Monday, April 26, 2010
Re-LAX. It's Just A Game.
After years of schlepping and carpooling and spending close to $4 million on tennis clubs, tennis lessons, tennis clinics and tennis gear, my son decided that he wanted to play lacrosse instead. I say “instead” because as far as high school teams are concerned, it’s an either/or decision. Both tennis and lacrosse are spring sports for boys.
The decision came less than a year ago, when my then-middle-schooler came home one Wednesday afternoon and announced that if he showed up to practice that week, he could still make the 8th grade lacrosse team.
“Show up,” it turns out, meant: Show up in full LAX gear. Stick, helmet, shoulder pads, arm pads, gloves. We needed it all. He had gone to a lacrosse summer program a few years back and I’d bought him gear for that. All new, all expensive. He’d quit after three days, saying it wasn’t for him. So this time I told him to get on the phone to his cronies; if he could borrow all the gear he needed, I’d pay the team registration fee. Which he did, and I did, and that’s how my son started playing lacrosse.
At that point I’d never actually seen a lacrosse game played. I didn’t even know what the “stick” would look like. I assumed it was French in origin (perhaps from the name, the spelling of it) and so I figured it had some of those same characteristics of other European sports – it’s own vocabulary, maybe some wacky system of scoring, lots of hand-shaking at the end. I was a tennis mom, used to my son playing a sport where he was far, far away from his opponent – a net between the two.
I’m not kidding when I say the first game I watched I had to be held upright by one of the other dads. “They’re hitting each other,” I said in horror. “They’re hitting each other with sticks.”
The dad steadied me and smiled. Then he went back to watching the game. “Get him!” he’d yell at one of our team members. “Hit him!”
Didn’t we all just spend the last 14 years teaching our boys not to hit each other with sticks? I thought. That lesson is toast the minute your boy steps onto a lacrosse field.
Lacrosse falls someplace between hockey and football. It’s unimaginably violent. Someone once told me that it actually hails from the Native Americans and that the “ball” being tossed about was in fact some unfortunate soul’s decapitated head. None of my research corroborates the head part, but it did come from North America and was used, in part, to train young boys for war.
But when the game is played well – when the team is “on” – it’s as beautiful as a ballet. Boys, fast and fluid, dodging and weaving, creating a visual rhythm on the field. They slow things down, they speed it up. They’re running and passing and talking and scooping like a vicious little symphony. In my prime, and on my best, most lucid day, I was never able to think fast enough to have been able to play this game.
The games at the stadium can be glorious. Sun shines on the bleachers, the air smells sweet. The moms often sit together in a group; most of the dads stand on the sideline. Some moms have been at this a long time. They explain to the rest of us which hitting is legal and which garners a penalty. They explain what the “crease” is and who can be in it. They explain under which circumstances a defender can cross the mid-field line. What the implications are when a team is “man down.” We all listen attentively, while at the same time trying to hold upright the new moms – those who’d never seen the game played before.
“Oh my god, they’re hitting each other,” one will say to me as she grabs at my forearm. “Oh. My. God!”