I don’t know much about parental behavior at team sports events because my older children sailed. The most exciting moments happened way off shore and no one watched, but my youngest daughter runs.
The first few times I attended a cross country meet to watch Emily I learned you have to run yourself if you want to see anything. You have to hustle between the places where the team emerges from the woods, doubles back for a mile and reappears, and supportive cheering should not include things like, “Take out 22!” Good sports cheer for everyone else’s offspring. If you don’t know their names you can yell the name of the school on the runner’s jersey but you need to stay until the last runner limps across the line no matter how cold you are.
Emily was actually forced into running. The high school she attended required every student have a sport. We found this a bit offensive. We were raising scholars and artists, not athletes. We sat around the dinner table wondering what sport Emily could attempt when a small voice from the end of the table ventured, “I could go out for cross country. It’s a no-fail sport. They take anybody.”
Nowadays, since Emily doesn’t want to see or hear me at a meet (I distract her), I just stand on the sideline looking way too intense; about to burst with love and pride. The thing is you can’t stand there long before you feel love and pride for all the kids competing—the ones who are rockets, appearing half a mile before the pack, the kids who are too stocky but who soldier on; the kids who fall in the mud and are up again all in one stride, the kids who throw up at the finish.
You can’t tell by the packaging what’s inside and as they whish past a spectator point you feel the rush of your respect drawn into the vortex of each and every one of them. Finally you get that about everyone—the crossing guard, the unkempt stranger walking his Irish setter, the incompetent boss. I believe that substance must be assumed because you cannot begin to guess the depth beneath the packaging so many of us come in. If you could, you would know nothing is arbitrary—we are the way we are because it is what it took to survive, to compete. You have only siblings in this world and you must often run to keep up.
On my best days I remember to cheer for everyone and hope those fleeting blessings passing on the street or waiting in line at the bank have an effect. Maybe someone gets a second wind, a surge of energy on the uphill run, or for no apparent reason, finds himself expecting something good.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.