Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Go Team

So, what were our biggest transgression as parents? Well, if you ask my husband he would say it was because we did not involve the girls in team sports. I am sure he is not trying to postulate that it really is that simple, but he would name it as the single largest mistake he will admit to. He says this, and he says if often, with no hint at recrimination, even though Kelsey dabbled in competitive figure skating, which was a passion of mine. So, it would be an easy leap to assume she pursued it to please me. Marissa went with gymnastics, skating and dance (I should note that their personalities were always like that. Kelsey was a very straightforward, no nonsense kind of a child; Marissa was like a hummingbird, never really landing in one place.) He does like to point out that these individual sports happen to be the kinds of pursuits body image nightmares are made of. And then he'll go on to lecture that team athletics build better social skills, participants learn how to work with others, have to check their individual egos at the door and yada yada yada. I don't disagree with any of these points, but think he is overly optimistic about how our lives would have turned out if Kelsey and Marissa had played some soccer or softball. My counterpoint is: MICHAEL VICK, Steve McNair, Pacman Jones, Terrell Owens, Donte Stallworth, a plethora of Raiders past and present, lots of people who are playing major league baseball with a little extra "juice", and my personal favorite, Dennis Rodman. They all played team sports all their lives. And, last time I checked, Michelle Kwan was pretty well adjusted. However, I can tell Marissa right now that she just needs to accept that "Grandpa Veldman" will be signing up her offspring for something that involves a ball or a puck and at least four other people.

I think the team we neglected was our own. Team Veldman was the team we all should have been playing on, and for two people who claim to be sports enthusiasts, we lost sight of the ball big time. Probably to some degree it happens to a lot of families in an odd twist of irony. We all become so busy building a life, we lose track of the life we are trying to build. I became increasingly worried about nurturing a young business and bolstering my career, thinking honestly that was what my role should be for the family. Problem with that is, at the end of each long, long work week, I still had housework to do and needed to try and squeeze some fun time in, sometimes with the kids, but sometimes without. My only child status began to work against me. I was used to being the center of my own attention, and never really let that go. There were times I just needed to get away for a little Me time. Problem is, when I was leaving so little time outside of the office, that meant Me time had to be sliced out of time I should have spent with Kelsey and Marissa. What was Greg doing during all of this? I have no idea, and I was too tired to care. For about ten years, he worked at night and slept during the day, so we rarely had time when we were all together as a family. When we did, that meant that one or the other of us was exhausted and/or stressed. In the photos from those years, Greg always looked like he was about to drop. We never neglected our daughters' primary needs. They always had adult supervision and had food on the table at the normal times and all the other things we thought they needed. We attended parent-teacher conferences, threw birthday parties and slumber parties, made sure they had school supplies and books and toys, but things were beginning to happen that we were missing. Little breadcrumbs were being left for us to find, and we were completely too preoccupied to see them. Funny thing about children, when you miss the clues they are leaving you, they don't give up. They leave you bigger clues. By the time we simply could not ignore what was happening any longer, those breadcrumbs had turned into entire loaves of bread, figuratively speaking.

I remember that the former University of Texas coach Fred Akers gave all his players t-shirts with "TEAM" in large, bold burnt orange letters on the top line followed by "me" in small letters below. I think all parents should be issued that same shirt. One of the first things a therapist said to me was, "It's not about you." I don't mean to suggest that parents completely lose themselves and their own goals and interests or, worse still, live vicariously through their children (because I believe that, ultimately, that still is really about the parent), but I do believe now that family life is more like a team sport and the kids are the MVP's. Even before Kelsey died, I learned the error of my early ways. Problem is, things were in motion by that time. I wish I could have stopped it before it began, but all I can do now is offer this up as a modern morality tale.

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