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The Trauma of Childhood Sports

We had a little crisis this week. My five-year-old son Jafta has been begging to attend a basketball camp for the past three months, and I signed him up for one through our city for preschool-aged kids. All summer, he's been asking about it and counting down to when it would start. It was supposed to start Monday. On Saturday, I got a call telling me it had been canceled.

I found myself with two options:
1) completely crush my son and have him mope about it endlessly until the next camp starts IN OCTOBER
2) lie omit information about his age and enroll him in a camp running this week for kids age 6-8

Which one do you think I did?

Growing up in a family that didn't really do sports, I am having a long and rocky learning curve as I navigate the role of "sports mom". I would like to pretend that it's just a new cultural experience for me, but the reality is that athletics have always brought up deep insecurities for me. And as any parent knows, having a child basically means watching your own fears and insecurities walk around outside your body.

Like when you drop your son off and watch him roam aimlessly through the gym, clearly self-conscious about being the new kid, looking for a friend or something to do and seemingly unsure of where to even put his hands as he looks for a familiar face.

Like when you see him find the few kids he knows, and he runs to them, but then he walks away because they seem engaged and he seems intimidated.

Like when you observe that just because your four-year-old looks old enough to pass for a K-2 student, doesn’t mean he can keep up athletically. There is a vast difference of skill level between your child and the other kids, and you know that he notices, too. Only he doesn’t understand that it’s an age/motor development issue. He just knows he can’t do things as well as everyone else.

Or when, on the first day, you don't send him with snack money because you don't know that they break for snack halfway through, so he sits and watches other kids eat and then can't recover for the second half of the day. Not because he was desperately hungry, but because he was left out.

When, after the first day, he requests to play football instead, and you remember that after his first day of baseball he requested to play basketball instead. And you know that he’s really just hoping that, in a new sport, he will be automatically as skilled as he hopes and imagines himself to be. And you know that he’s disappointed that he is not.

When, on the way home, your son mentions that maybe next time he could play basketball without any of his friends being there, because having his (older) friends there makes him feel embarrassed.

When you know that one reason he was drawn to basketball is because he has noticed that basketball players tend to look more like him, and then you take him to a camp of over 100 students, and still none of them look like him. And you know that he is keenly aware of this, too.

When you come to watch at the end, and he sees you and tries even harder to make that basket, and he can’t. So then he pretends to be hurt so that he can be rescued from trying.

When you give him a little more grace than usual about fibbing in the car ride home, because you know that he didn't make fifteen baskets, but he earnestly wishes that he did.

When, every day that you pick him up, you see his face fall when the Camper of the Day is announced and it is not him. And even though you know that each child will get a turn, you also know that to your sensitive son, being the last one to get this recognition is brutal.

And when he finally does get Camper of the Day, and after his name is called and he gets his treat, he disrupts the whole ceremony by running full-speed out of his line and into your arms, and your heart breaks into a million pieces that he's not at all embarrassed to show how proud he is and how much he wants you to be proud, too.

And when you realize that none of this really has anything at all to do with sports, and everything to do with the inevitable beauty and pain that is part of growing up. And that there is nothing you can do but cheer him on.

This is an original Orange County Moms Blog post.

Kristen blogs at Rage Against the Minivan.


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