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Surviving Summer Sport Spectators: Smoking, Screaming and Storytelling

It’s funny how we conveniently forget some details of the past. On a recent “relax-cation” up north to our camp in the Hiawatha National Forest - where the trees interfere with cell reception and we actually have face-to-face family conversations -- I shared a tale from my own childhood. My dad sat next to me and filled in the details I forgot. As it turns out, I was just as surprised to hear these particulars as the kids.

I recalled a vivid memory of my mom tensely smoking in the stands when I, at about age nine, pitched on a competitive softball team. To this day, I remember standing on the pitcher’s mound and catching glimpses of her nervously puffing away. She attributed her rare, sports-spectator-only habit to the level of intensity, and the parents shouting. It struck me as odd because I never saw her smoke anywhere other than the field, and dad confirmed it to be true.

At the time, in the third or fourth grade, I was a pretty decent pitcher. I do remember the crowd of spirited parents and fans from the other team yelling, but I could not tell you what they said. As a kid, I only remember seeing the catchers glove, the strike zone, and then, after I turned back to the mound, my mom and her cigarette.

Dad filled in the blanks. He told the kids that after I struck out a number of batters, the parents on the other team, and one loud one in particular, started calling me “MOOSE,” and not in a flattering way. Let me provide some context. I have never been small for my age. I weighed a record-breaking 12 pounds, 13 ounces at birth. At age 9, I hit a growth spurt early and was at least a head taller and had a more solid, not overweight, build than my peers.

Dad said our coach, a family friend who had a pretty muscular, intimidating physique, had already spoken with the umpire as well as the parents; and coach restrained my dad from confronting the name-calling offenders. Apparently I kept pitching strikes, and the parents got even louder. Coach said if they kept it up, our team would go, and we did go.

I wish I had that much focus today. The game was tense and the parents were tense, but I had blocked the chatter out, stayed in my zone and performed. At the same time dad picked up a pacing habit and mom smoked, according to dad, to keep her from saying anything.

Fast forward, year’s later, to my own daughters’ soccer game. The parents on the other team were beyond intense on a Sunday afternoon during the highly competitive game – more than it should have been – high school soccer tournament. I could feel my internal temperature gauge rise like a cartoon thermometer rushing to the top. After a number of negative comments about our players, the final blow for me, the one that put this normally kind, cheering mom way over the edge of no return was when a women said, in reference to my daughter, that no one tripped her, and she just needed to get up and not pretend like she is injured.

I should have taken up pacing or sport-fan smoking; instead I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Parents, can’t we all just get along… that is my daughter out there that you are talking about… so just stop talking about other kids and let’s just watch the game. The ref stopped and looked at the stands. The players stopped and looked at the stands, and the other parents just stared at me.

Fortunately, my husband and I drove two cars. He escorted me to my car and made sure I calmed down enough to drive safely. He kissed me on the forehead sent me home.

Later that day, when my daughter returned, I apologized for my behavior, and I told her I would address the rest of the team too. My daughter said, “It’s okay, mom. We all thought you were a beast!” I confirmed she meant beast in the terms of the teen, slang version of performing well beyond others – doing a good thing.

Who knows, maybe, a long time from now, when Number 1 has a family all her own, she will have forgotten what and why I yelled on the soccer field that day. Perhaps all she will remember is the soccer ball, the goal and that mom yelled at the game. I, then, will return the favor my dad did for me and fill in the details; she, in turn, will look at her own experience on the soccer field a little differently, and may have even had her own way of coping with stress as people yelled at and about her child in a competitive setting. It is another version of the cycle of life.

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