Monday, October 14, 2013

Why Sports Matter (Sometimes)

I was talking to our worship leader at church yesterday, actually about my blog post on being naturally pessimistic and Ethan picking up on that. He wondered aloud if some of that pessimism is actually a New England thing, because (being originally from Houston), he's noticed there seems to be more of it around this area.

I jokingly told him that's why when the Red Sox won the World Series, it was such a big deal. Generations of negative mindsets, of always expecting the worst and not knowing how to hope, were blown up and transformed.

Then I went home later that afternoon and turned on the TV.

Ethan is my sports buddy in the house. Dan watches under protest and Anna's bored to tears by baseball and football (the only two sports I really care for), but Ethan likes sports, primarily because they involve numbers, clocks, winners, losers, and of course, the chance for more screen time.

I was raised on the Red Sox and Patriots in central Massachusetts. Now that we've been near Hartford the past decade, there is none of that "rooting for NY teams because it's not THAT far away." We're still in Connecticut, people, which is indeed, believe it or not, a part of New England. Okay, rant done. Moving on...

So yesterday Ethan and I watched part of the Patriots game together, and it was one of those games worth turning in for: constant shifts in momentum; great plays; missed opportunities. The clock was ticking, though, and towards the end game it became apparent that the Patriots had squandered an opportunity to score a touchdown and were most likely going to lose the game. "Ethan," I said gently. I thought it would be better to warn him. "I think the Patriots aren't going to win."

That's when Ethan's tears started.

First there was a trickle and a sniffle, and with three minutes left to go in the game he was all-out sobbing -- you know, those shuddery sobs when your kid is crying hard and trying to talk at the same time and is probably overtired so everything in life seems worse than it really is?

"But...I, I, really want the, the Patriots to win!" Sob. Three minutes...five minutes of this while I tried to console him.

Meanwhile, in football time, only a minute had passed, and it looked as if our team might have a chance -- until the ball was intercepted.

"Ethan, I'm going to change the channel. I think the game is over." I randomly switched to a home shopping network on mute, where the hosts were slicing some kind of roast over and over and over.

"No! They have to win! They can still get a touchdown!" In my mind, the other team was going to get the ball back and run out the clock. The last thing I wanted was Ethan screaming louder because the clock was still going but no one was playing anymore in the game. I kept my eyes on the roast. Slice, slice, slice, and tried to remain patient.

"Pleeeeeease!! Patriots!! It's not fair if they don't win. They still have time. They HAVE to win!" Tears, screaming, kicking. My head started pounding, and finally I flipped it back.

"See, there's time!" The joy was back in his voice, accompanied by sniffles. There was a minute left in the game. It goes without saying that Ethan is an avid clock-watcher, including in football games. I half-heartedly glanced at the TV. But what was this? Our team had the ball back. We were marching it down the field, play after play. Still, it couldn't be...

There was 10 seconds left. We had one last chance. "This is it, Ethan," I said with clenched teeth, steeling myself for the screaming to start again. The ball sailed through the air...and landed right in one of the Patriots' receivers' hands -- in the end zone.

No. Way. Game over. WIN. Tears replaced by smiles. Ethan ran to give Dan a full report the moment he walked in the door: "And then they got a touchdown, and then they scored an extra point and the score was 30 to 27!..." and on and on. 

He went to bed happy, and Dan and I sat on the couch exhausted and watched the game 20 miles up the road from Foxboro at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox were playing the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS. Our team looked pitiful. And for all of my musings earlier in the day about how things have changed, I didn't have it in me to stay up late and believe for something magical to happen. Not when my team was getting no-hit for the second night in a row and was behind by 5 runs. So naturally, I went to bed. They were done.

Except they weren't. And when I woke up I found out the Red Sox had improbably come back at the end of the game to win.

Two games; two negative expectations; two completely opposite outcomes. And while they were just games, in some ways they weren't.

They served as reminders, as cautionary tales on how easily I give up, how quickly I get discouraged. Not just about ball games. About much bigger things.

They say it's a common trait with autism, but I'm the one that seems to have it: the tendency still to  expect and accept defeat prematurely, to not want to persevere, to throw in the towel and throw my hands in the air in retreat.

Thanks to two unforgettable games in the span of a few hours, I was reminded again to teach my child to have hope and to keep the faith.

And reminded myself, that despite the way things may appear -- as Winston Churchill once said --  never, never, never, never give up.


Astrid said...

So glad for the outcomes, and it's good Ethan went to bed happy.

Kerith Stull said...

I'm married to a sports fan. He's not over the top, but VERY serious about it. So I get it. Maybe there's another alternative than what you describe here....My 17yo daughter with moderate cerebral palsy has played on a Miracle League baseball team since she was about 8 years old. Throw out what you know about baseball or team sports. This is a whole different animal. Playing with other special needs kids has been a great experience for her, us, and the "typical" kids who help out. If you don't know about this organization, I posted about it a few weeks ago. (Visiting from "Love That Max")