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Making Concessions For My Athletic Children

I NEVER meant for my children to be athletes. Their father wasn't, I wasn't, so they would not be, either. However, when our oldest child was six and there were Little League sign-ups at West City Park, we thought it would be all right for him to play. After all, exercise is good for all-round development, we thought.

I thought baseball would keep him out from in front of the television and his father thought it would keep him out of trouble. And it did. He had a good time. He spent most of his time sitting on the bench, but the sunshine, I figured, was good for him.

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Then we moved to the country. And when spring rolled around, we signed him up to play a rural version of Little League. His five-year-old sister went into their version of the baton corps and suddenly things were different.

In the country, it seemed, everybody played, and the coaches liked our son's long arms. He couldn't bat worth a hill of beans, they agreed, but he certainly could throw that ball. And the clincher was that he threw it, at the tender age of seven, where he aimed it.

Our daughter's baton corps, in town, had performed in one contest and marched in one parade. Things were different in the country: They marched in all the parades.

What a summer that was! When I wasn't at the baseball park, cheering for my son and chasing his three-year-old brother, I was running the parade route alongside the baton corps, absolutely certain my little darling would get lost in the crowd, never to be heard from again.

After three years, the baton corps made way for gymnastics, which in turn were replaced by volleyball. At the same time, my oldest son discovered that, while he still liked baseball, basketball was his true calling. In the same time frame, they both discovered that they preferred sports camps with 100 other pint-size sports fanatics to family vacations.

As the years went on, I accepted baseball, volleyball, and basketball as an integral part of our lives. I drove, dropped off, picked up, and sold concessions and popcorn and overpriced candy bars. My husband drove, dropped off, picked up, and ate quantities of concessions, popcorn, and overpriced candy bars.

But then our younger son, whom I now cheered at Little League games when I wasn't cheering his brother at Babe Ruth games or dropping off or picking up his sister, wanted to play football.

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I prayed, ``Please, God, not my baby.'' I said, ``I don't want you to do this.'' I told his father, in much stronger tones, ``I don't want him to do this.''

To no avail.

He's big, my younger son, and strong from all those years of chasing parades and his brother's foul balls. He not only played football, he excelled.

So why was I surprised?

His best friend talked him into wrestling. He pinned his first six competitors without even changing expressions.

This time I wasn't surprised, just resigned.

So now they're in high school. We've all come a long way.

I, who still buy my shoes off the clearance rack at J.C. Penney's, will pay $90 for basketball shoes and $50 for football or volleyball or baseball shoes without blinking an eye.

My husband who is a quiet man, will scream, ``Get in the game, ref!'' at anyone wearing a striped shirt.

My daughter, who considers any idea had by an adult to be stupid, will come home from volleyball and tell us dirty jokes. Not questionable jokes: dirty jokes. She also brings home her report card, with ``Honor Roll'' stamped on it, and we like that.

Our younger son, who is so ``cool'' it positively oozes from his pores, when a coach crossed the line from frustration to lack of reason, said, ``Huh-uh,'' and quietly walked off the basketball court. He would not have left the football field for the same reason, but he has learned to judge what is important to him, what matters in his plan for his life.

Our older son, who has talked, eaten, and breathed basketball since he was 10, conveniently grew to 6 feet, 6 inches and recently scored his 1,000th varsity point. And he came home and hugged his mother in front of his girlfriend. He decided not to play baseball this spring, for the first time since that fateful year he was six, because he has plans for the summer and plans for college and he needs a job.

So there they are, not at all as I intended them to be. And if I were offered the chance to go back and make different choices, I would not go. What I wanted and what I got were two different things, but what I got is just fine with me.

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