Cross country season

This fall David joined his middle school’s cross country team.

The second he joined the team, before he even brought home his school-issued singlet, I fell head-first into the murky waters of living vicariously through my kid’s sport.

Until now I’ve been completely immune to this. As a person who can barely throw — and definitely can’t catch — a ball, I have the unique freedom to sit on the sidelines of sports and genuinely celebrate effort and sportsmanship. I am not tempted to critique skill, I just genuinely want everyone to have a good time. And when I’m feeling particularly self-righteous, I even give side-eye to the intense coaches and over-the-top parents. CALM DOWN THEY ARE CHILDREN!!!! Just let ’em have fun, who cares who double-dribbled or whether that girl just picked up the soccer ball and walked it into the goal. This is all about FUN and FRIENDS.

But now we’re running, now we’re doing my sport. Everything changed in a moment. At the first race I got very, very close to asking the coach if he needed an alternate runner. (But then I remembered how uniquely painful cross country races are.)

My excitement, I want to be clear, wasn’t in seeing David break the tape or set school records. It’s in this new opportunity for connection. Suddenly I have this new shared language with my kid. we can talk about PRs, fartleks, and hill repeats. I have a new way of nurturing him with electrolytes, simple carbohydrates, and restoring protein. And when I watch him race, I can send my high school cross country teammates texts about how much things have changed and stayed the same.

One day David came home from practice and told me that he didn’t dread math class anymore. Instead, he dreads cross country practice. I wrapped him up in a big hug, welcome to the club buddy, you sound just like a true runner!

David did a great job tempering the, um, enthusiasm Tom and I brought to the meets. Do you want us to yell your splits when you run by? No. Do you want us to tell you how many seconds you are behind the next guy? No. Do you want us to tell you your position in the race? No. Can we cheer for you? Yes.

Ok, bud. We’ll do our very best.

I still remember the stomach-dropping feeling of standing on the starting line of a cross country race. I never got used to it, and it never got easier. When I see my kid toeing the line of a race waiting for the start, I don’t mind admitting that I get a little emotional knowing how much fortitude it takes to stand there and go for it.

David did so well in cross country. It’s a grueling, painful sport during (if you’re in Richmond) the hottest part of the year. He stuck through tough practices and tough races and worked his way onto the travel team. For his perseverance,  great attitude, and determination, we couldn’t be more proud of him. And the way he gracefully endured my enthusiasm? Wow, top-notch. Give this kid a medal. You know you’re insufferable when the nicest kid on the team leans over and says, “Wow. Your mom really cheers LOUD.”

That’s right, I learn all the kids names and I cheer LOUD. I also cry when I see kids gutting it out to the finish line. I am who I am. How can I not!? This sport is just SO BEAUTIFUL! And watching these kids out there putting it all on the line? It’s incredible, absolutely incredible.

David’s goals for the season was to try something new, get to know friends, and make the travel team.

My goal was to remain chill.

Guess which one of us absolutely knocked our goal out of the park?


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