Monday, March 03, 2014
It’s funny how certain connections get made in our brains. I passed the parking lot outside the indoor facility where Bryce and Robbie played for a decade. The lot was always full in the winter with plenty of late comers circling. We parked there at least twice a week and often as many as six times a week. Now the lot still fills with cars, but our car wasn’t included. It has no need to be. And that little fact made me wistful. Somehow life was marching on leaving just memories in its wake.
How often have any of us remarked when we hear the name of a college or pro player announced and wonder if he or she is related to another player we used to watch. Amazingly, we discover it’s a son or daughter of the player, and we feel ancient. How did this happen? That 19-year-old we cheered can’t possibly have a child old enough to play in college — after all, we’re not that old. But it’s true. The generations continue to expand. The time our kids play in any one era, be it youth soccer, travel team, high school and/or college, never takes up more than four or five years. So we flow seamlessly into each chapter, until suddenly, the book is over. Other books open up. Our children will graduate from college, get jobs, find a spouse, have kids and need us to babysit. Yet, there is something really vacant in our souls when soccer is over.
I think we invest a lot into our kids’ sports, even more than in their schooling, because we experience most of that sport life first hand. I don’t imagine most of us attend our kids’ schools every day, peering over their shoulders as they complete tests, sitting in the back of the room shouting, “Way to go” as they answer a discussion question, muttering at the teacher if we feel he has wrongly disciplined our child, or buying our students Quantum Physics spirit wear. On the other hand, we intimately share the ups, downs, ins and outs of our children’s youth sports. When the sports end, there’s a void that must mimic empty nest syndrome (though I have yet to experience that as our children insist on returning home in leap frog manner!).
In all the other phases of our children’s lives, we are looking forward to the next phase. We welcome graduation because it means, we hope, that our children will be ready to take on employment. We welcome employment because it signals a commitment to independence. We definitely welcome their marriages since we will gain another beloved family member and because it hopefully means we will soon be grandparents. I can speak from about that journey having watched it unfold with our daughters. They were more traditional — school, graduation, jobs, marriage, children. Deana had been a dancer and wanted to act, but ended up changing colleges and becoming a fashion merchandizer. Now she runs fashion merchandizing for a worldwide company, travels to exotic locations and loves what she does. Shane went to work for the Minnesota Twins, married, had children, and became a stay at home mom. At each step, I didn’t experience any voids because the phases segued one into the other like a seamless ribbon of accomplishments.
When sports end there isn’t the next sports phase to look forward to. It’s just over and we have to move on to the more customary life paths. Maybe that’s why we get so anxious about our kids making the travel team and the high school team and being recruited to play in college. We have hopes of them turning pro. We want so badly for this to be our child’s journey for years to come. Life phases happen naturally and generally on an anticipated timetable. Our kids may not get into the dream college, but they will get into college. They may not get a Wall Street job, but they will get a job that satisfies and supports them. They will find a soul mate and that may lead to children whether naturally, in vitro, or adopted. The options are all open and all possible. That’s not the case with sports, yet we want a future in sports to be just as conceivable and predictable. Unfortunately, we have very little control over those next steps. So much is dictated by talent, luck and exposure.
What happens when the sports don’t end? Not necessarily what you would expect. Our oldest son just signed a pro contract with an indoor soccer team. Be careful what you wish for. His pay is so low that he has had to move out of his apartment back home and we’re supporting the kid again! People, however, remain impressed, which is wonderful for him. Getting there has been a long struggle, and staying there will be even more of a struggle. However, we, his parents, can take little credit. Sure we schlepped him to practices, games and tournaments, bought thousands of dollars in clothing and gear, flew him to tryouts, and listened to his anguish as opportunities evaporated when they seemed so sure. But that’s what parents do. Making the pro level was totally on him. He persevered, sacrificed, dealt with adversity, kept his body at fighting fit, and worked every network he could. We didn’t do that. My point is that in a way this is the natural progression of his life, but it happens to not follow the usual path. He still has to finish his last year of college. He can’t even think about marriage or children at this juncture. He’s opted to follow a life route that will eventually result in all the things our children accomplish, but he has to take some detours before getting there.
Living the life of an athlete may seem glamorous, just like living the life of an actor or a musician, but truthfully it is just plain hard work with little monetary reward. All their satisfaction comes from personal achievement. When we went to the first game for which he suited up, I felt oddly distant from the experience, as if I had entered his office and was watching him doing his job. It was completely different than the youth soccer experience including high school and college. In those games I was sitting with parents who had the same investment in their children succeeding as I did in my son. We were a fraternity bonded by our allegiance to our children’s team. Now I was in a huge arena filled with strangers who cheered and jeered without regard to those players being someone’s offspring. My pride at his success was no different than any parent’s pride in a diploma or a new job. But with that pride came a void. I was no longer that partner in his development. I was a spectator.
He’s at practice right now. I’m not involved in any way even though he is practicing in the same facility with that parking lot. I won’t be pulling my car into a slot after letting him out at the door. I won’t be walking into the indoor park to lean over the balcony and observe his practice. And I won’t be gathering him up afterwards to listen to his chatter about good and bad play on the way home. The only thing that will remain the same for now is that I end up washing his sweaty practice clothes! But life has marched on with his soccer becoming the same professional phase as attending graduate school or getting a job.
Bryce had this dream that he announced after a brutal loss when he was 8 years old. I expected him to leave the field dejected, but he was oddly effusive. “I want to do this all my life!” Yeah, yeah, right. Don’t all kids look at Lionel Messi or Abby Wambach and dream of being them? But, as a parent, I did what I could to support that hope. Nevertheless, with all the carpools, private coaching, competitive teams, top tournaments and a private college that cost four times more than his scholarship, it ended up being Bryce’s choice to dig in and do what was necessary to get to the goal. Somewhere along that journey my role changed from personal to detached. My involvement had been intense and daily, just as all parents experience with soccer. Then eventually our participation morphs into a distant observer or evaporates all together with the end of soccer. It’s tough. Our dream may be that our kids continue to play, but the longer they play the less they need us to be a part of the process. So in achieving the dream, they naturally push us out of the game. That’s what has to happen because getting to the top has to be a personal commitment unfettered from anything we parents want. That leaves us circling the lot without a reason to park.