Opting Out

It appears to be soccer season again. Or, so a lot of the pictures in my Facebook feed would have me believe. I’m wondering though. Does soccer season ever really end? It feels like it’s always soccer season. Just one never-ending loop of panic-registering after the deadline has already passed, figuring out where to go for practice, complaining about how far away the games are, finding missing shorts, trying on shin guards to see if they kind of, sort of still fit. Soccer appears to be a sport of perpetuity.

We only participated in approximately 1.5 seasons of soccer. Mostly because certain members of this family (Charlie. It was Charlie.) were lacking in effort.

Let us never forget the great soccer experiment of 2015

That year was the last time our clan tried on team sports. Sure, there was a little dabble with basketball here and the occasional talk about baseball there, but none of my children have been clamoring to engage in a team sport. None of them are out kicking around the soccer ball until I have to drag them in for dinner. I never find a kid absorbed in Youtube videos about pitching technique and stance. No one is tearing themselves away from Netflix to practice anything, really.

The closest I get to a kid being super into a sport is Millie’s current infatuation with gymnastics. I think she’s just in it for the sparkly leotards. Regardless, for the better part of this summer, Millie decided, instead of simply walking out of any room she happened to be in, she would somersault out of any room she happened to be in. Done with a bath? Somersault to her bedroom. Done with dinner? Somersault to the living room. Nighttime story read? Somersault to bed.

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So, outside of one (1) somersaulting five-year-old, there is zero (0) interest in team sports around here. Sometimes, I wonder if our kids are broken. Should they be more eager to do all of the things everyone else’s kids seem eager to do? Maybe we broke them. Should we be fostering more of a competitive team sports attitude? Because team sports are a big, big deal around these parts.

When I was in elementary school, I joined the “basketball team.” It was more of a “basketball club.” We met at the end of the school day, in the gym, and practiced for a bit and then scrimmaged for a bit. (Is “scrimmaged” the right word? I’m not sure. I’m not very sporty.) The whole thing was pretty low pressure. One time, during a scrimmage(?), I sort of ran – completely forgetting to dribble – with the basketball to the wrong end of the court to try to make a basket. Everyone was yelling at me to turn around but I did not hear or understand them. When I did finally grasp the error of my eagerness and excitedness, I was so embarrassed that I wanted to quit the team immediately. My parents were all, “Nope. You need to finish what you started. You need to honor your commitment.” It was shortly thereafter that I took up horseback riding.

In my day, elementary school was kind of the breeding ground to try on different sports to see what stuck. Then, those interests were fostered in middle school and then really ramped up in high school. That’s when I can remember my siblings playing on our high school’s tennis teams and my friends playing on the basketball, football and track teams. When I wasn’t horseback riding, I was on the National Honor Society Team (TOTALLY a thing. Probably. Somewhere).

But things are so different now. Kids start team sports at such a young age. There are tiny, tiny people playing all kinds of sports. I don’t even think Charlie would have been potty-trained if we had started him in soccer at the age some of his teammates began. And then, the longer we waited to jump on the team sports train, the wider the skill gap grew between my kids and the other kids. It’s hard to imagine my middle schooler starting a sport that his teammates have been playing for seven or eight years already. Now, I’m too scared for my kids to try a team sport. They will TOTALLY run the basketball to the wrong goal.

There’s also all of the logistics to manage of kids involved in heavy extracurriculars. It took us a full season just to recover from that last soccer season. There was so much running around and eating in the car and stressing over homework completion. All that effort and frenetic energy just didn’t feel worth it when my kids were all, “Soccer is okay, I guess,” at the end of the day. It’s like they’re just simply tolerating the activities. Amusing us. I have friends and family whose children are unbelievably passionate about their sport. One friend’s daughter is a very talented gymnast. My nieces and nephews are all phenomenal at volleyball and softball and baseball and tennis. My brother’s daughter – who is THIRTEEN – spent her summer in New York City practicing ballet. That is some next-level commitment. She’s amazing! If even ONE of my children were to get super psyched about a sport, I would most likely indulge their interest but my kids seem perfectly content playing Minecraft or building with Lego or reading their favorite books or just hanging out at home. Everyone loves to just… be. I mean, Charlie comes home from school and immediately changes into his pajamas. At three o’clock in the afternoon. It will not surprise you that this is a point of pride for me.

Maybe this really is all my fault.

I think we’ve landed on being a non-team team sports family. Which, for us, means fostering skills and interests that are less organized but could turn into something later, maybe? Possibly when the kids are old enough to drive themselves to their own activities and we’ve aged out of team snacks? I want my kids to be sporty but without all of the commitment.

So, we basically have our own on-site rifle and archery range here at the house. Nary a weekend goes by that there aren’t arrows being lobbed (mostly) in the direction of a target around here. Charlie has become quite a sharp shooter with his BB gun. Bob started skiing with the boys this past year which Henry really took a liking to. This year Millie gets added to the mix and if you don’t think she will absolutely shred those slopes on a snowboard well, you’ve underestimated the most able of our pack. The Appalachian Trail runs along the mountain ridge behind our house so we also spend a fair amount of time hiking with the kids. Bob drags them on bike rides. The pond across the street is stocked for fishing. They spent all summer in the pool and have become adept swimmers. And, in a sunrise/sunset moment Charlie took his first horseback-riding lessons this summer at a neighbor’s farm.

We do stuff but it’s not necessarily what everyone else is doing and sometimes that knowledge makes me feel like I’m doing it all wrong.

I think my greatest hope is that my kids find a passion for something. I want them to be able to pursue an activity or sport that really holds their interest. I would be happy to facilitate that but I don’t think we’re there yet. Perhaps I should go and find a gymnastics class for my somersaulting panda.

