As parents, we make more sacrifices for our kids over the course of their lifetime than most of us could possibly count. Some big, some small, but all designed with the same purpose of improving the quality of our child’s life. It’s just one small part of being a parent and it’s something we all know we’re going to have to do well before the sperm and the egg make their little love connection.
And these sacrifices we make, they range from giving up our last fortune cookie at the Chinese food place to squishing our kids into the middle of the bed at 2 am after a nightmare to taking out college loans that bury us in debt well into retirement. But we do it all with a smile on our face and a full heart because they’re our kids and we love them and, in most cases, our parents did the same for us.
But let’s talk for a sec about one sacrifice in particular. It’s probably not one of the top-tier sacrifices that you’d expect me to be talking about, like moving cross-country for a better-paying job or spending night after sleepless night caring for a colicky baby or listening to nothing but cheesy Top 40 pop radio in the car from the time your kids are in fifth grade until they’re old enough to drive.
The one I’m talking about is most definitely a lower-level give-up on the sacrifice chart, but it’s still relevant. It’s the one so many of us make in the spirit of giving our kids the experience of being part of something bigger than just little-old them. It’s the one that transforms our otherwise quiet and lazy weekend into a white-hot chaotic mess, filled with endless car rides, hours of sitting on cold bleachers or in saggy lawn chairs with numb fingers and frozen toes. I’m talking about the languid, relaxing weekends we give up to enable our kids to be part of a sports team.
And for those of us who’ve spent season after season out in the damp cold, blowing into our hands, losing feeling in our toes, and begging our coffee to stay hot just a little longer, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Now it’s probably because the spring sports season is in full swing in my cozy little town, and the sidelines and bleachers are all filled to capacity, that I’ve made an observation. And what I’ve realized is that as much as I may’ve bitched and moaned in the privacy of my own head about the endless car rides and sudden-death overtimes and playoff games, I’m actually jealous of all the young families who are newbies in the world of youth sports.
See, you do a lot of self-reflecting when one of your kids graduates from high school. And since my oldest daughter just graduated on Sunday, I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing about when my kids were young. Which, in turn, has led me to pause and relive a lot of my favorite moments over the years. And surprisingly enough, I’ve realized how many of those beautiful moments involved watching them practice or play on their sports teams.
Those three-hour-long track meets out in the early spring cold waiting for Libby to throw the javelin or Riley to run her 400 meters—events that are so quick you can miss them if you so much as sneeze at the wrong time—are priceless. And I think every one of us who puts everything on hold just to be able to cheer for our kids knows that these are some of our most cherished moments as parents.
I mean really, what’s more endearing or hilarious than watching your five-year-old son score the winning basket for the other team on the basketball court? Or having ten soaking-wet ten-year-old girls piled in your car for a rain delay during a soccer game. Or cuddling under a blanket with a couple of other moms on the sidelines trying to share body heat.
These are all little gifts—gifts we wouldn’t have if we didn’t sacrifice our time and freedom to make them happen. Because when you add up all the hours spent taking our kids to and from practices, all the time traveling back and forth to games, and then all the hours spent watching them play, you’re talking about a pretty good-size investment of time and energy and, if you’re like me, vocal cords. But what we realize, usually after those days are long gone, is how much we loved those freakishly cold spring mornings or those playoff games or that hunt for the missing cleat when you’re already running late.
We love it because it gives our kids something we can’t give them alone. It gives them the experience of working as a team and of what it means to depend on the people around them and to feel the thrill of the win and the heartbreak of defeat—life lessons you learn best when you live them yourself. So yes, die-hard fan of my children as I am, I admit that I’ve secretly prayed for Noah’s Ark-type rain on weekend mornings to wash out any possibility of a game, or a loss in the playoffs so the season ended quicker; but at the end of the day, I’d go back in a blink and do it all over again. And so would you. I’d just be doing it in one of those portable sideline shelters and wearable sleeping bags. I’m not stupid after all.