Saturday, March 24, 2007

Activities and Idiots

The turning point took about six months longer than usual. I think that has to count as something of a success. My plan was to blog about it then, sitting in the steaming clamor, but a string of missed practices--snowstorms, construction--has ruined my chances to kill time scribe insightful comments amid the shouds and splashes and uninteresting parental banter. She's only been swimming sporadically this month, and, by the consent of all involved, we've opted out of the insipid bonding rituals. Two weeks ago, we dodged what feels like the last one.

It's a well known fact that if children lack structured extracurricular activities, their skulls wither up to little husks until the clown liquefies their gray matter to the soggy ccardboard consistency of a McShake. It's understood that just booting their asses outside doesn't build quite the character that it used to (and judging by my parents' generation and mine, there might be something to this) but absent the halcyon days of child labor, I have to do my penance as child event enabler. When the whistle blows on Friday, I hightail it from my office to my wife's place of employment (this affords me an extra twenty minutes of labor, more than Junior could earn in a week, except I'm salaried), perform the kiddie switcheroo, and proceed another 45 minutes to the pool.

Though it may sound like the logical solution, my daughter does not swim at the same pool as myself. That would lack quite the number of organizational hurdles. I mean, it was good enough for her last summer, when she enjoyed the sorts of activities that normal children enjoy in pools, which is to say suffering an hour of instruction follwed by an afternoon of soggily tearing the place apart for the rest of the afternoon. But you see, that wouldn't be training for anything. Moreover, it would leave little outlet for the trainers, or rather, the motivators.

Maybe there's been some day you were lucky enough to bag work on a weekday--mild illness, mid-day dental appointment, Tuesday, whatever--and maybe you thought, "Gee, this'd be a great time to get something done," and you hiked your minivan to the supermarket and clanged your squeaky-wheeled wire cart through the teeming parking lot, thinking "wow, I thought most people worked during the day." Maybe you elbowed your way to the checkout past some sourpuss of a woman who paused yakking into her cell phone just long enough to eyeball you menacingly as you gingerly placed the plastic divider on the conveyer behind your Cheetos and bloody mary mix. You hurried out of the store in confusion and embarrassment, with a renewed vision of workplace productivity. Lucky you: you just got winged.

On one level, I know a family community is important. On another level, about 80% of the people in that community really irritate me. Probably I should have moved to a smarter town, and if that only means bonding around higher-class kiddie activities, then at least the conversations would be theoretically more interesting. Ooh, a lawn tractor Bob? That's interesting. (In that smarter town I imagine it's portfolios and affairs--so maybe just as bad.) Since I trek twenty miles to swim practice, a dropoff is infeasible, so I sit up there and watch the kids do their laps, while the little one pulls at my elbow. I look at the other "sports parents." Somehow, I'm always younger than any of them, but I don't think that's really teh source of the dissimilarity. You have some people reflecting my bored and empty stare, sure, but most of these people know each other. Most of them like it here.

My daughter's been swimming for a year. She's good at it, but she is not a competitive kid, and we've been keeping her out of meets. This is for her protection, but also our sanity. She'd been in wrestling before (not particularly good, but very enthusiastic), and her turning point in that sport came after losing five times in succession at a meet and crying on the way home. From our point of view, it was a day-long hell of smelly pubescent kids and cramped noise amid child-sized bleacers for the purpose of about five minutes of watching my little girl compete, forced to channel an antagonism she didn't enjoy. She didn't want to go back to practice after that, but Mom and Dad insisted she keep her commitment for the season--character, you understand. Plus, we'd already paid for it.

At the end of wrestling season, there were, of course, awards at which teh organizers all thanked themselves for a job well done. I will give them credit for their effort, which I do respect, but there's only so much self-appreciation I can stand. Hint: I don't care about your ski trip; I already know your kid had the best season of anyone, or that your troop is just super; I don't care who donated the baskets and I don't want to win them; it's nice to mention the organizers, but you know, not everyone needs to utter a few words, especially when none of you are any good at it. There's that urge to take a kid's activity and make it ceremonial and make them blatherfests quite out of proportion to the significance (to most of us) of the activity itself... kind of like the meets themselves, actually. There's something magical about the way amateur bloviaters can fill up an evening. If you're ever looking for a fine synecdoche of political rhetoric, may I suggest you attend a sports award ceremony for eight-year-olds? Same buffoonery, less polish.

