The busyness factor in the Tiny Kingdom rose dramatically last week when Finn started tackle football. Until then, we’d been managing everything just fine – Finn has drums on Tuesdays, and all three boys attend Pioneer Club at the church on Wednesdays. Porter and Drew are playing fall baseball and they practice on Thursdays. All of these activities have regular schedules and are considered a normal part of every week.
I thought football would be the same: another uniform, another set of practices and games. Nothing I couldn’t handle. When Chatty Mom called to see if her son, Bert, and Finn could carpool to practice, I took the opportunity to ask a few questions about the upcoming season.
Chatty Mom and I have been carpooling for years. She has three boys, I have three boys, and we tend to parent the same way. It’s worked beautifully for ages.
As an added bonus, Chatty Mom is always in the know about our little corner of the Tiny Kingdom. She’s up on everything about school, teachers, social events and sports, and she wasted no time giving me the unvarnished truth about fourth grade football.
“You are going to freak out when you see the practice schedule for the next month,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because our nine year olds have a three day jamboree next week to ‘teach the boys safety.’ That’s code for ‘three days to watch all the kids and divide them into teams and try to brainwash them into believing that football is more important than any thing else, including school and sleep,'” she said.
“Wow,” I said, impressed that a bunch of men thought they could accomplish all that in just three days.
“That’s not all,” Chatty Mom said. “You are going to die when you hear this. The following two weeks they have practice every single day. In the fourth grade. It’s the damnedest thing.”
“We can’t go every day,” I said. “Finn has drums on Tuesdays.”
“I know. It’s okay to tell me that, but don’t let anyone else find out that’s why he’s not going, or they’ll think you don’t take football seriously,” Chatty Mom cautioned me.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said. “I can drive the first day.”
“Great,” Chatty Mom said. “But you better prepare yourself. You are not going to believe all the dads who will show up at the practice and stay there the entire time. And a lot of the moms.”
“No they won’t,” I said. “Dads never stay at baseball practice unless they’re coaching. And the moms have other kids to drive around. That’s ridiculous.”
“You wait,” Chatty Mom said knowingly. “Football is not baseball. You will see every man you know in his business clothes in the sweltering heat, watching the practice. And they’re not just watching their own sons. They’re checking out all the other kids, too. They want to see who’s good, and who isn’t and who’s going to play quarterback. They really think the next Peyton Manning is out there at the fourth grade football practice. It’s unreal.”
Chatty Mom is prone to exaggeration, so while I respected her input, I figured that she was overstating the extent to which football would take over the Tiny Kingdom.
I was mistaken.
I dropped Finn off at the first football practice, and saw to my surprise that there were more parents on the sidelines than players on the field. Groups of men in business attire stood in the 100 degree heat, watching their sons intently. Groups of ladies, some in tennis clothes, some in floral capris, were there too, with siblings by the hand.
It was the biggest Tiny Kingdom get-together I’d seen since Open House at school.
I couldn’t stand it. I got out of the car and mingled on the sidelines, listening to the conversations around me. I realized that anyone who saw me might think that I was scouting out
the players, not the parents, so I grabbed my big sunglasses out of my purse and wore them while I prowled around.
Chatty Mom was right. All around me, the spectators were discussing the boys’ performances, how well their older brothers had played in the past, and who might be a breakout star.
I passed one group of guys and dropped my purse on the ground, then knelt down by them, picking up lipsticks while I eavesdropped.
“Yeah, Jack may be one of the best players now, and he’s certainly one of the biggest, but he’s peaked in terms of growth. Look at his parents. I think by sixth grade he’ll be old news,” one dad said.
I was dumbfounded. Old news? In sixth grade? I snuck back to the van, panting in the heat.
That night, I let loose about the whole football thing to Bill.
“What’s up with these guys?” I asked. “Chatty Mom says that they attend every practice. She says they think football is the only sport worth playing and that everything else, including baseball, is for wusses. They’re checking out the other kids, trying to figure out who’s going to be the quarterback. It’s unbelievable,” I sputtered.
“I totally believe it, “Bill said calmly.
“I was listening to some of the guys talking, and they were having a serious talk about which boys have grown about as much as they’re going to, and which boys have tall parents and should get a lot bigger, and whose dads are athletic. The boys are in the freaking fourth grade! Where are their priorities?” I ranted.
