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After Work: Never Sporty But A Sport

Dona Gibbs recalls facing up to one of the toughest questions a son could ask his mom. “Why can’t you throw like Mrs. Williams?“

If you are a person of the non-sporting kind, read, chuckle, sympathize – and appreciate the gift of a new hate figure.

For more of Dona’s diamond-sharp prose please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

“Mom,” my son sighed, lifting and lowering his shoulders in exasperation as the baseball fell slowly, slowly four feet from his outstretched baseball mitt and dribbled towards his feet.

“Why can’t you throw like Mrs. Williams? “

He wanted to practice catching before Little League season got into full swing, or half swing if one were really being truthful about the skills of most of the seven-year-olds.

He zinged the ball back.

Why couldn’t I throw like Mrs. Williams? I pondered his question, turning the ball this way and that examining the stitching. Well, let me count the ways.

Mrs. Williams was tall. Long, well shaped arms. Long, well shaped legs with calf muscle definition long before calf muscle definition became de rigueur for young suburban matrons.

Mrs. Williams was athletically gifted. A credit to the country club tennis team.

Mrs. Williams had been a physical education instructor, possessing the requisite skills in all kind of sports. If it involved hitting a ball with some kind of stick, she was your hand-and-eye coordination girl.

Me? That was another story. I spent leisure time in my girlhood lying on my stomach on the floor reading, a bowl of crushed saltines alongside my elbow. When a cracker urge came over me, I only had to dip my tongue into the salty crumbs, without missing a sentence.

Sports didn’t come naturally to me even though my mother had been on her high school volleyball team and my father, a collegiate wrestling star.

I broke both of my little fingers trying to play volleyball. My mother had, too, and she shrugged in sympathy, “You have to expect those things.”

Wrestling? As I grew into my teens, there were some willing coaches, eager sweaty boys, but practicing takedowns and reverses was an offer I could, indeed, refuse.

So my son had to make do with the mom he got. When he announced he must play ice hockey, he’d never been on a pair of skates. I had skated. Once. Still I was ready to help him however I could, which was mainly watching and handing over a credit card as Mr. Macho at The Twin Rinks pulled out shoulder protectors, shin pads, suspenders, hockey shorts, jerseys, hockey socks and garter belts. Yes, garter belts. They’re not some kinky conceit. They hold up the socks.

Then came skate fitting. A pecking order of skates from the glare inducing ones,” You’d put your kid in those shoddy things?” to “Hey, nice skates!”

Now if you can’t guess which ones were the least expensive and which ones were the most expensive, you don’t deserve to be sitting in the stands of a third rate rink, drinking watery hot chocolate and watching a bunch of five-year-olds try to remember which is the right goal.

Since my son couldn’t skate, much less skate in full gear, we decided to learn together. Or rather he decided he’d learn to skate and I decided to join him. If nothing else, I could keep warm.

There’s nothing like learning to do something the same time your kid is learning. He fell and got up laughing. I fell and, wanting to show l'espirt de corps, got up laughing as well. I had to.

That was only the beginning. From the time he was five until he went away to school at fourteen, it was practice and games. And more practice and games in all kinds of sports.

Ice hockey made wintertime the hot social season in suburban New York and Connecticut. Parents became friends, car pool friends, at least. As the boys got older, more games were scheduled for the season, which now stretched all the way into March. The games got further away, held in rinks in Long Island towns I’d never heard of. I was terrified on ending up on one major road when I should have been zooming down another. And like a nightmare come true, it happened, and I didn’t get The Front Line to the rink until the second quarter. Shameful. Bad Hockey Mom. Though it turned out, driving pre-teens to distance locations is a job you can’t get fired from.

And as the boys got older, the hockey moms, one by one, made a horrendous discovery. With the exception of the jerseys and the intimate protective apparel (okay, jock straps), hockey gear couldn’t be washed. Even the stockings were problematic. Unzipping a hockey bag in the front hallway could cause gagging two rooms away.

It’s years since I’ve been in a rink. The remainder of my son’s hockey stuff moved with him to London then to Germany and then back to London again, spreading the odoriferous molecules of sweat and the peculiar smell of rinks to his own home.

And where are those boys who joked in the back seat of the Mom-mobiles and laughed and skated their hearts out. One’s an orthopedic surgeon. Another a journalist. One’s a teacher and so on. Most went to Wall Street. They’re like their dads, working days and nights, trying to catch a little time to catch a game.

Their wives have become moms. And like the generation before them, they’re the ones who are throwing and catching. Skating and falling. All the while they’re laughing, I hope. They, like I did, are having the time of their lives. Even though they’ll probably never throw as well as Mrs. Williams, the Gold Standard of Moms.


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