I don’t care for sports. I never have. During childhood, I spent my time roller skating and riding bikes with kids from the neighborhood. I was active, but it wasn’t the competitive, organized kind of active.
One summer my mother signed me up for soccer. I spent the practices—the TWO that I actually showed up for prior to dropping out—watching the other kids have fun. I participated slowly and grudgingly, wiping sweat from my brow and constantly checking my watch. I jogged along with lethargy, hoping I’d never actually contact the ball.
I vowed my own children would be more active. My husband and I moved to a semi-rural area when our son was young and our daughter was an infant. We were sure the piney woods and coastal landscapes of the area would inspire all sorts of outdoor activity. We were sure our kids would want to hike, run, play organized sports, swim and take in all that the outdoors had to offer.
Our son “played basketball” at his elementary school. He spent most games meekly planted on the bench. He watched the others, waiting for his two or three moments with the ball, which would always be brief and mostly fraught with disappointment.
After the basketball fiasco, we thought: surely, baseball is the way to go. What kid doesn’t like standing at the mound, adjusting his cap just so while staring down the enemy? What kid doesn’t like taking team pictures with big trophies, then eating delectable and unhealthy hot dogs?
Our kid, that’s who.
Yeah, he’d play along, for sure. He’d say he liked it, no doubt to make his father proud. But the watery sadness in his eyes said something else, and his lack of enthusiasm pre-game spoke the words he never could.
When younger, my husband had been the opposite: he was a star of the basketball team. He had his picture in the papers often. He’s still got a collection of old yellowed newspaper clippings, showing his younger self sliding into home or crossing a finish line with a baton. So it wasn’t my husband’s genes or attitude that shaped my son’s distaste for sport—it was mine.
It took some time to come to grips with this, and I’ve finally forgiven myself. I have. Although exercise is important to well-being, there’s no “blame” to be placed for a child not wanting to hit balls, kick goals or wrestle people to the ground. Sometimes it just is. Every child has their talents, their proclivities.
On the other hand, it’s still my duty to make sure what my kids inherited from me—the genes, the attitude, the WHATEVER it is—is balanced by other healthy activities to help keep their bodies at least somewhat moving.
Over the years, we’ve found alternative ways to fill the exercise void. My daughter is getting to the age where she likes to dance. My son now takes long bike rides, sometimes trekking with his dad 15 or 20 miles at a time. He swims with friends. But he’d rather read a book or watch an old movie than join any sort of team.
Now as a teen, my son is a beautiful writer. I swell with pride when he shares his stories and songs that can be so touching, you’d swear they were written by an adult. He plays some on his guitar, and I can tell you it is much more joyful for me–and more entertaining–than watching him sit on a bench, staring at a gymnasium floor.
He also makes short films. He writes scripts, finds actors (his sister is a great one), creates costumes, and puts together complete movie shorts, including cool special effects and carefully selected music soundtracks. His father, the former athlete, beams with pride that his son has found his calling.
We don’t gather on bleachers for his movie screenings, but when the final credits roll, the cheers are just as good as those delivered on a ball field. And the look of pride in his eyes–now that he’s not just “pretending” to have fun—is 100 percent real.
Kara Martinez Bachman is the author of the essay collection, “Kissing the Crisis: Field Notes on Foul-mouthed Babies, Disenchanted Women, and Careening into Middle Age.” She has read her work on NPR radio and it has appeared in dozens of magazines, newspapers and literary journals.
Photo: Vincenzo Parlato