Monday, August 30, 2010

Katie McMahon: Who are we? The Wildcats! Who are we gonna beat? The Wildcats!

I am the person who fell off the elliptical machine at the gym.

Yes, that was me swimming into your lane.

I have been hit in the head with a basketball. I have been hit in the head with a softball. A tennis ball. A baseball. A football. About fifty wiffle balls.

I tried out for cheerleading in sixth grade and didn’t make it. The next day, I fell down the stairs.

If I was being tortured or held over a cliff and someone asked me what my favorite sport was as a kid, I would say softball.

We were a team of eight-year-old girls called the Wildcats. As cats, most of us were ferocious and ready to attack. Others of us only found ourselves in the park because someone had brought us there and let us out of our cat cages. We were hungry, lazy, and confused as to where we were and why. Now, instead of lying on the grass and chasing butterflies, we were expected to run around in circles and catch things with big leather gloves on our hands.

They even put t-shirts on us with big numbers printed on the backs. As Wildcats, we wore forest green. Cougars wore yellow. Cheetahs wore baby blue. Other cats wore other colors (pink, orange, any colors you can think of). Our t-shirts were too big and much longer than our shorts, making it seem as though we weren’t wearing any pants. There we were: just a bunch of eight-year-old girls running around with no pants on, playing some softball.

The sunlight peaked around the tree branches and through the holes in the fence and out onto the field. I could feel everybody crossing their fingers as I walked to the plate and grabbed the bat, heavy and wobbly in my hands. My dad had finally made it to a game and I could hear him yelling my name, along with some expert tips on how to hit the ball in the right direction.

“Look at the ball,” or “Don’t look at the ball.” I don’t remember anything specific, just yelling, yelling, yelling, and then maybe a groan of disappointment here and there.

I’ve never understood how violent screaming could be regarded as a sign of encouragement. If he hadn’t been there, I think things would have gone better -- at least I wouldn’t have had to deal with as much embarrassment and self-loathing. I could’ve stood in the outfield again, pulling strands of grass out of the ground, tying each one together to make an extra long grass string. Maybe I would’ve run to first base in the next inning. It’s quite possible I would’ve made it all the way around the bases without getting hit in the head with the ball or falling and getting little rocks embedded in my knees.

Why do parents like to make their kids’ lives miserable? I was born with some kind of weird hip problem and messed up knees and had a hard time learning how to walk. My mom tells me I could barely crawl, and instead would just roll around the room if I needed to get anywhere. I’d curl up into a ball or on my side and roll on over to get a closer look at the television. Eventually, I managed to walk, and almost immediately, I was thrown out onto a soccer field, then a softball field, a basketball court, an ice skating rink, a swimming pool, even a golf course. Why?

It probably went by pretty quickly, but my dad kept hollering and complaining about the umpire or the catcher, or whoever had given me the bat that was too heavy or too light for me. Each strike was draining and my heart felt like it was going to jump from my chest into my throat and then out of my mouth, while all of the water in my body flooded out of my eyes forming a colossal natural disaster in the park. Everyone would either float far away or drown within minutes.

Other parents seemed legitimately supportive of their children, but my dad’s voice was terrifying, echoing throughout the park. This was not a tone of cheerful optimism, but rather infuriated resentment and dissatisfaction with my ultimate failure. “You can do it!” felt like “If you don’t hit that fucking ball and run around these damn bases in ten seconds or less, then you can find your own ride home.” Wet, hot tears rolled down my face and I felt like throwing up all over my feet and whipping my bat at the other Wildcats on the bench making up stupid cheers. Shut up, shut up, shut up. I opened my eyes a little wider. My damp eyelids felt cool in the breeze. I didn’t even want to be here. I am not cut out for this.

My brain likes to tell me things like that. It says things like, “You suck at running. Why are you even trying?” or “Who cares about winning? Maybe afterwards, you can eat pizza, fatso.”

Up until recently, I thought my brain was wrong. Often it is wrong, because it tells me I suck at a lot of things that I’m actually pretty okay at. Then I realized it was right about this one thing. I do suck at running and I don’t care about winning. At all. To a degree, I understand why my parents were so insistent about my involvement with sports. I mean, I would never have made my kid play every single sport I could think of; an entire summer of golf seriously seemed like punishment. Though mostly I believe they just wanted me out of the house, I sort of see they also wanted me to try new things and be active. I guess.

Recently, I came to the startling realization that as an adult, I can say no. I say no to lots of things now, but most importantly I say no to basketball and softball and kickball and pretty much every sport you can think of. No (or sometimes, “no, thank you”). Competitive sports have left me emotionally unstable and full of self-pity. I figure the only way to get better is to eliminate them forever.

I still do my best to say yes to being active. I say yes to yoga, riding my bicycle, walking and being outside as much as possible. It would be completely out of place for my dad to be yelling words of so-called encouragement in my face while I’m in the middle of downward dog. As long as he doesn’t see me lose, maybe he won’t think I’m a loser.

I want to say that my dad was never purposely trying to hurt my feelings or give me anxiety that would continue into my teens and now my twenties. He was just always competitive himself and wanted to see his kids win. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t care. When he did show up for games, he never yelled at me afterwards, even though his sighs of defeat washed over me. Whether I ended up winning or losing, we never talked much after the game. And every once in awhile, we would get ice cream or pizza and he wouldn’t call me fat or tell me to stop eating.

He left that up to my mother.


  1. Loved this one, Katie! I can so relate -- my dad was my soccer coach when I was a kid. He used to make me cry EVERY GAME. Jesus. Fathers. I tell you.

  2. Interesting read. I do think it'd be a nice touch to list the authors name and maybe a link to their own blog on the post though. just a suggestion.

  3. This was great! I will read it again while listening to The Sporting Life by The Decemberists.

  4. Mike - the author's name is in the tags section, but you're right, I should at least throw their name into the title of the piece. I'll work on getting bios for everyone, too. Kinda learning as I go here, of course.

  5. Well said. My dad made softball suck too. Now I find myself conflicted about encouraging my daughter to do team sports because they say it's good for you, and not because I'm not sure it was good for me.

  6. Oh, sister, can I relate! A terrific read, and that's coming from another lady born with a weird hip and an overbearing softball father.

  7. Kickball was always my bete noire in elementary school, so imagine my horror when I had to play it at age 48 because some high-ranking ass-clown at Disney thought it would be a good "team builder." Even though I was a temp, I was obliged to build a team that hadn't even chosen me by embarrassing myself on an athletic field. The humiliation was completed two months later, when I was not hired and obliged to leave, lest I attain the rights of an employee by working as a temp for more than 15 months. One of the first things I thought was, these fuckers made me play KICKBALL for nothing!?1?

  8. Just say no to sports, kids. I found out pretty early on that I couldn't run too. My teeball team made comments long before I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Mean kids, but hella astute!