I live in Northwest Washington, DC, which doesn't want for intensity. Politicos, hyper-educated lawyers and business folk, a shocking number of inept drivers...all of them forge ahead with, let's say, a sometimes ferocious thrust.
I am nothing if not an intense driver, schooled as I was in the lanes of Boston so many years ago. (They call them Massholes for a reason, people; defensive, aggressive driving at its very best.) So while I loathe the traffic that can confound the most desolate of streets here during hours that seem as if no one should be out much less going somewhere, I do appreciate the opportunity, no need, to drive assertively.
I enjoy the thrilling, seething marriage of intellect, experience and engagement that characterizes so many of my city's denizens, most of whom aren't even from here. Native DCers past the age of twenty five are like white whales. Ahoy! You there. You grew up here? Fascinating!
My sons attend an excellent school, admission for which required parental essays, a toddler IQ test and a supervised playdate. Such is the norm in DC, as it is in cities like New York and San Francisco, but I feel we largely escaped all the scary intensity of what the admissions process could be and often is like and am grateful every day for that.
By and large, the parents at my boys' school are remarkable, humble, terrific people, and in the community, I have made some of my dearest life friends.
All this to say, that it is both despite -toddler IQ tests?- and because of -neat people!- this jumbled context that I love living here. The good and bad, the yin and yang.
What I have experienced shockingly little of is competitive parenting, a sport in which I have zero interest. We're all just getting through the days, people. I'm trying to turn out solid humans who know how to use silverware. There is no time for nonsensical showmanship.
There was the couple who complained to our children's teacher because Jack handed out homemade Valentines to the other eleven two-year-olds in his nursery school class. Apparently we had not received the memo suggesting that Valentines weren't a thing, and, as an ardent Heart Day fan, I wasn't going to stand in the way of my boy sharing love with others.
I chalked that experience up to lunatic, head-up-bottom, sleep-deprived silliness and never thought about it again because WHO GETS UPSET ABOUT CONSTRUCTION PAPER HEARTS CUT OUT AND DECORATED BY A TODDLER?
And yet, this afternoon, seven years later, at Jack's last baseball game, I saw and heard some crazy stuff that made my eyes pop and my mouth gape.
This is a non-competitive league of nine- and ten-year-olds and the first year of kid-pitch versus machine-pitching. Games are played on Sunday afternoons at neighborhood parks. Parents bring blankets and camping chairs and all their other kids and everyone lolls about in the sunshine watching their little beanpole boys with toothpick legs and absent butts attempt to get a baseball from pitchers mound to home plate or hit said ball in a non-injurious way.
It's sweet and fun, and the batting helmets weigh more than any kid's head.
But today, there was a mother (and it pains me to declare her gender because I'm all about strong and vocal women but if I didn't tell you she was a mother, you'd all assume it was a father because stereotypes) who also served as a coach, and she.was.unbelievably.aggressive.
"I DO NOT WANT TO SEE A BALL GET PAST YOU, TIMMY. DO YOU HEAR ME? IF A BALL GOES BY YOU, YOU THROW YOUR BODY ON IT. ARE YOU LISTENING? WHAT DO YOU DO?"
Timmy swore he would throw his body on the ball.
Every time they struck out one of our kids, she yelled "THERE IT IS!" before resuming her manic nail-biting and/or stalking thunderously around the field.
Tom, who rarely notices anything, said, "That coach is extremely aggressive." Several other parents heard him and said, "Right? That is so sad to see. It's so inappropriate."
And it is. What in god's name is she modeling for those kids? I don't know, but I don't think anything good.
At the top of the 5th inning, as our next pitcher was warming up, one of the other team's outfielders heard him speaking Spanish to his father and started dancing towards him with a clownish gait and singing in a decidedly insincere way, the Star Spangled Banner.
It went on and on and on, despite the fact that the game was in-session. Our pitcher's parents were stunned, the rest of us too. On that kid sang and danced, on our pitcher warmed up, larger our saucer-eyes grew.
And y'all, I am sorry, but I cannot stand for shit like that. I don't know if Mr. Dancer Singer intended to act in a bigoted fashion -taunting the Spanish-speaking child with an ugly rendition of the American anthem- but what I do know is that he was behaving in a distasteful way. And I do know that none of his coaches did a thing.
After several rounds of the SSB, I walked over, stared that kid down and asked, "Is there a reason you're singing that song right now?" He tucked his tail between his legs and hauled it back to the outfield. Where he should have been all along.
Our boys ended up winning and did so with grace and humility and sportsmanship. All of us -parents, kids, siblings- went out to dinner to celebrate: the end of another season (our fourth together), good friendships, hard work, and our best efforts to keep childhood simple and sacred.
They're watching and learning from us all the time.