My eldest is starting high school in the fall and I can already tell it will be tough. Not for him — for me.
A stereotypical high school athlete is very competitive and usually participates in more than one sport. Eldest has some very stereotypically athletic friends, but is not one himself. However, he has swum for many years and all his strokes are very good. But, he does not like to compete and he had never wanted to partake in swim meets before. But now he wants to get on the swim team, so we went to the athletic department kick-off.
Oh. My. God. A new and terrifying world opened up, one that made me feel like I should go back into my cave and never get out.
We first gathered on the football stadium [not to be confused with the baseball field (ballpark, is it?) or the field where the track and field folks practice] to be introduced to So. Many. Coaches… For so many sports! It’s a huge athletic department, near as I can say, but what do I know; maybe it’s really a teeny-tiny smaller-than-average barely-worth-mentioning department. Then we were promptly informed that they are — clap if you saw this one coming — underfunded!!! And we need to raise… $100k. (Am I the only one who thinks this number is just outrageous?) Which is going to be done by making every athlete peddle coupons.
Now, I hate hate HATE it how seemingly everything in the US has to be funded by people walking door to door, asking for money. And now you can’t be on a team without shaking your neighbors for some dough or, as I am sure many end up doing, just giving the money yourself (it’s a lot, each kid is supposed to bring in $300). But-but-but… It’s a team effort! We are looking for the best team! Best at forcing useless coupons on the people we know! Whichever team collects the most gets some sort of “prize”! At a banquet which I am sure will be paid from these funds!!!
Then we go inside the school and go to different classrooms, according to sport.
I have to say here that the interactions with the locals en masse, such as when going to my kids’ school-mandated orientation or celebration events, make me acutely, profoundly anxious. In part, I am sure it’s because I never went through the school system here, so every aspect is new, different, and disorienting. I am supposed to be a grownup, yet I feel like I am a really really dumb fish out of water. I think I should just send my husband to these events instead, because I get so very uncomfortable, but I don’t want to transfer my anxiety to my kid, who is blissfully oblivious and generally unruffled.
Also, I am white, but, as I keep finding over and over and over again, I am not really white, as in the right kind of American-born-and-bred white. But I certainly look as white as they come, so I keep getting approached by local moms, who start chatting with me, quickly get disappointed when they hear I have an accent (alternative theory is that I bore them to death in 10 seconds, which, if true, would be a superpower of sorts), decide I am not really worth their time and immediately start looking around for someone else to talk to. And this happens several times on every such occasion. I should just frown more, so people would avoid me.
You know how I feel the impostor syndrome at work, as a woman in a male-dominated discipline? I assure you that’s nothing compared to the feeling of not belonging that makes me want to flee whenever I have to interact with other parents at my kids’ schools. (Or with teachers! Teachers scare me and I always feel like a child who’s in trouble.) I have no idea how it must be for other international folks; I know there are many immigrant families from South and East Asia in the neighborhood, very few at the athletic department kickoff, though. I wonder what percentage of immigrant families send their kids to high-school sports. Maybe they are all terrified shitless like me.
So we get to the classroom for boys’ swimming. It doesn’t start till the spring, and the coach gives us the dates (and the stupid coupons), talks a little more, then asks for questions, and I stupidly ask if there is going to be any practice in the fall, which was a really really really bad idea and a really really stupid question. I need to keep my mouth shut, always. Apparently, my kid is supposed to already be swimming and competing with a club and, since he doesn’t, and they asked us where he swam and used to swim, my question and their follow-up ones embarrassed him in front of everyone. We were told to go join a competitive swim club in the fall; of course, now he has to try for that one, too.
One mom who was late to this revelation came to me and introduced herself as the mom of the team captain, and asked me what meets my kid had competed in. When I said he didn’t but that he was good, she gave me a nice condescending smile.
As I know now but didn’t then, the swim team is very good and very intense and very competitive; in season, they do 8 practices per week. Apparently everyone knows that and us coming all uninformed was really silly. I am a little worried about the intensity of the team and how it’s going to sit with my laid-back kid, but I am perhaps even more alarmed at how much all the parents seem to be really invested in all this.
That’s another aspect of the US education that I cannot come to terms with — how much parental involvement (time and money and chauffeuring) is expected. And how intense the parents get about all the activities that their kids do.
I don’t understand the reasoning: most of these kids will not be doing whatever they are doing sportswise past high school. A handful might do it in college, a very rare one might turn pro; among the rest, a minority will continue to do it casually. But it still holds that most kids’ abilities don’t warrant that much fuss about their competitive athletic pursuits. These are all s0lidly middle-class families, the kids will go to college, why not spend more energy and money on academics or languages or something that they can actually benefit from past the age of 18? How about enable more kids to participate in sports for fun instead? I tried to get a way for my eldest to swim noncompetitively and it’s impossible: you can go swim laps at the YMCA once you turn 18, but as a teen you either compete as part of a club or nothing.
What is it with sports in the US, honestly? Sure, sports attract audiences, money, endorsements etc., but the scale of production at the freakin’ high-school level?
I remain shaken by the glimpse into the world of high-school athletics.