This time of year—the tail end of water polo season—I think a lot about that type of sports mom. You know the one. She stands on the sideline making an ass of herself, embarrassing her child, and setting a poor example. Blogs have been written about her, letters from school sent home, eyes rolled, and whispers whispered, all admonishing her behavior. We’ve been uncomfortable because of her, have wanted to see her carted off by the bad behavior police, or at least told to shut the hell up.
Today, I want to admit that I’ve been that sports mom. Years ago my daughter played soccer. This was during elementary school, before we realized she had an aversion to running and to the effect of gravity in land sports. I was the mom who sat on the sideline and screamed, “Kick the crap out of it.” I meant the ball, of course, not another child, but regardless. The grandpa in the next seat over shot an icy stare my way. Well, I wasn’t savvy back then, not by a long shot, so, suddenly uncomfortable, I leaned to my right and asked my girlfriend whose daughter was also on the team if “crap” was a bad word.
“It’s certainly not a nice word,” she retorted. I shut up for the rest of the match, which was not easy I tell you.
Eight years have passed between then and now. These days, I sit in bleachers next to a pool instead of on a lawn chair next to a grassy field. There’s no running or kicking but there’s plenty of swimming and throwing and goal-making. And a whole lot of whistle blowing. (Some suit grabbing, scratching, and drowning, too, but that’s another story.) As my gorgeous girl glides through the water, I try to keep my mouth shut, but every once in a while passion gets the better of me. My girl definitely found her groove in the water, and when she kicks her legs, rises up out of the water, shoots, and scores!, I’ve been known to burst out of my seat, jump up and down, clap my hands, and scream, “Bulls-eye!” For good measure, I’ve even thrown in a fist pump or two.
I’m not proud of this lack of control, and I’m not the worst misbehaving parent, but still. By now I know better. I quickly sit back down, but not before I feel the dagger stares stick into my back by the BBMs: the better behaved moms.
Here’s the thing I’d like all the BBMs and the BBDs (dads) to know: My exuberance is not based in hubris. It’s not based in arrogance or pride or vanity. My exuberance is a direct result of my gratitude.
Back when my girl played soccer, there was nothing in front of us but possibility. The possibility that accompanies the type of life we were fortunate enough to be living. We had enough money. We had enough food, and enough clean water. We lived in a safe and beautiful neighborhood. We didn’t have to worry about life’s necessities. My daughter’s life stretched before her and her only limitations would be the ones she chose to place upon herself, based on the choices she made. I took all of her tomorrows for granted.
Then depression happened. Depression seeped into my beautiful girl’s brain, and eroded who she was. It eroded what she wanted, and it eroded her will to live. Depression lied to her. Depression stole her friends, her joy, and her spirit. It stole her ability to go to school. It even stole our ability to keep her safe in her own home. Depression stole our tomorrows. I could no longer take anything about her life—least of all her will to live it—for granted.
So yes. I've been that kind of sports mom because sometimes a goal is not a simple goal. Sometimes a goal is the embodiment of resilience. Sometimes a lap across the pool is a positive coping mechanism. Sometimes a sprint to the ball is a symbol of recovery. Sometimes a victory of one sort can be a victory of an entirely different sort.
Next time you're about to judge the nutty lady that's jumping up and down on the sideline, pause for just one second. Pause and remember that sometimes, not always, but once in a while, a screaming mimi can be a mother who is incredibly grateful. She might be a mother who has learned the hard way to be grateful for grass to stand on, for a sideline to misbehave on, and for the actual blood, sweat, and tears that went into the making of her athlete because they are the blood, sweat, and tears of survival.