Following up on last week’s column, entitled, “Help! I have a teen! Now what?!?” I would like to thank everyone for their well wishes and let you know that so far, I’m still standing.
In fact, I have already survived an ordeal I managed to put off for exactly 13 years of parenthood: Having a Kid Try Out for a Sport.
No one gave me a heads-up about how nerve-wracking this process would be. In all my years of schooling, I tried out for a sport one time. Once. Seventh-grade volleyball. I made it by the skin of my teeth because I was tall and could breathe. It was a fine experience, but I chose to devote the remainder of my school-age athletics career to sports and activities for which I did not have to make a “cut.”*
Fast-forward 25 years, and my soon-to-be seventh-grader has spent an entire summer counting down the days until volleyball tryouts. She has never played, not even in the YMCA league. But somewhere along the line, Bookworm got it in her head that she was going to be a volleyball player. I’m not sure why or how, only that after she announced she was going to try out, the craziest thing happened: Despite my strongest efforts to discourage my heart from wanting this for her, it became deeply invested.
As the days until her 13th birthday — also the first day of volleyball tryouts — waned into the single digits, I asked if she was getting excited to finally become a teenager.
“Yeah,” she responded thoughtfully, “but I’m more nervous about volleyball tryouts.”
So these were the stakes. Suddenly a new sport had cast a pall on cake, presents and major milestones. How did we get here, and what happened to my cake-loving 12-year-old who would rather just finish her chapter thank-you-very-much?
In the weeks leading up to tryouts, I did everything I could to ease any potential blow — told her a lot of the kids probably had some experience playing; reassured her that even if she didn’t make the team, there was always the recreational league; reminded her that, like a loyal friend, her already-beloved sport of figure skating will always be waiting for her.
I also reminded her that just as important as an amazing vertical and being able to master an overhand serve were attributes such as positivity and integrity, leadership and character.
“You may not be the best volleyball player on the court,” I reassured her one day, “but you’re a good leader. Keep showing up and encouraging your teammates. It won’t help your serve, but it will make a difference. People notice that.”
It turns out my precautionary efforts were unnecessary, because on the day the kids were sent home with a sealed envelope confirming their middle school volleyball fate, Bookworm learned she had made the team. (As did, it seems, all the girls who attended tryouts.)
In a stroke of discipline which she did not inherit from me, she waited until she got home to open the envelope in the privacy of her bedroom. Downstairs stirring spaghetti sauce, I waited 2.5 minutes for some sign from above — weeping and gnashing of teeth, gut-wrenching wails, squeals of glee, etc.
But it was silent.
So I tiptoed up the stairs and knocked gently on her door.
“So,” I said tentatively. “Didja make it?”
I pushed open the door and found myself staring at a smile.
I gave her a huge hug, hearty congratulations and reminded her of what I’d said about character and integrity.
The truth is that Bookworm is not as strong, experienced or coordinated as some. She’ll have to work for this. It will be hard at times, but I know she’s going to learn a lot. She’ll grow stronger because of it, and my heart is happy because hers is happy.
What would I have done, had the outcome been different?
Not much. Still hugged. Still congratulated. Still encouraged and helped her seek out new opportunities — and I know my heart would have followed, because that, it seems, is what parents’ hearts do.
*I lettered four years in high school swimming. Anyone who thinks that was a walk in the park should swim 6,000 yards a day, six days a week and let me know how they’re feeling afterwards.
Abbey Roy is a mom of three girls who make every day an adventure. She writes to maintain her sanity. You can probably reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, but responses are structured around bedtimes and weekends.
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Abbey Roy: Parenting a teen through tryouts