Team Mom

Moms everywhere feel like a glacier has been dumped on their heads, and they have responded by sitting dazed and numb, or by spinning around in circles, or by yelping in protest and running out of view. Not because they joined the ice bucket challenge . . . but because the fall season has decked the lazy days of summer off the home-front with the force of a Luke Kuechly CPI Security tackle. With the new school year fall activities explode on the scene– and with my two, that means sports.

Not that the athletics ever really stopped, mind you. The minute the spring season ends there are American Ninja Warrior competitions in the pool, sports-related summer camps, spunky-themed 5ks, optional team practices, and impromptu pick-up games in the neighborhood. All culminating with sign-ups in August . . . for the distant winter basketball season, of course.

For my two active (wild), competitive (pugnacious) boys, participation in this world is probable. I, on the other hand, am like an alien navigating a new planet as we produce official birth certificates for sign-ups and get fitted for cleats and Map app vaguely familiar high school fields.

This turn of events fits quite nicely with my current personal life theme of IRONIC, as reflected in my fashion, art, and home décor. And now this: the hippie chick at heart has kids playing for teams called Hammer Down and Orange Crush.

I am not athletic.

When I was in elementary school I intersected briefly and tragically with a T-ball team, the Owls (clearly doomed from the get-go) and there was only one truly great thing to come out of that experience: my brother’s impression of me getting hit in the face with a ground ball while playing shortstop. His parody comes complete with sound effects (bat to ball, ball to face, subsequent high-pitched squeal, call for time out and ice application).

It may be an exaggeration to claim that I was hit at every game, but it did happen multiple times. Clearly my drama was . . . well, inspiring. So glad to have made such a memorable contribution to my team.

Things have not improved much since the third grade. Take the recent Sundae Run at Carmel Middle School this summer. My husband and oldest had a strong showing in the 5k, finishing in 18th and 19th place, while I was a close third at . . . 96th.

You would have thought the promise of ice cream at the finish line would have improved my showing significantly, but no. This reveals a saving grace, though, in our sports-related scene – that my husband is all that I am not in this realm. The man has skills.

Too bad he’s not always the one driving the team bus/minivan. I am like the Talking Heads asking myself, Well, how did I get here?

But it isn’t really a mystery. I have been in training, so to speak, for this role since my boys were toddlers and began to climb the walls of my house, jumping across the room via the tops of the furniture.

I don’t think I have gone a full day in the past 10 years without a ball or other random object whizzing past my head. The pictures on my wall are permanently askew thanks to the indoor basketball games that have turned the upstairs hallway between bedrooms into a makeshift court.

So to play, or not to play . . . that is the question. I worry about the time commitment and a culture of aggression and all of the research about concussions.

In fact, I was cataloging these concerns to my mother over the phone when I glanced outside and saw my children walking across the top of our six-foot tall fence like a tightrope. It occurred to me that when they play for a team at least they are outfitted in protective gear.

So we are off to the races, and the soccer games, and the football fields. We are part of organized sporting events.

And here’s the thing: It can be pretty great.

These beautiful fall days are near perfect, and it doesn’t get much better than cheering for your kid’s team with the warm sun on your shoulders, surrounded by friends and family. The kids seem to revel in the sheer physicality of the task at hand; they are fast, and sometimes smart, and often fearless.

As the sweat runs off their faces and the mud cakes their cleats it is clear: they are happy.

I realize I have a lot to learn from the sports world, and not just because I told someone last week that my son plays mouth guard on his football team. I think this offers a whole new way to make sense of my family, and goodness knows I need all the help I can get there.

So in this series I will examine our family playbook with the eye of the tiger . . . mother. Maybe in the end I will improve my record significantly, and my teammates will learn the lesson I embraced long ago: it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Bess Kercher, M.A. lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons.