Jessie Raymond: School sports take a toll on parents

If your kids play sports, you know only too well the pain of bleacher fatigue, or, as it is known in medical journals, gluteus maximus agonius.

The prolonged sitting on pullout bleachers for sporting events causes numbness of the backside, an ache in the lower back and stiff knees and hips. (In colonial America, rule-breakers were originally forced to sit for hours on a set of bleachers in the town square. The stocks and pillory were adopted only after bleachers were deemed “intollerably crewell.”)

Other symptoms of bleacher fatigue include — for outdoor events — sunburn and heatstroke or, alternately, hypothermia and frostbite, or — for indoor events — crowd-induced agoraphobia, headaches from the fluorescent lighting and nausea from the cumulative odors of sweaty athletes exuding BO in the poorly ventilated gymnasium.

Also commonly experienced are stomachaches, from eating at concession stands, and mild depression, from coming home late Sunday night after a two-day tournament and discovering that the house is still as messy as it was when you left.

My husband and I have been dealing with bleacher fatigue for over 20 years. It started with tee-ball way back when, and since then we’ve spent countless evenings and weekends spectating three children’s worth of athletics covering pretty much every sport except ice hockey and fencing.

It’s a wonder we can still walk.

Things have gotten easier, though. We only have one child left at home and it’s just the two of us going to the games now. We spent plenty of years with a toddler or preschooler in tow, and I can tell you small children add an element of pain that transcends the physical sensation of a sore butt.

They don’t like to watch other kids run around when they can’t. They will beg for a snack but seconds after you buy them a Rice Krispie treat, they will drop it through a crack in the bleachers and howl relentlessly over its loss. And, in a skill that science can’t yet explain, a 3-year-old needs to go to the bathroom only when there are two minutes left and the game is tied.

Parents at any given sporting event are united in supporting their children’s athletic endeavors while, with a twinge of guilt, wishing they could be home getting the yard work done. And, later, when they limp out to the parking lot, they are again as one: a group of people having a hard time walking upright and thinking mostly about ibuprofen.

You can see the signs of bleacher fatigue in your friends and coworkers. The shuffling from chronic back pain. The permanently flattened derriere. And the furrowed eyebrows, indicating worry over whether the dog’s bladder will last until they get home after the game, how the laundry is going to get done, and when on earth a person is supposed to go grocery shopping.

A generation or two ago, bleacher fatigue didn’t exist. Parents didn’t schedule their lives around their children and preferred, if possible, not to see them between kindergarten and college, except at mealtime. But things have changed. Nowadays, not attending your kids’ extracurriculars is tantamount to child neglect.

If you have little ones, you may be thinking, “Isn’t there some other way I can be a good parent without having to suffer through 12 or more years of butt numbness?”

No. I’m afraid your unwillingness to spend 30 to 40 percent of your free time sitting in discomfort on the bleachers indicates strongly that you do not love your children.

You could, however, encourage them to focus on music and theater instead. You’d still be sacrificing much of your leisure time during their childhood, what with rehearsals and performances. And you’d be burdened with sewing their costumes late into the wee hours and listening to them run scales night after night (bonus points if they play clarinet or trumpet).

Nothing says “I love you” like enduring a decade or two of bleacher fatigue for your children. But if you spent a comparable amount of time watching them from a cushy auditorium seat, you’d at least be telling them, “Eh, I like you quite a bit.”

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