Righting a Fiction

PoetryI look up from checking out library books at my local branch and see two girls wearing their soccer uniforms. Their blond hairs are swept up in pony tails. One wears cleats while the other wears black Adidas flip-flops. These teens go to my daughters’ K-8 school, and I’m surprised to see them in soccer attire since  they are currently playing on a basketball team and one of them is in the school play. I call out to them, “You play soccer, too? Do you ever sleep?”

One smiles back at me and says yes while the other doesn’t hear me.

I hear myself sigh. They look winded, happy and comfortable. My own daughters hate team sports right now. My newly minted teen is enjoying her rebellion against competition. My youngest shies away from loud gyms and big groups of kids. But still, these athletic girls that cross my path in the library seem blessed. I want the confidence that being really good at sports gives to people for my girls, too.

Why do I want something for my girls that they actively tell me they don’t want? Why do I think these girls in their soccer clothes are lucky, possessing traits that my girls need to be successful?

Well, we do live in a sports-obsessed culture. It’s a culture I’m mostly not a part of, but I get it. As a writer, I love to read sports stories. These are great human interest tales, with people rising above adversity and gaining victory. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that pie?

I think its stranger still that I who hated competing still want my girls to at least like team sports. Well, OK, hate might be a strong word. I loved being a fast runner in high school and making the varsity team. I recall telling people (over the course of a life time) that I hate competing and they laugh and point out me speeding past them during a workout or race. “You?” they say. “You love competition.”

Still, by the time I was a senior in high school I was no longer that fast and competing made me feel sick. When the cross country coach at my future college called to ask if I’d come out for the sport, I told her I would only if I didn’t have to compete.

Yet, one of the people that laughed at me recently was part of the boot camp I belonged to a while ago. My aim there was to be one of the fastest runners during our timed miles. Hate competition, my ass. I crave winning.

Still, this all feels like an aside. My girls have made it clear to me that they dislike competing. My oldest participates in synchronized swimming once a week, likes to hike and bike and roller skate. And read books. She reads so fast she could surely win some reading competition. My youngest said this to me about her fall cross country meets: “You run fast during practice right? The races are for looking at leaves right?”

Why do I want them to be on a team sport, to wear Adidas flip flops after their games, to look winded and fresh when we run into acquaintances at the library? Because those girls I saw looked comfortable. I want them to feel that feeling of being at home in their bodies. I want them to be on a team of people that they like. I want them to have what I had during some of my cross country practices at high school. How we ran and joked and joked and ran. How as we ran our long miles we pretended to interview each other. How we ran 12 miles with a stop for the Dairy Queen in the middle. Am I remembering it right?

I rarely felt like I belonged as a tween and teen. I don’t want my kids to ever feel that way. How ridiculous is that? Hey young human beings, please avoid feeling like human beings. Please appear happy and winded and comfortable with your hair casually tossed into a ponytail that you place in your hair with one hand.

I rarely felt like I belonged as a tween and teen. I don’t want my kids to ever feel that way. How ridiculous is that? Hey young human beings, please avoid feeling like human beings. Please appear happy and winded and comfortable with your hair casually tossed into a ponytail that you place in your hair with one hand.

I was never that girl. But the moments of belonging I sometimes found during team sports, I want that for them. That feeling I have when I’m running and my body has found its rhythm and I am soaring without flying? I want that feeling for them. Silly me, I know they don’t need to be on a team to have that feeling.

Where does this deep yearning come from? Why do I sigh when I see the girls that play several sports like they were born to play these sports? Even I know they learned how to play these sports they now love. What’s the story about sports I don’t tell as often? How about the one where I tried out for soccer my freshman year and I got cut before school even started? How about the fact that I knew no one at that high school (save my brothers) and although my transition was fairly easy, I saw those soccer girls and I wanted to be one of them. They must be happier than me. They looked comfortable and happy as they walked the school halls together.

We tell ourselves so many fictions. I’m still telling myself this one: The athletic girls feel slightly (not too) winded, happy and comfortable. Maybe they only look winded, happy and comfortable to me. Maybe they sometimes feel that way. Maybe sometimes they wish to be one of my girls, reading a book all day long instead of driving to a tournament halfway across the state. But I’m pretty sure every tween or teen girl feels angst sometimes. Being on a team sport doesn’t save her from that. I can’t know the secrets of the girls that I see for ten seconds as I look up from checking out my books. There’s no need to sigh and wish for lives for my girls that they don’t wish for themselves. Especially now that I know I’m really sighing for the teen version of me.

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