The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta.
I enjoy sitting in the sunshine. I love looking up at the sky during the rain. I hate the cold, but I endure it. I like thick winter boots with wool socks. I pretend that my hands are android hands when I wear gloves.
I spend most of the year outside. My kids play outdoor sports. Maybe I should have put them in volleyball or gymnastics or basketball, but we didn’t. I have to be weatherproof year round. Because we live in Atlanta, I carry both a winter coat and sunscreen just about every day of the year.
I like being outside. I love watching sports. But I don’t like the other parents. In fact, parents really bother me. I avoid parents at school during curriculum night. I worry about the parents on the sidelines of a sporting event. I usually park my chair at the far end of the field. I’m an empath. Being surrounded by angry raging parents makes me feel claustrophobic. I don’t like being around parents who project their desperation for a win and angst at a loss on their kids. I don’t like parents who keep score. Our kids are watching us and how we act.
My job is transportation and positive reinforcement. There is a ref to monitor the game. There is a coach to provide guidance. Like my gestational years, I am not a participant in the sport. I’m barely a spectator. I am the vessel who delivers my child to practice and games. At the end of the game, we merely ask these questions:
How do you feel?
Did you have fun?
Did you do something well?
Did you notice any good players on the other team?
Did you try your best?
Did you thank you coach?
Did you thank the ref?
I watch parents shouting at the referees. I see kids, young kids, shout at the referees. I cringe. I imagine someone might have spoken to a slave in the same tone of anger and dismissal. How would you feel if someone did this to you while you were at your job? How can that shouting, that rage, ever be a good thing?
Why would they want to ref?
Why would they want to play?
We wonder why our kids are terrible human beings. We are surprised when a group of privileged boys attack another boy for his pocket change. They are not Jean Valjean. They are not poor kids who need a loaf of bread. I make no excuses for poor kids who commit crimes. It is wrong. Even if they have grown up in a society that encourages this behavior, it is wrong. But worse are the kids from big houses who have no regard for other people and no respect for society.
I don’t have to wonder about this. No one wants to admit that our kids are terrible people, because we are terrible parents.
They watch us shouting at the refs, acting like everything in the world should go their way. They watch us rage over baseball. They watch us turn an afternoon of soccer into a Greek tragedy. These kids know nothing of true suffering and loss.
My kids participated in a tournament this past weekend. It was a fundraiser. An actual soccer event with zero stakes and a 10 cent trophy at the end of the day. A day of fun. High school kids were the coaches. High school kids were the refs.
It was a gray sky day. It was chilly, but not too cold. At some point a drizzle of rain fell, and I thought how lucky my kids were to be able to run around having fun. It was my favorite kind of day. Good, but without the illusion of perfection.
I asked my kids what they thought at the end. They complimented their coaches. They had laughs with their friends. But my daughter noted this, “Mom, could you hear the parents yelling from the stands? They were being so mean.” She is 12 years old, but even she can see you.
If you can’t respect the ref, why would you respect a cop or a teacher or a nurse? You wouldn’t. You will grow up thinking you can never be wrong. You can never be corrected.
I like to spin my umbrella in the rain. I used to do it as a kid. All week, I am trapped at a desk at work. It can be defeating. Sports have taught me how to persevere, how to try harder when I think I’m too tired, how to deal with different kinds of people. Not everyone is like me. I look for the good players even when I’m at work. Even when they are on the other side. Sports have improved who I am. And I know sports can bring out the worst in people.
We tell our coaches thank you.
We tell the team manager thank you.
We tell the ref thank you. Every time.
I try to teach my kid that you don’t have to win to feel proud of yourself. You don’t have to shout at the ref, just because you’re losing. Or winning. Don’t keep score. Ever. Just look at the sky. Swim. Run. Play. Every child does not have this opportunity or freedom.
Sometimes they see me on the sidelines away from the crowd. I might have a book or my computer. I like to write when I’m outside. I try to glance up so I can see them, but I try not to put myself into the game. They are playing for themselves. Not me. I am the vessel. If our eyes meet, they should see in my eyes that I am happy to be there. I am happy for both the clouds and the sunshine. They should know this.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. The Zero Mile column appears on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.