There are many people on this website more qualified than I to give advice on how parents can help their children become successful individuals (athletics being only a part of that formula). I would like to discuss the flip side: how to maintain a balanced lifestyle as the parent of athletes (thereby raising well-adjusted and happy kids!). It's not an easy task.
My book, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS, has just been published by Barking Cat Books. It is my story of the seven years of triumphs and tragedies as our two sons journeyed through the minor leagues, from the rookie team through AAA (the pinnacle), during 1992-99. What I had considered to be my balanced lifestyle definitely became one-sided during those years! Here's the background of how it developed.
STAGES ONE AND TWO: FROM TEACHER TO FULL-TIME MOM
I obtained a Master's Degree from Columbia U. Teacher's College and before we had children, I taught high school English in three different states. I sometimes got so caught up discussing books with students afterschool that I would forget to pick up my paycheck! I absolutely loved every minute, although this was before the days of weapon- and drug-checks in the hallways.
When we had our boys sixteen months apart, I decided to become a stay-at-home mom. I absolutely loved that too! I was always busy, either taking the boys to museums or zoos or later volunteering for things at their school. Our neighborhood mothers would meet for coffee to share recipes, stores and restaurants that had opened, kids' experiences at school or on teams. Those of us who didn't work put each other's names on the "Call in an Emergency" list for our children at school. There was always an instant playgroup in the yard with neighborhood kids (including the sisters), and the play usually involved a ballgame. We didn't have to arrange many "playdates." I volunteered for everything: President of the YWCA, President of the Preschool Parents' Association, President of Newcomer's Club, team mom in Little League. Our social activities revolved around our friends in these organizations or tennis court friends.
When Tim was around ten and Todd nine, I decided to return to the work force. I felt I needed to direct my creativity to something beyond the boys' school projects or directing annual funds, budget proposals, raffles, or bake sales. I tried to get back into teaching high school English, but in the early 80's there was a glut of teachers. So I went to my first backup plan. I decided to retrain in something I also enjoyed: interior design. We lived close to R.I. School of Design, and the commmitment involved four years of night-school for an advanced degree. My husband, Charley, was completely supportive. Although he had a demanding job that involved travel (often international for ten days at a time), he took over the homework check after dinner with the boys while I worked on perspective drawings or studied for architecture exams, often till sun-up. During this time I also apprenticed for a local interior designer during the day, but was available when school let out.
When I opened my own company, I chose to do so out of our home. I used the dining room, right off the central hall, as my office. This allowed me to arrange my work hours around school, practice, and game schedules. I don't want to minimize the stress this schedule caused...often I was in Boston at the Design Center with a client and would be looking at my watch to get on Route 93 South in order to avoid rush hour and be able to pick the boys up on time. My stomach was often in knots. I worked till midnight many nights on the accounts, after attending one of their hockey games or drillilng them for a test .
In addition, I was not earning nearly what I would have if I had joined an interior design firm in a city. But the trade-off was a more balanced lifestyle and a happier me. Charley and I both participated in the boys' activities to a huge extent, once they chose to commit to a team (always their choice and no quitting was allowed). Often dishes piled up, the grass grew long. Our commimttment to their education (ALWAYS the first priority) and their team sports became their commitment - habitual, expected, a way of life. I suppose that the discipline they learned early from balancing studies with extracurricular activities paved the way for the self-discipline they needed later, both in the Ivy League and in professional sports. They began to reap the rewards: state championships, All-Star status in both hockey and baseball, entrance to Dartmouth and Brown, All-Ivy status for both boys in baseball, and finally, the Boston Red Sox!
Todd, our younger son, was drafted in the ninth round by the Red Sox in '92. He had just completed his junior year at Brown. He promised us he'd complete his degree in the off-seasons, and because of his strong work ethic, we knew he would. Tim, his older brother, graduated from Dartmouth and signed ten days after his brother as a free agent. I still had my interior design company, but things became part-time. About this time, Charley lost his job. We decided to relocate to Florida permanently. That meant we could attend spring training in Ft. Myers and follow the boys' careers on a more frequent basis.
Over the course of the seven-year Red Sox journey, their dream became mine. I changed from supportive mom to Red Sox addict to obsessed minor league fan. Their tragedies and triumphs became mine, as interested fans and relatives constantly besieged us with questions. I needed another back-up plan! I found it in the journals I began to keep about the experience of dealing with the Red Sox farm system. Into what would have been his third season, our older son, Tim, was released at the end of spring training. My role as Mom kicked in. He went to Japan to teach, then to graduate school, and began another career. He survived just fine! When Todd's career ended one step below Fenway Park, he went back to graduate school and on with his life. I survived those last five seasons with Todd in the minors by writing about it - reinventing myself with my journals.
A NEW LIFE AND NEW LESSONS
It's been ten years since Todd last put on a pro uniform. I turned my journals into a narrative, found a publisher, and began a new career as a writer. It is challenging, fun, exciting, and time-consuming. And who knows where my journey will go from here?
- ALWAYS HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN - whether it's education, a career, finances, or whatever!
- If you are able to find fulfillment in what you are doing, your family will be happier, too.
- It might be tough to balance all the facets of your life, and sometimes something will have to be put on "hold."
Sometimes you might have to take a pay cut, to NOT volunteer for things you would like to, and perhaps to NOT work so hard. When you are a grandmother, as I am, you will be able to look the rewards in their little faces and smile!