing (and toddler sideline crying and spilling and goldfish eating). And hopefully, one child learning that playing with a team is fun and winning isn’t everything and shaking the other guys’ hands after a game is the polite thing to do. OK. It’s three months. I can do this. After all. those life lessons could be a pretty good return on what amounts to 24 hours of basketball (as long as I can tune out “ultra-competitive sideline coaching dad”, who I still don’t think has realized we don’t actually keep score in the pee-wee games).
Then came the snacks.
After the first game, we hugged our sweaty, red-faced five- and six-year-olds. Then they ran to the snack table. Capri Suns and Lays Potato Chips?!
Nothing says after-sports refreshment like salt, oil and high-fructose corn syrup. Well, at least they were happy, we survived with minimal toddler cleanup and the entire Saturday wasn’t wrecked.
Next week, fruit-roll-ups and some kind of fake Juice Box.
A few weeks later it was my turn to be “snack mom,” — a title I was previously pretty confident I wouldn’t be holding anytime soon. Now, I was in trouble. What do you do when you won’t sacrifice your food values to buy juice boxes and junk food for kids that expect it? Make the packaging pretty and hope for the best.
Our snack: kid-sized bottled waters, a few pretzels, a natural yogurt squeeze pop and an organic kids snack bar, all packed in a paper bag with a team logo printed on it (definitely a compromise to the grapes, carrots and hummus I originally considered). When snack time came, you would have thought it was Halloween. They loved the bags — and there was nary a complaint about the snacks. In fact, they gobbled them up. I guess that was a slam dunk.
I’m still new to the sports mom thing. And, I can’t say I’m embracing it yet or that we’ll continue year-round. Yes, I’m sure we will allow each of our children to participate in sports as they express an interest. But, all four playing at the same time? I’m not so sure. One of the great things about homeschooling is not over-scheduling our family and making quality time a priority. I don’t want to be a stressed-out mom who lives in her mini-van while we don’t get to enjoy the best of each other — at least not now. We’ll take life as it comes and evaluate what schedules work for the stage our family is in.
Meanwhile, here are some paper bag templates I whipped up for generic snack bags to disguise your less-than-junky after game snacks (Yes, you can print on brown paper lunch bags! Just feed the bag flap side up into the printer and Voila!). My first team mom creation: