We pass through the gauntlet of admissions and concessions sellers and into the gymnasium of a foreign school.
Sometimes there are bleachers to climb, sometimes there are chairs to unfold and set into rows. We try to arrive a little early. Often we arrive too early.
We don't know if we have the right place … or even whether we've selected the correct color of the reversible team jersey to be facing out.
I can never remember … Is white Home or Away?
In a few minutes, as teammates trickle in, it is apparent. Blue is Away. Quick! Turn the shirt inside out.
We hand over some cash, hold out our fists for a smear of ink that might have been a smiley face, and decided on a bottle of water and a bag of chips.
That was the easy part.
As our kid takes off toward the direction of the bench, we take our a place among the crowd. We look for familiar faces and find some. People make room.
The buzzers are always louder than I remember. I watch my kid cover his ears as the clock starts and his teammates hustle out onto the court. He waits his turn on the sideline, playing an imaginary game of some other sort in his mind. We just hold our breath and hope he'll be ready when the coach looks his way.
I always hated this game with its back and fourth. Swish. Back and fourth. Thundering herds of gangly players in the professional leagues making it look easy: two points adding up to the hundreds.
Here I can't turn away. I have to remind myself to exhale and breathe anew.
Here on the court, the kids fight for everything. Timidly at first, perhaps. … They fight their own limbs and their ability to do two things at once. Look up. Dribble. Cut to the ball. Get open. Help them out. Every game there is progress.
I hold my breath as the turnovers happen. It's not easy watching your kid as they look lost.
The tension often gets the best of my partner in parenting. The tendency to armchair coach is hard to quell. He yells “Get a head of them, Blue” as if it were a cheer.
I jab him slightly with my elbow and he reels himself back.
This is supposed to be fun, win or lose.
But there are times it is decidedly not fun.
The times your team loses by a landslide.
Or when your kid's ears turn bright red after losing the ball to the other team.
And especially amid the times your team wins but your player is distraught because he never even laid hands on the ball during the game.
I often wonder why we put ourselves through this. I even say it aloud in the car on the way home ...
Is it for the moment of joy when another parent claps for your kid as they make a shot during practice. The belief that at some point it will all come together?
Maybe all the incremental moments of improvement you detect over time?
I wonder, do we do this because we worry that one day all the struggle will stop?
We may talk a big game about the trophies for everything, but it's the atrophy we all fear. These shiny metal and marble towers don't fool the children. They know when an award has been earned and when it hasn't.
One day, and maybe that day will be soon; the disappointment will be too great. The groans from teammates or the sidelines will be heavier than the weight of missing the shot.
On that day, your kid will stop trying.
And that will be the worst day of all. Though a part of you may be able to breathe again, another part of you will still be clenching its fists.