“Honey, calm down,” Bill said. “We don’t have to be like everyone else. Finn may not even like football.”
“Damn straight,” I said. “And I found out that they’re practicing every day for the next ten days. Well, I have a life, mister. And Finn does, too, and it’s not centered around football. If football and drums conflict, he’s going to drums. In the grand scheme of things, drums will serve him better. Look at Charlie Watts. He’s in his sixties, and he’s still drumming for the Stones and ENJOYING THE TIME HE PUT INTO HIS MUSICAL INSTRUMENT!” I shouted. “Name me a single football player who has been able to play as long as Charlie Watts.”
“I’m on your side, Anne,” Bill said. “We’re not in an argument. I agree with you about drums. I’m not sure who Charlie Watts is, but I’m sure that Finn will be able to play the drums longer than he will be able to play football.”
“Okay,” I said, realizing that maybe Bill was not going to be like all the other dads. “I just don’t want us to be hovering around on the field during practices so that people think we’re all fired up about Finn being the best player out there.”
“Honey, I wasn’t at the field today. You were,” Bill reminded me.
“That was just for investigation. I was disguised. And I confirmed Chatty Mom’s information. You won’t see me on the field again until game time,” I said.
“Me either,” Bill said. “I think we’re on the same page.”
The first night of the jamboree was rained out. Finn missed the second night to go to his drum lesson. He went the third night.
It was a day where schedules were complicated. After much discussion, we decided that Chatty Mom would take Finn and Bert to football, and I would take Porter and Drew to church at 6:30. Bill would stay at work until Pioneer Club ended, then pick up the duo at church at 7:30, get Finn and Bert from football at 8, and bring everyone home.
I dropped Drew and Porter at the church and called Bill’s cell phone to let him know where the boys would be waiting to be picked up.
When Bill answered, I had trouble hearing him, as there was a lot of noise in the background.
“What’s going on at the office?” I asked. “It sounds like there’s a lot of people there.”
Bill hesitated. Through the phone I heard someone yell, “Hit him harder, damn it!”
“Honey, it doesn’t sound like you’re at the office,” I said slowly, hoping for the best, but suspecting the worst.
“I’m not,” Bill admitted. “I’m at the field watching practice. My meeting was done early and I was over this way so I just stopped by to see what was going on,” he whispered.
“Gotcha!” I yelled. “This proves it! You’re just like all the other dads! Now everyone’s going to assume that we want Finn to be the quarterback and that we think football is so important that you have to leave work and watch practice! Our reputation as a family that refuses to be sucked into the Tiny Kingdom mindset will be destroyed! You’ve got to leave at once!”
“Honey, you need to be a little quieter,” Bill cautioned. “I think people can hear you over here– they’re shooting me dirty looks. Wait, here’s Chatty Mom. She wants to talk to you.”
I could not believe it. Chatty Mom was there, too?
“Hey,” she said casually, as if nothing was amiss. “You would be really proud of Finn. He’s hitting everyone really hard.”
“And that’s a good thing?” I asked.
“Apparently it is. I think I’m getting the hang of it,” she replied cheerfully.
“So,” I said, “is Finn really doing okay?”
“He really is. No one’s getting hurt, and he’s made a bunch of great plays. You’d be proud,” she added. “And don’t be too hard on Bill for showing up here. Men can’t help it. It’s something in their genes that pulls them to the field. I think they’re secretly reliving their athletic days of glory or something,” she said.
“I know. I’ll go easy on him,” I said. “But you — that’s a different thing. If you weren’t such a dependable carpooler, I’d be steaming mad at you right now,” I told her.
“I know,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I should
be embarrassed. For God’s sake, it’s fourth grade football.”
“You know, we could make a deal,” I said.
“I’m always willing to talk,” Chatty Mom replied. In the background I heard someone yell, “You’re never gonna hurt anybody if you keep playing like a girl! Come on, son!”
“How about I don’t make fun of you for succumbing to football fever, and you promise to call me if Finn gets hurt or does something great?”
“Deal,” Chatty Mom said, without hesitation.
I’ve learned a lot about football in the last week. I’m not so sure about the rules of the actual game, but now I am extremely aware of the respect the sport must be accorded, at least superficially, if I am to exist peacefully in this town.