Richard Black found himself in a conversation with another dad on their kids’ sports activities. He found while they were talking games, they were playing by different rules. Here’s what happened.
I was out with a few friends the other night, not good friends mind you, but friends of a sort. To be honest they weren’t even my friends. I’m fairly exclusive when using the term “friends”. I don’t have many but that’s largely because I don’t like a lot of people.
My wife however has never met a stranger and has a knack for talking to people. She’s made lifelong friends in airport restrooms and good for her. The only downside of my wife’s chatty nature is that occasionally I’m required to spend time with people I’d rather have disappear.
A few weeks ago my wife and I were out with a couple I will refer to as Mitzy and Chip. Mitzy and Chip are a lovely pair at least as lovely as the sorts of people who’ve been wearing madras shorts and boat shoes long enough for them to come back into style could be.
We were talking about our children and what they were up to: soccer, ballet, the usual sorts of things. I’d been drinking my way through the evening in order to reach the stupefied state I find necessary to deal with these sorts of situations when I heard Chip make the following remark:
“Sophie’s really into gymnastics right now and that’s all well and good but what’s the end game? It’s not like she’s going to be in the Olympics.”
Sophie, for those of you just joining, is Chip’s six year old daughter and a presumably soon to be failed Olympiad.
I managed to choke down my beer without spraying it all over Chip, his wife, and the adjoining table. I even managed to collect myself enough to apologize for choking and mention that I hadn’t heard Chip’s last statement.
“Gymnastics,” he clarified, “What’s the end goal? It’s not like she’s not going to the Olympics.”
“Most Olympians I know end up getting fat too,” I said and nodded sagely in the manner that only a person who’s had four beers in lieu of dinner can manage.
“I know right?” Chip said with what I assume was a complete lack of irony.
I immediately flagged down our server to order anything over 80 proof, another beer and gave her instructions to continue the regimen every half hour until I passed out or took off my clothes.
My memory of the rest of the night is a little hazy but it involved a lot of kicks under the table from my wife while I made passive aggressive comments like “it’s just a shame that girls end up playing just softball,” or “female swimmers have such big shoulders. It’s probably best your daughter isn’t on swim team. She’d ruin her body for men”.
The next morning I woke up fully clothed, still married to my wife and considered the evening to be a success.
I suppose that I could have taken a different approach with Chip’s generalities and idiocies. In my humble opinion however there really wasn’t anything I could have said to him that would have changed his mind. I’ve been dealing with Chip and his like for some time. Aside from tossing out the occasional reference to Ayn Rand there’s no upside to engaging this sort of person in conversation.
Is Chip’s daughter Sophie an Olympic contender?
Probably not. The fact that her father even posed the question is indicative of a mindset to which I don’t subscribe. Chip is missing the point. Most parents don’t enroll their children in an activity with the hope that their kids will become a world class athlete.
We do it because children need to discover their strengths and limits, to understand that failures occur and that they are not going to be exceptional at everything. We do it because taking appropriate risks and attempting something new is inherent to one’s ultimate success. We do it because learning how to do something, anything, and pursuing the task at any level is beneficial. We do it because no experience is ever truly wasted. We do it because it’s fun to see our kids having fun.
I could have mentioned to Chip that through gymnastics or ballet or hockey or soccer his daughter could learn balance, gain core muscle strength, and grace to mention the first few benefits that come to mind. I didn’t.
Chip is a decent enough guy. He works hard at a demanding job, he spends time with his children but, at the end of the day he’s a fricking idiot. Chip and parents like him are one of the hazards of living in suburbia. They’re not terrible people but their opinions provide the idiotic background, the Muzac, to life in the suburbs. One day everything is all well and good and the next you’re whistling the chorus to “Mandy” and pulling your kid out of ballet so she can focus on the doctoral thesis she’ll be writing in twenty years.
I’m sure that Chip and Mitzy will raise Sophie to the best of their abilities. They will, most likely, emphasize the importance of results and encourage her to consider where to put forth the most effort in relation to her talents. These are important lessons mind you but ones’ I find to be inappropriate for anyone under the age of 15.
Could the time Sophie spends in gymnastics be used in a more “productive” manner? Of course but that’s really not the point. She could be reading War and Peace or solving quadratic equations in first grade. In all likelihood however she won’t be a world class mathematician, end up teaching Russian Lit at Harvard or even banging a professor at an Ivy League school.
Childhood should be an age of discovery and exploration and, yes, one that deals with the adversity of coping with both failure and success. By limiting our kids’ scope of interests to the tasks they show an aptitude for robs them of some pretty important life lessons. It also entails a big chunk of hubris on our part. Who are we as parents to decide where our children’s talents, capabilities and interest lie at the age of six? That way of raising kids’ seems to be a zero sum game to me and one with a low probability for success.
As far as the “end goal” of any particular interest my daughter chooses to partake? I’m not even sure I understand what that really means. I’m fairly certain however that I don’t like the implications of the phrase.
Darcy happens to be enrolled in a gymnastics course. Will she ever become an Olympiad? If the aptitude her parents had for this sort of thing are any indication of her ability then the answer is a decided “No”. I can’t chew gum and do anything other than lie in bed without chipping my teeth. That however is my burden and not my daughter’s.
The end goal? I suppose there are many. The first of which, right now, is that my daughter thoroughly enjoys gymnastics, learns as much as possible from the endeavor and applies herself to whatever comes next with the same level of intensity and joy.
That, perhaps for now, is the end game.