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Things I Think I’m Supposed to Like Because Other People Seem to Really Like Them but I Actually Don’t Like at All

1. Running for recreation. “You should go for a run!” No. No, thank you.

2. Game of Thrones. It’s about some sort of a dragon, right? Or, that young magician? Wait! It’s Middle-earth and magical rings? Do I have that correct? Yes, I think that’s correct.

3. Glass shower enclosures. So, I guess this is a thing we’re all installing now? Our bathroom has one and it has looked absolutely awful since about the third shower I ever took in it. Bob and I just stand and stare at it frequently, wondering aloud how one keeps a crystal clear glass shower door clean. Because, if you think I’m going to squeegee that thing dry after every shower, you don’t know my life, man. Also, I really don’t need to be so… visible when showering. Best to hide all that behind a curtain, as our founding fathers intended.

4. Large gatherings of people in public places when it is hot outside. Concerts, festivals, fairs, amusement parks, farmer’s markets – all terrible when it’s too hot. No good. Would not recommend. Add my kids in to the mix and this is a DEFCON 2-level misery.

5. Pickling all of the foods. Why are we pickling everything all of a sudden? Did I miss a magazine article somewhere? Does everyone really like so much of their food pickled? What do you do with all of your pickled food? Do you put it on salads? Or burgers? It probably looks pretty in your cabinets though. Kind of all Little House on the Prairie up in there. I get that.

6. Playing board games with my kids. They’re really not very good at board games.

7. Snapchat. “WHAT DOES IT EVEN DOOOOO,” I holler at no one in particular while shaking my cane at the squirrel in the bird feeder and reaching in my shirt sleeve for a Kleenex.

8. Instant Pots. I don’t know about your circle but everyone in my circle seems to be using these things and I’m worried that, best case scenario, I’ll seriously scald myself or, worst case scenario, I’ll blow my whole damn house up.

9. Camping. I want to like camping. I really do. But, I accidentally walked through a spider web in our garage two days ago and basically looked like this for a solid ten minutes before I just went and showered.

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10. Unnecessary decks. Look, a deck solves an elevation issue, such as when a steep slope precludes level, accessible outdoor space. But, people seem to just put decks on everything now, all willy-nilly, irregardless of necessity or incline. Why does everyone want decks? We have a deck on our house when really, the backyard elevation is such that a patio is much more appropriate. As a result, our deck has all of these weeds growing under it and all out the sides but because the space is so small beneath the deck, we can’t get in there to do anything about it. It’s stupid. I obviously have a lot of strong feelings about decks. I just… why install a deck when a patio will do?

11. The beach. I enjoy looking at the ocean. From a balcony. Whilst sitting in a chair. Entirely uncovered in sand. The ocean is really beautiful but for purely recreational purposes with young kids, I am firmly Team Pool.

Summer Bookshelf

When I was about Henry’s age, I hung out at the Waldenbooks in University Park Mall a lot. My parents would take me shopping with them and on the way out of JCPenney, they would just kind of deposit me in front of the Anne of Green Gables section of the bookstore while they shopped. This would also happen at our local Kroger. My mom would select groceries while I stood and read near the end of this one aisle that had a revolving rack with mostly Christian young adult novels by Janette Oke. It was a win-win for both of us. I still have my collections by Janette Oke and Lucy Maud Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beverly Cleary. They sit on Millie’s bookshelf now.

I was an eager reader, fostered in part by an unbelievable library in the tiny Ohio town we lived in when I was very young. I can remember attending summer reading programs in the basement there and asking the librarian for help finding titles amongst the castle-like interior. Books were amazing and magical and an escape and I remember devouring them.

I kept on reading for fun as an adult, my commitment ebbing and flowing with college and then work and travel demands. When Bob and I were first married, I was still reading diligently. Then, Henry was born in late 2005 and approximately two days after he arrived, I stopped reading. I think the last book I even attempted was a few chapters of What to Expect the First Year before giving up and placing a higher premium on sleep.

It’s been like this for more than a decade now. I’m still reading things, lots of things – school forms, work emails, report cards, bedtime stories, a magazine here or there, all of the internet – I’m just not reading books. I occasionally think about reading a book but more often than not, I just end up reading the internet instead. I still buy books all the time, but more often than not, they end up stacked on my nightstand, a convenient place to stash my phone when I’m done reading the internet.

Now, you’ve probably done a great job of parenting kids or dogs or working full-time jobs while still being a committed reader. The book club you belong to probably actually reads the books. I think that’s fantastic. I really do. And, if I’m being honest here, I’ve been secretly ashamed for years that my most interesting reading came from those Buzzfeed top 20 lists. I was just never able to make a bigger commitment. My brain space was reserved for the thousands of other details I had to keep track of and that’s how I came to re-read – more than once! –  the first twenty pages of A Little Life, just trying to remember which character was the artist and which character still lived with his parents and which one was successful. I never got very far.

But, I’ve missed books. When my dad was visiting in May, he helped Bob and I install a series of bookcases in our living room. All of the books that had been scattered and stacked and stored for years finally had an easily accessible home. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed being engrossed in a really good book until I saw them all lined up like that. Many of them I had purchased and had started but had never finished.

So, this summer, when I dragged the kids to our local library to sign them up for the reading program (and also ruin their lives because I won’t let them play games on the library computer or rent DVDs from the library’s collection), I signed myself up for the reading program, too. I don’t know if I’ll finish the entire program before the August due date but I have made a goal to read three books this summer. I think that’s pretty achievable. So far, I have one down (The Girl on the Train) and two sitting on my nightstand in the queue (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is SO GOOD. Would you like to talk about it?).

I think I can do this, guys. I really do. As long as I can stay awake long enough to get past the first twenty pages.