Calm Mom by Kristen Dollard
Hoop ScreamsMar 19, 2008
When baby girl makes three, a sports-obsessed dad loses his home team advantage
Will you unmarry me? I think.
"March Madness" has arrived. To my husband this means coveted days of drooling over college basketball marathons. "Sweet Sixteen." Book that airline ticket to the chosen neutral site. "The Final Four." Male tears follow Cinderella stories. Watch yet another airing of "Hoosiers" until you are whispering "My team is on the floor."
But there is a momentary blip on the TV--and it isn't a flaw in the digital cable. Somewhere in the tournament, about the time pool entries are due, falls my birthday. I was born on March 16—as it turns out, in the middle of the Indiana Hoosiers perfect 1976 season . He hadn't even been cut from his high school team yet. The NCAA tournament had not yet become the highest bet-on-event in sports history, second only to the Superbowl. To me, "March Madness" is my emotional state--something akin to that red-faced coach known for his outrageous anger bordering on violence, Bobby Knight. There is no contest between the energy Terry spends on my birthday and the energy spent on college hoops. Over our nine years together, I have been coached to understand that a scoreboard and coin toss determine whether or not I get possession of him on my birthday.
Terry works in sports television. Early in our romance I rationalized his fanaticism away. When I felt we had seen enough "Sports Center" his response, "it's my job," represented how dedicated he was about staying current with industry news. When I made dinner quickly he proclaimed, "Good hustle outta you." And in response to my asking, "What time is it?" he shouted "Game Time!" I truly believed, like many women who love men who love sports, that when it mattered, he would choose me over the game. I had dreams that he would come to see professional athletics as the anti-Christ and we would get married and have children who played the flute and wore hand-sewn frocks. But I was blind to my new reality.
Admittedly, Terry's knowledge and passion wowed me. During games our home sounded like a Jerry Lewis telethon; phones rang off the hook during time-outs, big plays and halftime. I liked that they called Terry. But when my boss called and Terry answered, "TERRY HERE, GO!" I got passionate about visiting New York City cafes where only foreign men could be found. Certainly his emotional investment in a young star's free throws were surely equal to that of a one-night stand with some Frenchman?
Terry salvaged the relationship by taking me to Vegas for my birthday. "We'll hit the Mandalay Bay 'book,'" he said as excited as a child on Christmas Eve. "You'll see, there are TVs everywhere." I was confused. When my book club gets together we talk about female fertility in "The Red Tent."
When we arrived (on my birthday) no dinner reservations had been made. No card was written. The trip (to bet at the book) was it. The cost of the cabana (the only outdoor TV available) was included. When I expressed my disappointment I made Bobby Knight look like a sheepish choir girl. Once that was sorted out, Terry took off to Arizona. He avoided arrest, his team Duke prevailed, and the Tournament trauma was over.
One year later we were still together. But "March Madness" went from a multi-million dollar marketing buzzword to a syndrome likely to appear in the American Psychological Association diagnostic manual. A friend even suggested "bracketosis" when I told her I crawled into bed in search of some lovin' only to hear the rustling of newspapers followed by a bashful Terry entering picks on the newspaper worksheet whispering "bracketology." One night he begged me to take off the powder blue shirt I was wearing. What I thought was seduction turned out to be a request to not wear the team colors of his arch- rivals.
A bit savvier on the birthday front (or still smarting from the prior year), he managed my birthday well. My card was beautifully composed. My gift-a spa appointment-was an indulgent two-hour treatment. Funny, the time was exactly that of the showdown by college's elite eight teams. And yes, it proved to be true: the smaller the spread, the better the sex.
In the name of birthday sanity, I flew to Miami to escape the sounds of squeaky sneakers on courts, fans screaming in the background and his obsessive rehashing of games aired moments ago. I gave Terry the space to obsess without me complaining I was tired of the tournament. I wanted to string up the executives who in 1980 increased the initial tournament pool to 64 teams. While I sat on the beach he waited to fly to Atlanta for another crowning Duke glory. When Duke lost before making the final four, he called muttering, "I'm bereft." He described his loss as that of "the grief felt after a best friend dies." He was losing control. The "last dance" was eclipsing his life. The game has been a "war" he said.
The following year my birthday marked our third season of college hoops together. To celebrate, I wanted to see Baryshnikov. But to my horror, the mania of March tainted the experience. The performance had an unusually high number of intermissions. At the first break Terry begged to "get a quick score" on a game he wouldn't let me forget he was giving up for the one of the biggest names in dance. Sure, we didn't need to spend every break discussing the artistic merit of ballet. But by the end of the evening, after spending each intermission going over every second of missed play with three different men including his father, we were bickering. When I protested, he whimpered, " You told me I could call."
Offensive Party Line
These three years of birthdays are not the only moments that need a better offense. We also have a well-choreographed play when I fall short in public. When I am caught unawares by "mandatory" sports knowledge Terry justifies my deficiency by saying "She lived in communist Russia for the first decade of her life." And when he doesn't take me to games he tells his friends "She only likes the good seats." (Okay, I am sort of a "Are they behind third base?" snob. I like to see their facial expressions!) But in a last ditch effort to prove me worthy of the sports enthusiast company, he'll blurt out, "Her brothers are these star athletes" and he'll emphasize my promising gene pool.
There were moments when the "Final Four" could have meant the number of days or hours we had left together. But when this "March Madness" revisits us again I realize we have a daughter in the mix. When we were married but childless I thought, What he doesn't know is that my knowledge of sports and how to live with a man addicted to them, might just make me the number one draft pick if I am ever forced, for reasons like a missed or over-looked birthday, to become a free agent.
But this year I have revised the musing. This year's Superbowl corresponded to our entire family being laid up with the flu. Low energy and ribs sore from hurling, we hung out on our floor in heaps. While the narration of a star quarterback's setbacks and sex life was bantered about by burly yuck-it-up guy's guys I saw a glimmer in my 13-month-old daughter's eye. I took it to mean, "Mom I am on your team." And then she reached for a silky button down blouse and draped it over her shoulders with a flourish. It was her first unprompted attempt at dress up. Nearly weeping, I thought, "my genes are alive and well!"
The basketball groundswell has only just begun. But this year Duke will be really good and dad will be really pre-occupied. But I will have a pint-sized pal to keep me company and clap when I blow out my candles even if her Duke dad is glued to the tube.