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I’m the Oldest Sports Parent on the Sidelines, and I Love It

If you see a couple casually leaning back in folding chairs on the sideline of your child’s next soccer game, that’s us.

We are almost 50.  Our child is 7.  My oldest and youngest children are spaced over a decade apart.  Around the area we live, we are older than most of the parents on the sideline these days.

And I love everything about it.

I’m not quite the sideline parent I used to be.  I don’t yell as much as I did ten years ago.  I care about the game just as much as I did then, but I enjoy it in a quieter, subdued way now.  I don’t try to socialize with the other parents as much as I used to.  I’m friendly, of course, but I mostly want to watch my little lady kick the ball down the field.  By next year, the players won’t ask the ref to tie their shoes.  And in a few years, the players won’t run by to high-five their parents after the game.  This all goes quickly.  I don’t want to miss a thing.

When we watched our older children play sports, we were . . ..  a lot.  We were serious – even stressed – about every call, every moment of playing time, and every score.  We paced, scowled, and rehashed.  

Now, we sit in our folding rocking chairs (yes, you can buy them), and we giggle when our daughter gets a handball, we whisper just between the two of us if the ref misses a call, and we clap when either team gets a goal.  

Because they’re 7, and goals are fun.

The other day, I kid you not, I looked over at my husband during a game and saw, behind his sunglasses, that his eyes were closed.  

I elbowed his arm. “Are you sleeping!?”  I glanced around, wondering whether other parents could see behind his shades.

He jolted a bit.  “No,” he said quickly, but obviously, yes.

For years my husband coached every team our children were on.  For years my husband volunteered to paint the lines on the grass, serve on the board, and train the other coaches.  And now . . asleep?  Are you kidding?

“I’m just listening,” he said.  “Try it.”  

I put on my sunglasses (no way would I get caught with my eyes closed) and relaxed my eyes.  At first, I just felt silly.  But then I listened.

I heard the joyful, high-pitched voices of the players, calling each other’s names – learning the social dynamics of a team.  I heard the younger siblings behind me playing Lava Monster at the park.  I heard the soft drone of parents chattering and chuckling.  A grandparent proudly pointed out her grandchild’s number to the person next to her.  I heard the crisp thud of the ball against a cleat, the rustle of legs running, the ref’s whistle, and the osprey who had built her nest again in the field light.  I heard laughter.  Sounds of spring.  Sounds of sports.

Maybe my husband was taking a quick doze that afternoon, or maybe he was genuinely enjoying the moment he was in—or both.  

In a short few years, the intensity of youth sports will rev up.  The tryouts will begin.  The wins and losses will determine the playoffs.  The game won’t be fixable with ice cream.  

But not yet.

As a nearly 50-year-old parent of a very young athlete, I never wish the game away.  I’m not concerned about the dishes in the sink back home. I’m not upset about the crazy schedule.  I rarely hope a game is canceled due to the rain.

I want to truly be there, taking a few photos and marveling at the joy of the game, teamwork, fun, and activity.  I want to slow down and soak in summer.  Even if that means, for a brief moment, I close my eyes and just listen. 

I don’t wish to go back in time and parent my older children in any other way than I did. 

I will just do it a little differently this time.

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