Randi Olin and Lauren Apfel offer different points of view on attending their kids’ school and sporting events. You can read Lauren’s essay here.
By Randi Olin
I’m sitting at my son’s baseball game, the fourth one I’ve been to in five days. My husband has left work early to come, my son isn’t even pitching, and all I am thinking is: why am I here?
Deep down, however, I know exactly why. It just feels right; it’s who I am as a parent. Whether his team is playing home or away, whether or not my son himself actually takes the field, I rearrange my day to make sure I can attend. So that I can support the team, and support my son. And because I enjoy chatting with the other parents on the sidelines.
But on a recent afternoon, as the sky began to turn the color of smoke, I was reminded of an article I had read about watching our kids play sports, and it made me wonder whether I am guilty of treating my son’s games as yet another childhood performance we overinflate with importance and whether there’s something more to my self-inflicted expectation to attend every single one.
When my son was younger, in addition to attending all of the parent-inclusive events, I’d volunteer at his elementary school—to update classroom bulletin boards, or as an extra hand in the school library. I’d carve out time to assist in the cafeteria at lunchtime, or help his teacher with a first-grade math lesson. I did it because I wanted to help out, but also because I wanted to catch a glimpse of my little boy “in action”—among his peers, in the classroom, away from home. It made me happy, fulfilled, and I had the time to do it. I was a stay-at-home mom, and my son was the younger of my two kids. He didn’t seem to mind my presence or involvement in the least. In fact, he too seemed to enjoy it.
But as he got older, the landscape of parental involvement shifted—there was no longer the same need or want for parents in the classroom, and the school events and themed celebrations dramatically dwindled. It was around that time when I came up for air from the early days of parenting, and became more focused on what I wanted to do, for myself, instead of revolving my days around one or both of my kids. Of course I still attended band concerts and back to school nights, and I volunteered here and there, but mostly I pulled back, especially with the extra things, and I became less involved.
Yet lately I find myself in a unique place, like the pivot of a seesaw. My son plays high school baseball, my daughter is away at college. He is here, she is there. And I am balancing somewhere in between, knowing full well what lies ahead: zero games and school events I will have the option to attend.
These days I have the luxury of going to all of my son’s games, without worry or concern, because I have only one child left at home; no one is waiting for dinner anymore, or for help with homework. I am not juggling various activities and carpools. No little people are hanging on me on the sidelines, demanding my attention or snacks. I can sit in my worn-in spectator chair, the same one I used for many years at my daughter’s swim meets, and take it all in—and it doesn’t matter whether my boy takes the mound, or he sits in the dugout, because in a few years I will no longer have the opportunity to sit field-side to watch him playing—anything.
There are afternoons I just don’t feel like going, but I still force myself to get there, even if I have to schlep to a field an hour away, during rush hour. I know this means I am neglecting my own life—especially now that I have a job—and putting his ahead of mine. And with multiple games per week, it means extra work on weekends and evenings to catch up for lost time. But I am ok with all of that. I am here to support my son’s interest, one of his own choosing.
I do wonder though, who am I doing it for, going to all these games. Is it for him, or for me? Rarely do I know the inning or the score. I can never accurately discuss the details of the game with him afterwards. Yet my son knows that I am there, my presence has registered with him in a single look, a two second connection between us. And it feels neglectful when I can’t make it to a game, for a less than worthy reason: unless it is a pressing work deadline or an appointment I cannot cancel without penalty, I will be there. The idea of my son scanning the stands for my face and not finding it is a horrifying thought, a cross I cannot seem to bear.
Yet I am not implying that loving our children is equivalent to being a constant audience for them. On the contrary, my presence is simply a way to stay actively involved during what is already an alienating time for us. This is something I’ve learned through experience, having been here before with my older daughter.
As parents of teens, giving support to our children’s interests by showing up, whether we fully understanding the specifics of how the game is played, or why our kids have chosen this particular hobby or sport, demonstrates our acknowledgement of who they are, and that we “see” them. This is quite different from “overreaching” or “typical modern day parenting.” For us, it is part of our family fabric. I don’t need to ask “do you really want me to be there?” It has always been our family ethos, to try our best to be there, and both kids have adapted accordingly.
Much has changed for me and my son since the Mother’s Day concerts and Flag Day assemblies of his early childhood. I don’t get to attend those types of school events anymore. This particular chapter of my son’s life will soon be coming to an end—which I suppose is precisely the reason I want to be as present as possible for what’s left of it.
Randi Olin is co-founder and executive editor of Motherwell. She has attended 19 out of the 20 baseball games of her son’s most recent high school season. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.