Monday, June 1, 2009

Mathletes, not Athletes

I don’t mind the one-and-a-half mile walk between the train and the office, but every once in a while I get the feeling that I’ll turn into a blancmange with a weak heart if I don’t do something more strenuous.  With that in mind, I’ve begun riding my bike on a semi-regular basis.  I don’t get very far, and I return on wobbly vermicelli legs with my whole family laughing at me as I gasp for water and collapse on the couch.  But the effort is there.

I’m not lazy – not in the least.  It bothers me when people don’t get out and get moving.  I’ve just never been an athlete.  I’m tall and thin, and by rights I should be good at basketball or running or pole vaulting or something.  It’s only fair.  But I’ve been cursed with Three-Stooges clumsiness and bad knees.  I only run if my kids are in danger or I smell really good food.

My seventh grade gym teacher actually yelled at me for my skewed athleticism vs. height ratio.  We were lined up in the gym to take turns shooting baskets.  In my entire life, I’d never managed to get the ball in the stupid hoop; it certainly wasn’t going to happen while everyone was staring and the mean gym teacher was scowling at me.  More than anything, I wanted that ball to go into that basket.  I looked up at the hoop, squinted one eye to help my aim, and flung – yes, flung – the basketball into the air.  It sailed wide and far under the net, bouncing across the gym.  I was not about to chase it.

“WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?”  the teacher screamed, face purple.  (It’s true.  This guy was not just regular mean, he was movie-character-legendarily mean. People still talk about him.)

“I can’t do it,” I mumbled, looking back at the line of classmates to take a mental tally of how many of them felt my pain and how many of them wanted to pummel me for my ineptitude.  The split was not in my favor.

“Just DO it!” he yelled, and not in a positive-reinforcement Nike sort of way, but in a way that meant that by sheer force of his will and the fact that my height put me several inches closer to the net than everyone else, I should end this pathetic display pronto.

 “I don’t feel very well,” I said.  And it was true, not an excuse – I had come to school with a fever and chills that day.  But I could have been blindfolded and standing on my head, and my aim wouldn’t have been any worse.

 “Why are you even here?” the world’s meanest gym teacher said, as more of an accusation than a question.

 “I have band practice today.”

Thank god my bad knees got me out of gym class for the rest of my school career.

When my oldest child was born, I was determined that she should get an early start at sports.   She tried karate for a few weeks, but it made her nervous.  Soccer was fun, but she really wasn’t concerned about winning, which irked the other players.  She tried cross country and ran like the wind until it came time for the actual meets, when she decided she’d rather run for fun.  She briefly excelled at a course in fencing – not in the Olympic sense, but more in the sense of saving herself from imaginary pirates.  Maybe we’re just not competitive folk when it comes to sports – academics, yes, but not sports.  We are mathletes, not athletes.

When my youngest turned two, I took a different tack.  He wanted to take dance.  It was movement, it was a group activity – didn’t that essentially make it a sport?  We joined a Mom & Me dance class, and let’s just say that it was the beginning of his career frightening girls.  Surrounded by petite pixies in tiny pink tutus, he spun around like a drunk Fred Astaire.   The mini ballerinas followed the teacher’s directions to the letter, while he freestyled, squealing, “I love dance!”  He wanted to dance with the girls, not stand in a kick-line next to them, all doing the same thing.  But no one wanted to stand next to him; no one wanted to be his partner.  He’s three now and his favorite song to dance to is a composition of his own entitled “Shack Black the Monkey is Red.”  It’s no wonder the girls are scared.

So genetically we’re a family of pasty, uncoordinated wimps with questionable dance moves.  We’re terrible at sports, but at least my kids are active.  They bike, they scooter – and I swear no one walks as much as we do.  I can’t count the number of times we’ve worn out our out-of-town visitors after saying, “You’ll never get a parking space on the waterfront.  Leave the car in our driveway and we’ll walk.” or “Of course you can walk from Faneuil Hall to Copley Square.  We’ll be there in no time!”  We probably won’t win any races, but I don’t think we’ll be turning into blancmanges any time soon. 

(Oh, and twenty years later, I finally got the ball through the hoop.  It was a game of donkey basketball, but that still counts, doesn’t it?)