Thursday, April 17, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: Parent and Time Traveler

Not really sports, and so on.

I'm the youngest of three kids, the smaller of two boys, and the dramatically worse athlete. My older sibling is still active, post-50, in a rec ice hockey league. He's also got me by half a foot, was in the USMC for seven years, and was a borderline star at football and hockey back in his teens, before a lack of personal discipline (then, not now) sidetracked him. He's seven years older than me, and as the oldest kid of a single parent, had to drag me along to games with friends of his when I was, well, the youngest and clearly worst player on the field or court. He did what he could for me, insisted that I shake hands with the guys who crushed me, and instilled a love for sports, even though I had a real problem with the not being any good at them.

Working against me wasn't just my age. I've always been small; 33 pounds in kindergarten (that number stuck with me for some reason), with big '70s bifocals that eventually manifested themselves into a complete lack of depth perception. I'm quick, but not fast, and also not shifty. Not exactly a great thing for, say, hitting a baseball, making a catch, or breaking my man down, one on one. I'm determined, with good endurance, focus and tolerance for pain, but the actual ability has always been in short supply. I don't have a great deal of angst or regrets about this, as I think all men get to their Failed Jock moment in time. (Maybe my brother hasn't had his yet. It would explain much.) Mine just came earlier than most, so I was able to move on to school and business and family with more of a head start, but enough of the love of game and desire to lead in a team environment that translates to, well, the world.

It is, of course, different for girls.

My eldest is a very solid gymnast; one of the better performers at her gym, continually improving, fairly dedicated and conscious of being a good teammate. She is already better at her sport of choice than I was at any of mine, and while she's also short (we're not getting away from that part of the DNA, folks), this isn't exactly a drawback in her world. She's mostly avoided serious childhood mishap, hasn't spent much time in hospitals, and is as healthy as you could hope for 13 going on 14, and headstrong about, well, everything. (Feeding this kid has never been fun.)

Her sister? Her younger sister, her short and not as athletically gifted to date sister, who has had multiple overnight hospitalizations from breathing problems, who has always been a little more clumsy, and has other issues that I'm not going to get into here, because they are kind of private and not particularly germane to the conversation?

Well, not so much. But there are glimmers.

She's completed a couple of courses in swimming, and is pretty good at it -- not to the point of making me want to race her, but enough so that I don't freak out if she's in a pool with a deep end that's taller than she is. She's been taking soccer classes with kids that are at a younger age than her for a while, and tonight, got to graduate up to an actual league of 8 to 12 year olds... which is to say, not exactly cutthroat, but one where she's younger, smaller, and a lot less experienced than her teammates. Deep end of the pool.

So as I'm watching her, the ball getting stopped by big tufts of grass, everything coming off a dominant foot, operating slower, with less power and confidence in what she's doing than everyone else... and none of that matters, of course. What matters is that she listens to her coach, tries hard, gets better, and gets along with her teammates.

I will turn 45 in a little more than six weeks. The youngest will turn 9 in just over three months. And as I talked to her after practice, giving her my gentle pointers, talking about how she was getting better even in the course of the first hour, asking her about her teammates and, in general, doing everything I can to make sure she doesn't get discouraged and think about quitting... I realize that this, well, is what children do.

They make you time travelers.

But not always to the super fun times in your past...

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