Monday, April 23, 2012

Jane and Dick

There are few situations as chronically awkward as being the parent of a child on sports teams. Each season, even the most agnostic of us pray not only that our child will not get stuck on a team with the kid who hasn't gotten a hit since TBall, but also that we do not have to spend the next 12 weeks pretending we are not offended by the observations of the bore of a mom (Wow, thanks for summarizing another sermon for me!) or a drunken dad (No thanks, 9 am is a little early for me.).

Elementary school boys in uniform are completely interchangeable. Even the kids I have known since first grade are, four years later, completely unrecognizable to me when in a cap and matching polyester garb. To make matters worse, it seems as if the boys in my town come in two sizes: really short and really tall. So if I can remember whether the kid who was on my son's basketball team and is apparently now on his soccer team is from the short or tall category, it might jog my memory as to which kid he is. It takes a Venn diagram to figure out if the Jacob A. from my son's third grade class has now been reincarnated as a third baseman on his Little League team, or if the Sebastian in left field is the same one who threw up on my son in summer school.

Although the parents do not come in uniform, and are in more of a variety of shapes and sizes, they blend with each other as surely as if they were Rockettes. I have typically been the "Team Parent" which, for the non-sports parents out there, involves developing a sophisticated set of spread sheets, databases, and contact lists in order to ensure that no parent shirks his or her snack duty, potluck offering, or donation for the end-of-season coach gift. It requires a laser-like focus and attention to detail that is not even required in my day job. But I have to say as kick-ass as I am as a Team Parent, my parent-recognition skills leave a lot to be desired. I live in fear that a parent will come up to me and ask me a snackstand-related question without identifying themselves by their last child's last name and configuration of their email address. In a team with two Jadens, two Gabriels and three Matthews, there is no way I even bothered to commit your kid's name to memory. And that cheerful email reminding you of your imminent field-raking duties? It was a mass email sent to the entire team. I have no idea who you are. I continue to be haunted by one mom who emailed me that she was trading snack duty dates with "Jane" because she did not supply any of the identifying information that would compute in my Mr. Spock-ish Team Mom brain. I will have to wait until the kids are without an after-game snack and look to see who looks most mortified. That will be Jane.

Aside from the few moms and dads who I already know and like, the rest of the parental units are like a sea of Stepford sports fans in sunglasses, with an eerie number of them sporting baseball caps featuring logos from resorts in Aspen. I do have to wonder if there is some Parent Club that I am not privy to. A club so elite that my status as working class Team Parent renders me ineligible. Since I typically take an interest in their friends and am friendly with many of their parents, I don't want my kids to catch on to the fact that I have no idea who is on their teams, or who comprises this group of parents. Truthfully, hanging out with people with whom fate has  aligned you with for a number of weeks is akin to Middle School romances. You exclusively share emotional highs and lows for a short, but intense, period of time. But by the next sports season, you have moved on and are sharing similar shallow intimacies with technically different, but basically similar, members of your peer group. If my son refers to a teammate, I say, "He seems super nice!" even if I have no idea which kid he is. And if he asks if I know so-and-sos mom, I invariably reply: "Sure, she's super nice!" We live in a nice town, with nice people. So it is statistically likely that even haphazardly labeling people "nice" will usually turn out to be accurate.

However, my social faux largesse backfired on me recently. After a hard-fought game, members of the opposing team taunted my son's team with a phrase that was surprisingly crude for the gentility of the town. The ring leader apparently was a kid who also terrorizes others on the playground. Turns out it was a kid who had been on one of my son's teams, a kid I had cheerfully deemed "super nice!" As my son shared the indignities this kid inflicts on others during recess, the psychologist in me provided my son an analysis of the emotional and environmental forces that may be driving this child to behave in this fashion. At the same time, the mom in me thought, "That kid is a total dick."

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