Back at swim practice, there are a few active parents bustling around us bored-looking ones. They're planning something. Last time, it was pre-registration for an extra meet, because otherwise, there'd be four whole weeks gone past without one. It's the parents who want this. They're bubbly with excitement at the prospect of hours of waiting and shouted conversation above the deafening splashes. Two weeks ago, there was a big spaghetti dinner planned so the tykes could carb up before swimming the next day at the meet. My daughter's nine. She doesn't carb up. But it's the beginning of the end, I can feel it.

There is, of course, parental guilt involved in all of this. Shouldn't I be squeezing some life lessons from this, preparing her for a life of toiling for limited merit? Shouldn't I, uh, be devoting more?

Well, maybe when she's ten.

Keifus [when I coached soccer for her, my aim was to make sure everyone got a chance to play.]


LentenStuffe said...

The most important moments are surely the ones that have nothing to do with the events themselves -- those in-betweens that slip between only to be recovered later when the dross of wretched duty falls away.

Your post rings true.

Archaeopteryx said...

Hilarious. Reminds me of attending a friend's daughter's soccer match. A bunch of twelve-year-olds randomly wandering across a field, one really good girl on each team, with parents on each side hollering meaningless encouragements and discussing the weather along the side. I couldn't wait for it to be over, but I thought at the time that it must have been fun for the parents, at least. Now I now differently.

twiffer said...

what happened to kids just being able to have fun? are there no longere non-competitive leagues for those don't care about winning or losing, but just want to play the game?

Keifus said...

Well, that's pretty much the reason we avoided meets. Before the season anyway, she really liked swimming, and was content to just go back and forth doing laps. Now, supposedly there are life skills imparted here, or some such bullshit, something to give you workplace networking cred or motivation for success as a middle manager or something. (Christ, I look at their parents, and even though I don't know what any of them do, I guarantee that not a one of 'em has the sort of success I'd ever want.) I've been thinking that if she gets in the habit of exercising a couple times a week, it's probably more valuable than any of that.

Wretched dross of duty? Yup. Seems it shouldn't have to be quite so wretched, though. (And expensive, I didn't complain about the expensive.)

And Arch, I hope you learned your lesson.

Dawn Coyote said...

The first time I read this, I thought you said a smarter small town, and I was going to tell you about smart-but-off-its-nut Dawson City.

You could move, couldn't you, before the kids are at that age where tearing them away from their friends will traumatize them for life? Probably true, though-you'll just find a better class of idiots.

Good thing you have us.

Keifus said...

You got that right, Dawn.

Ours was a decision based on unfamiarity with the area and not a lot of cash, so...

K (you've made me curious about Dawson city, wherever that is.)

rundeep said...

20 MILES! WTF? Honey, the solution is obvious. You start a "club" team at your pool, where there are parents just like you, who would like a semi-competitive environment a) to hone skills b) to see if the kid enjoys it enough to do it more and c) to kill time while parents perform other tasks.

My kid swims in the summer on the club team. Mostly because it gives me an extra half hour to pick her up (it's at her day camp). For semi-competitive sport, she does martial arts -- where the only competition is yourself, grasshopper. She isn't naturally aggressive either, but she is damn strong, and that sport seems to do it for her.

Once again, I've obviously been lucky. Our neighborhood and the school sponsor sports and leagues more about letting the kids decide if they like the game than about learning about competition. Plenty of time for that in years ahead. But seriously, boyfriend. Start the Team. You'll be a hero to everyone, including yourself.

Keifus said...

Ah! Your suggestion to motivate is a pinprick in the balloon of my dudgeon. (Meh. Thanks a lot.) But you're right, you know...

The plan right now is to get her back into the summer swim club that my gym offers, and then see how that goes. It'll be a couple months off, but that's probably OK. It's not very cost-effective during the year, but everything's different when there's motivation (and there's more motivation than raw competition, especially when you're little).

(You were on a trip, yes? Welcome back.)