JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm writing this sitting at an archery range. Not inside, where the shooting is going on, but in the echoing outer room, where the overflow parents sit on plastic chairs and talk about equipment and tournaments. Why, you may ask, am I here? For one reason, dear reader: I've been deeply unlucky in my children's choice of sports.
Now on one hand, I recognize my privilege. I'm not a hockey mom, who has to get up at 3:30 because the middle school players' ice time is at 4am. I'm not a swim mom, paying $$$ toward the team – I could never understand why swimming was so expensive! Surely twenty centimeters of Lycra can't cost that much. I've never had to put in hours and hours of fund-raising time like the football moms, although to be fair, I've brought in quite a few casseroles and plates of brownies and bought more than my share of candles and wrapping paper for the drama club. (Let's not even talk about the mattress sale. Dear God.)
But here's the thing: those moms at least get to watch spectator sports. Hockey and football games are exciting! I've paid good money to watch them. Basketball is fast-paced and exciting. Swimming is explosive and you get to sit in a warm, moist environment.
My two older kids did cross country. If there's a more mind-numbing sport to watch, I can't think of it. At least with curling, you can see all the players. With cross country, you stand at the edge of a field, bundled against the growing autumnal cold, and cheer wildly as your student-athlete races off with a pack of teammates and competitors...to vanish into the woods. Then you wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, after a half hour or so, the first runners come back out of the woods, and the more determined parents start cheering again. (There are always a few so resolutely peppy and full of spirit you secretly want to key their Volvo station wagons in the parking lot.)
They also did indoor track, and track and field, two sports that involve waiting around for interminable periods of time between races and other events. During the winter indoor track season, you try not to die of heatstroke in the arena, and in track and field you need binoculars to spot your kid because the events are spread out over an area the size of the Pentagon. Also? You never, ever know how your kid did with running sports. I would ask, “What was your time?” only to hear, “I dunno. Coach will tell me Monday.” The scoring is so arcane the officials don't know who “won” a track and field meet until two days after the event takes place. I believe they use slide rules to calculate the total points.
(The Sailor followed up cross country with rowing in college, which has a similar long, long stretch when parents are left staring at the river with no boats in sight. The bright spot is that no one judges you for drinking cherry whiskey at a regatta.)
In the past two years, Youngest has taken up archery, a sport that combines the visual thrill of cross country with the clear, simple scoring of track and field and as an added bonus, requires upgrading some piece of equipment every three months. It's true that archery sounds exciting – Robin Hood! Merida! The wind in your hair as you fire off shot after shot!
Needless to say, it's a little more constrained in real life. The instructor sets up the targets, then pipes a little whistle to tell the archers to take their position. Once the field is clear, the instructor pipes again. Everyone shoots three arrows. Then they all wait until the last person has shot, and when the instructor deems the field clear she pipes again and they all retrieve their arrows. This ritual, as inflexible as a Japanese tea ceremony, is of course designed to make sure no one gets an accidental arrow in the butt. However, for the patiently waiting parent...zzzzzzzz.
The targets are fifty-four feet down what looks like a bowling alley, and don't tell Youngest, but I can't make out if she shot well or not. As long as the arrow doesn't bounce off the floor, it's all the same to me. She's elated or cast down by arrows that hit a few centimeters apart, and I try to follow her lead. The tournaments are just as fast paced, with the additional bonus that the spectators must remain absolutely silent. It's like watching the chess grandmaster tournament, if the game boards were eighteen yards away and you didn't have the cultured British announcer whispering, “Karspinsky has just executed the Dunning-Kruger move!”
Oh well. At least she's not interested in riding. Right, honey? Right?
How about you, dear readers? Tell us your sports stories in the comments...