Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Hate Sports, Which Is Why I Make My Kids Play Them

“Hey, let’s go sign up for summer baseball!”

“No thank you!”

Well, at least he was polite about it.

“Wait - you want to do baseball this summer, don’t you?”

“No, I want to play video games.”

“Well, you have to do more this summer than play video games.”

“Then I’ll read.”

It’s at this point that I start getting nervous.

Oh, no, I thought. He’s turning into me.


This will shock absolutely none of you that know me, but I’m not a sports fan. To be more precise, I’m not a fan of sports that others are playing, nor a fan of playing them myself. Yes, I’ll happily watch tennis matches or hockey games or even football (which I only came to appreciate after watching the entire Friday Night Lights series several times), but overall I have nothing invested in them, especially not my own body. Just ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Despite this overall indifference, I’ve found myself with children who are involved in sports. Well, involved might be too strong of a word. They dabble.

Even dabbling, though, is more commitment than I expect my children would have to athletics. Between my husband and I, our offspring should actually have negative athletic ability.

Year-round, the boys do recreational gymnastics. We’re lucky enough to have a friend who owns an incredible gym, so that one is a no-brainer. We’ve also tried recreational soccer, t-ball, and tae kwon do, and they’ve also done skateboarding camp. The boys have been on more formal teams for baseball, soccer and, currently, swimming. I think we might try tennis lessons this summer…

This list is starting to sound ridiculous. My kids are six and they’ve already tried half a dozen sports, yet they’ve never had a music lesson. Oops.

How did this happen? Part of it is just me wanting to make sure my kids can do this sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong; my parents really couldn’t have coaxed me into a sport as a small child even if their lives depended on it. But as I grew up, I wished for the structure and for the physical aspect of sports, not to mention the camaraderie of the team. 

I’ve felt my whole life like the person who can’t, and maybe shouldn’t, run/bike/jump/etc. Like the person who only has a body because it’s required and not because I’m comfortable using it in any challenging way. I feel a certain thrill when I see my child swinging on the rings 20 feet above the floor at gymnastics or diving into the pool lanes at swimming. These are things I never, ever have done (and, let’s face it, unless there are sudden, major changes to my personality, I likely never will). I wish I had started at least attempting athletic endeavors as a small child, just so it wouldn't feel so foreign today.

So as an adult, I find sports is an excellent way to force my children to live my own forgotten dreams. I’m such a cliché!

A friend recently pulled her child from a sport, as her child was not happy doing it. She confessed that she was afraid her child would be left behind years from now. When all of her child’s friends were cheering each other from the bench, her child would be left on the sidelines.

If I’m honest with myself, that’s my fear, too. And it’s a foolish fear. I know that my children will somehow find a way on their own, doing what fills their hearts and finding others that share their enthusiasm. No telling what it might be. But for now I’m going to put opportunities in front of them and nudge them in certain directions. Maybe something will click for the long term, and they won’t feel like the athletic pariah that I’ve always been.

And the kid who showed no interest in another dozen evenings in the outfield? He changed his mind in the amount of time it took to walk to the registration table. Add another season of baseball to the list.

Monday, February 6, 2012

French Parenting, or, It's Not Just The Wine

It turns out I’m more French than I thought.

Technically, my bloodlines are 50% French. I’ve always been a bit of a Francophile, thanks to the exchange students my parents welcomed into our home during my childhood and the wine, art and beauty of the trips I’ve made there. That’s not where the affinity ends, apparently.

For some reason I couldn't find any of my photo albums on my computer from previous trips to France.
 I did, however, find this. Someone was playing with Photo Booth.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece all about how French parents differ from American parents. Delving into the French parenting style, the writer notes a few things – letting babies cry, saying no, delaying gratification, and other basic principles the French tend to follow- are the key to being a chill, laissez-faire parent.

I wondered, of course, how the French feel about having yet another item on the List of Ways We Are Superior to Americans, just below universal health care and just above champagne.   

But then I realized that when it comes to parenting, I’m more French than I am American. I just thought it was called “ignoring your children.”

When my twins were infants, the county would send a social worker to my home once a month for a few hours to give me parenting tips and to answer my questions (that sounds pretty French, now that I think about it). A typical American may have refused such big-brother-ish services, but I wasn’t typical. I was the wearied, depressed mother of two infants, and I was vaguely interested in making sure I wasn’t doing everything wrong. Mostly, though, I just wanted to talk to a grownup. If the county hadn’t sent someone, I would have invited in someone strolling down my street just to have another adult voice.

During one of the social worker’s visits, I put the babies down for a nap. As was normal behavior, they cried. They screamed. The social worker wanted me to let it go, said they were safe and tired, and that they would certainly run out of steam without my intervention. She practically had to physically restrain me from going in to save them. I didn’t go in. And 22 minutes later, they stopped.

I’m not sure I would have been the kind of parent able to let my kids cry it out on my own. Once I did, I was hooked on trying to make my kids more independent. Especially if it meant I could be more independent.

I noticed over the years that my behavior was unusual. For me, play dates have always been about adult chats occasionally interrupted by smoothing out the occasional child conflict. Other parents, however, would be on the floor, ready to act out an entire scene from Toy Story when requested. Some parents wouldn’t speak an entire sentence to me, for fear Junior would be ignored.

It’s not that I ignore my kids, exactly. But I don’t really play with my kids much, and I never have. I’m just not that kind of mom. When sibling spats break out, I say, “Work it out.” Liberal use of the word “no” happens here. I know what my kids are doing, I just am not the one necessarily doing it with them. It’s not that I won’t play Star Wars with them if they ask. Maybe because they know mom is a selfish, selfish woman, they don’t ask. Or maybe it’s because I’ve instilled in them the idea that they can do it on their own.

Here I thought I was just being a crappy mom. Nope. I’m just French.