I just got home from my acting class -
yeah, that's right, I'm taking an acting class. I need some excuse to get out of the house, and "I'm going to Barnes and Noble to O.D. on lattes" doesn't always guarantee me a night out as does a paid-for class of some sort. I paid for it, I have to go, it would be wasting money not to go, it doesn't matter who is puking and who didn't get her homework done, I'm going -
I just got home from my acting class after dropping-off Prima at her ice-skating class.
A word about children and extra-curricular activities and sports: try to direct your kids toward activities that are a) inexpensive and b) warm.
Ice-skating is neither.
Once you get past the most basic levels of skating - where taking lessons in rental skates is still par for most of the students, and the rentals don't get in the way of progressing to the next level - things get dollar-happy pretty quickly. You don't even want to know what a pair of jumping skates costs. And then to supplement the group lesson, there are the 15-minute private lessons which cost more per minute than most private attorneys charge. And if you want to get into competitions - and what little Michelle Kwan doesn't - there are travel costs and spangly outfits and additional ballet lessons and and and....
And don't forget the Xanax for Yours Truly. I've heard tales of run-ins with the ice-skater Uber Stage Moms, and I'm nervous. The sight of moms yelling at kids to be perfect and not mess up their make-up and hair-pins before they get on the ice all just makes me need to pee.
Luckily, bearing witness to pre-competition haranguing is a bit down the road for us - if at all - so I have time to do my Kegels.
And even more luckily, the rink where my daughter practices seems to be fairly low-key and kid-friendly when it comes to their own competitions. Competition groups are small and all the girls get a ribbon or medal. And sure, I sometimes have mixed feelings about these sort of pretend "competitions" where everyone wins a prize, but in this case, I'm okay with it.
The farther and longer we can stay away from the baseball-bat-to-the-knees level of competitive craziness, the better. And that's not just with ice-skating, but with almost all sports and activities as far as I can gander. Why, back in my day...
(Cue the wavy screen)
Back in my day, we played wiffle ball with a stick and an apple and we called it Apple Ball, not wiffle ball. But there was no travel team and no uniforms; no grown-ups shouting from the sidelines that Playstation privileges would be denied for a month if we dropped a pop-up; no fees and no fundraisers...
(The fundraisers...oh good lord, the fundraisers....
Right now, I have four different fundraiser forms on my kitchen counter. Two for school, one for soccer, one for Girl Scouts. Gertrude Hawk Candy, Nuts and Magazines, a car raffle, and an order form for live Christmas greens and poinsettias. And I'm sorry, but I can only milk the grandmothers for so much, and my neighbors aren't buying because they all have the same fundraisers on their kitchen counter.)
Anyway, I think it's great that there are opportunities out there for kids who really do want to compete at Olympic levels by 2nd grade. I think that's grand, and go for it, kid.
However, pardon my French, but holy crap.
My eldest is 8 1/2 years old, and seriously, it seems that if by nine years old you haven't decided on one sport to focus all of your time and energy and young talent (and parents' money), you're SOL when it comes to being competitive at middle school level or even getting on the team for high school sports.
Back in my day, the girls who got on the high school softball team were every and any girl who showed-up to the first practice. I don't think you necessarily even had to bring a glove. I'm sure that a few girls on the team had never held a bat until that first day. Occasionally, there was a high-school sport or activity that required a try-out to make the team, but even for cheerleaders the most that was expected during try-outs was the ability to sorta-kinda do a split and to otherwise just be exceptionally peppy in a "Golly gee, one Coca Cola and I'm all wound up!" kind of way.
If seven years down the road, my eldest daughter wants to give high school cheerleading a go, my guess is that probably, it's already too late to try out. She isn't taking gymnastics and hasn't yet perfected her double back-handspring, nor is she currently on one of the competitive youth cheer squads.
Okay, well maybe she doesn't need to have her double-back handspring perfected yet.
But I have heard frightening and frequent tales of parents needing to take second and third jobs to keep their elementary-age kids in sports and activities at competitive levels. I recently ran into a mom whose 10-year-old daughter had tried out for the travel soccer team - one of the more gung-ho leagues - and had made the cut. I asked the mom how the new soccer team experience was was going, and she nodded her head vaguely and gave an exhausted smile. Oh yes, she said. Millie really loves soccer and she's enjoying the added practices and the challenge of playing at a more competitive level.
“Buuuuuuuuut?” asked I, reading the Buuuuuuuuuuuuut in the other mom’s eyes.
She quickly looked around as if to make sure the Soccer Gods weren't listening-in, as she was about to utter a minor heresy.
"Well, some of the girls on this team? They have private coaches."
"Yup. To stay competitive, we were told that not only should Millie go to the team practices, but that she should be attending clinics and spending time with a private coach."
"Wow. That sounds...expensive?"
"Oh yes....yes, a few of the parents have taken second jobs to pay for the private coaches and the clinics...."
"...and then there are the travel costs...."She trailed off, looking as if mesmerized by soccer ball-shaped headlights in the distance.
I don't know. Maybe her daughter just happened to get on "one of those" teams.
The first year that Prima played Little League, she was on "one of those" teams. The 6 and 7 year olds on this team were serious, and the coaches were even more so.
Here I was imagining a team of little kids looking way too cute in their oversized uniforms, being all kinds of adorable while attempting to hit balls from Ts, swinging the bat too hard and whipping around in a circle before tumbling over onto the plate, all the parents giggling and snapping photos while Junior dusted himself off and tried one more time, this time just knocking the ball into a dribbling bounce down the first base line, the coach jumping up and down shouting, "That's the way, Junior! Now run, run to first base! No Junior, you crazy kid, that's third base...c'mere you silly noodle head" and giving Junior a helpful point in the right direction all while the infielders are tripping over each other bobbling the ball in ten different directions, while the outfields are spinning in circles looking at the clouds.
Instead, the first day of practice, Prima is standing at third base looking way too cute in her baseball hat and oversized glove, when this 5’4” 6-year-old saunters up to the plate, knocks the dirt off his spikes with the tip of his bat, spits tobacco juice toward the pitcher, and on the first pitch, nails a 200-mph line drive that whizzes inches past my daughter’s ponytail on its rocket-ride to left field where the outfielder leaps ten feet in the air, grabs the ball, and - before hitting the ground - fires it to the first baseman who makes a play that shows up on ESPN later that evening.
My husband and I made some panicked and meaningful eye contact with each other, and then both jogged with great urgency to the coach and explained to him that our daughter was here, you know, mostly to look cute hitting a ball off a T and to learn to count to three by rounding the bases. Whereupon the coach explained to us patiently that, yes, this was officially still an instructional T-ball league, but that his men had been practicing over the summer and wintering outside of Daytona, and that most of the cute had been cut from the team by pre-school. And maybe we should try softball instead. Or folding paper dolls.
Anyway, it all worked out. We tried organized swimming and baseball, soccer and diving, bowling and ballet. It seems at this point, we’re specializing in ice-skating. If at the ripe old age of fourteen, Prima decides that field hockey or tennis is her thing, she’ll just have to be content on the fifth-string JV intramural powder puff team.
And for now, Prima loves skating. As far as she’s concerned, bring on the lessons and the jumping skates and the gleefully chilly hours practicing a competition routine choreographed to When You Wish Upon A Star .
She’s all about ice-skating, and couldn’t be happier.
Unless, she had a pony.
And a jumping saddle.
And there but for the grace of God go I.