Happy Mother’s Day
Motherhood embodies many salient sports themes. For example, one cornerstone characteristic of moms — in addition to bringing a life into the world, which we’ll get to — is doing stuff which has to get done even when no one wants to do them. No story better exemplifies this than my mom’s tale of her second pregnancy, my middle school track meet and a driveway conversation with Grandma.
Since this is technically a sports column, let’s start with the running in circles part. Fresh off winning the 800-meters and high jump at a meaningless mid-week spring meet in Fargo, North Dakota, seventh-grade me left for my evening band concert across town. I rushed back to the meet after the final fermata — in concert dress — grabbing a slice of pizza on the way. Exhausted, I left my track bag in the car, thinking in all likelihood the meet was probably over. Even if it wasn’t, I surely couldn’t be expected to race again.
I definitely didn’t want to.
Slumping into the bleachers, my gut tingled as I nervously observed 4×400-relay teams assembling. My fear fully materialized when Mom, who was also my coach, rushed to me and said, “Ryan, you need to run on this team — their anchor leg left.”
Looking back, it’s not an unreasonable request. Still, here was my logic: I returned to a meet after winning two events and playing an entire band concert out of the goodness of my heart, and you want me to fill in for somebody who signed up for this event but then abandoned the team because things were just inconveniently long?! …And I’m the bad teammate if I don’t run?! How is that fair?
I put my foot down.
I didn’t run. My mom was not thrilled. Now, some backstory.
Thirteen years prior, she was on the way to the hospital to give birth to her second child. This is the kind of woman who ran a sub-3-hour marathon with my older brother in the womb and stair-stepped at the gym right up until the due date this time around. Feeling, and this is a direct quote from her — “HUGE” — she once infamously got stuck upside down during her third trimester … doing sit-ups. This is not my primary example of “you should do stuff even when you don’t want to,” but if it increases an athlete’s post-workout core routine discipline, I guess I’ll take the win.
On April 5, 1991, my mom successfully pushed out my brother, Dan. Ten minutes later, the doctor softly said, and I’m not making this up:
“There’s another one in there.”
Amazingly, my dad didn’t faint under the weight of a camcorder larger than modern-day SUVs, even after my mom responded — and this is another direct quote — “Dave… do something!”
Now, like my track meet predicament, my mom faced a physically demanding proposition, one she was not particularly thrilled about going through with. Though my college roommate might rush to my defense arguing the 400-meters is actually the harder ask, the fact remains that, unlike me, she gutted it out.
She’s a mom, and that’s what moms do. Her surprise-child was, of course, me.
We argued the whole way home from the meet, pulling into the driveway where my grandparents — loyal followers of both my music and sports enterprises — were waiting to share celebratory ice cream with us. I could write thousands of columns on my grandma, so one paragraph here won’t do her justice.
Alas, Grandma Dorothy — still living in Moorhead, Minnesota at 97 and maintaining her morning routine of praying for her 12 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren, individually, by name — was the type of matriarchal figure who mysteriously cloaked her competitive side from all of us. We knew it existed, though. The legendary stories of her state-title-winning shot for tiny Casselton back in the late-40s had a dulling effect on one classic piece of advice, which she constantly was forced to give to the uber-serious offspring trifecta of my mom and older brother before me.
“Don’t get too serious about that running,” she’d warn.
Maybe she knew something about herself and the type-A genes she’d passed down. Maybe she was compelled to reiterate those dangers to her daughter before I got out of the car that day. Thus, I stayed inside, only able to lip-read as my mom got lectured by her mom. Grandma probably should have said, “Look Jane, do you really think Ryan is the type who does something painful and inconvenient when he’d rather not? What do you think he is — a mom?”
That couldn’t have been the topic, though, because both women already knew what motherhood entails.
There’s no sports writer waiting with a cliche question for the first-time mom, lauding her heroic physical achievement of labor and delivery in the next day’s front page. Chris Dillmann isn’t going to capture the perfect cover photo of you dealing with diaper blow-ups, wiping a booger off of your 2-year-old’s face or their vomit off the backseat of your minivan. I’m guessing the New Yorker isn’t looking to feature the stay-at-home-mom who eschewed a business suit for reading Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things that Go” for the 340th time this month…just to find Gold Bug on every page. There’s no company card for the 40 pieces of French toast your teenage boy’s breakfast now requires and there’s no Employee of the Month Award for doing fours loads of laundry after another hockey, baseball, soccer, etc., tournament.
If those things positively resonated with you, you’re probably a mom. If it sounded more like a miserable servant’s life, you probably aren’t.
My mom, who abandoned her CPA career when we arrived, tells me every year, “You’re my favorite surprise, and raising you three boys was the best job I ever had.”
I assume that even includes the track meets, band concerts and car arguments.
And of course, those things most people would rather not do, but know they have to.