Monday, January 23, 2012

Juggling Lessons

"What an experience!"

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that in the last couple of weeks, I'm sure I'd have at least a dollar.  The reason for all the exclamations was that my 13-year-old was volunteering as a tennis ball-boy for the ATP Qatar ExxonMobil Open for the second year in a row.  I'd always smile, and nod, and say, "Yes, it is.  He's very lucky," and then secretly feel a bit puzzled by what exactly they meant. What was it about him doing this that other people found so appealing?  Was it the limelight?  The brush with celebrity?  The public display of competence running around picking up after somebody else?  (Oh, if only he trained at home!)  It wasn't until after the tournament was over that I fully understood what The Experience meant for us.

Let me just start by saying that I was the first official loser of this year's Qatar ExxonMobil Open.  Last year, the tournament was held during the Winter Break from school.  This year, the boys would be back in school when it was on.  There was, and I'm quoting myself here, "no way" I was going to have him staying up until midnight at the stadium every night, and then dragging him out of bed at 6:30 to go to school the next morning. This, while simultaneously organizing his life around school, hockey, soccer, piano...the list goes on.  Uh-uh.  Nope.

Evidently, when Teenager-Who-Really-Really-Wants-To-Do-This-Again teams up with Dad-Who- Doesn't-See-What-the-Big-Deal-Is, they will win by a landslide every time they are confronted with Beat-the-Fun-Out-of-Everything Mom.  And so it was that his responsibility became my responsibility.  I would have to make sure that he got to the stadium on time, that he was fed, that he had his homework done, etc., etc., and that everyone else in the family was taken care of.

Water for Tsonga
He had a few balls to keep in the air, too, so to speak.  Ball-boy Supervisor Lady was pretty firm in her expectations, and the thought of being put on one of the smaller courts for a second year in a row, now that he had earned experience, made him a bit indignant.  Tell her he's going to be late, or miss his hockey game?  Sleep, or miss his first class?  Leave school before the last class of the day, or get cut from one of the higher ball-kid teams?  Continue to go to Junior Varsity soccer try-outs, or explain the situation to his coach?  It became clear that he was accountable to everybody, and that this was starting to feel like his first real job.

Returning balls for Nadal
It's hard to appreciate any experience when you're in the thick of it, when you're in the trenches battling family schedule conflicts and losing ground to sleep deprivation.  But as the week wore on I noticed a shift in responsibility, almost imperceptible at first.  Instead of hearing "Man, I'm hungry" as he climbed into the car after school to go to the stadium, I started hearing, first thing in the morning, "Mom, would you mind bringing me a sandwich when you come to pick me up?"  And instead of the frantic posturing about which teachers would be mad if he wasn't in their class, the thought process became more logical.  At midnight, upon returning from the stadium, he'd tell me, "I've told Miss M. that I will have to miss the first couple of shifts, because there's a class I can't miss" or "I've sent an email to Coach L., Mrs. E. and Mr. K. telling them I won't be there tomorrow, but that I can get the work done on my breaks at the stadium.  Coach thinks this is a great opportunity, so he's OK with me missing a couple of practices.  I think I've got it all taken care of."

Mon fils retrieving balls for Monfils
So, we both learned something that week.  He learned to manage his time, his relationships, and his responsibilities.  And I learned that there are a lot of people out there who exclaim "What an experience!" who are a whole lot smarter than me.

Last Thursday I put that same boy on a plane for his 8th Grade service trip, to the island of Borneo.  I hope (and I secretly know) that there will be a change in maturity, that he will be a little closer to independence than he was when he left.  And if that happens, I think we can chalk it up to experience.


  1. Definitely experience and growing up. Way to go!

  2. Priceless. One of the things I love about living here is the proximity to what most consider ''famous". Before you start shooting rays of fire at me, keep reading. It's because proximity allows you to clearly see those in the limelight are people, humans, and absolutely nothing to be afraid or in awe of but people we can certainly learn from, well, most of the time.

    1. Thankfully, he didn't inherit my tendency to become star-struck at the sight of even the most minor celebrity. By the end of the week, these guys (although "really nice", in his words) were just demanding people who just happened to be taller than him. Story of his life :)