Ask your child what he thinks of when you say Halloween—you can guess the answers. Candy. Costumes. But an away-game with his sports team? Er, no.
I got the email this week: My son's hockey team added a last-minute game, this Saturday (yup, Halloween) at 7 p.m., at a rink that's a 45-minute drive away. My boy's 13, and excited to meet up with his friends and trick or treat, and according to him, so are most of his teammates. Even if you feel passionately that teens shouldn't be holding out their pillowcases for candy (though I respectfully ask that you withhold judgment until you, too, have a middle-schooler, caught in that awkward moment between young childhood and acne), certainly their parents may have other plans on Halloween. Like taking other younger siblings around the neighborhood, or being home to hand out fistfuls of Snickers, or heck, even attend some Halloween parties ourselves Saturday night.
My family's weekends have long revolved around our kids' sports obligations. And judging from my peers, so do theirs. You see it in the regretful "no" RSVPs that begin showing up on evites when they're as young as 5. "Marco would love to attend Ashton's party, but he has a soccer game. Sorry we can't make it." "Kayla would love to attend, but she has a mandatory hair and makeup trial for her upcoming dance-team competition." No one judges. OK, maybe we do, a little. But as sports parents who are all drinking the Gatorade, we get it. None of us really knew the commitments we were getting into when we innocently signed our tykes up for pee-wee soccer, but we go along with it. We spend our weekends schlepping here and there and afar without question, and we accept and maybe even enjoy our kids' sports as our social hour(s). Behind the swim blocks, stopwatches in hand, we exchange school gossip and vacation adventures. We get the parent lowdown on sports camps while we huddle with coffee cups in an ice-cold arena. And we enjoy watching our kids, except when they're struggling, or returning to the field from a fresh injury, and we bear our best tight smiles until the game's over and we can exhale and hup-to back to the car.
I love sports. And I love holidays. I just don't love sports and holidays together. It's a trend, for sure, to schedule games on holidays, and somebody's attending them. But is it right? I'm particularly thinking of a friend who spent Mother's Day at a long morning swim meet, when she could have been in bed, enjoying a meal prepared by her children of runny eggs and toast smeared with a half-jar of jelly. And I still remember the sadness I felt one Thanksgiving—my favorite holiday—when loved ones of ours couldn't make it, because their son had a hockey tournament. (They were genuinely sad, too.)
I remember attending a friend's First Communion celebration for her daughter years ago, when her brother and sister-in-law, who had older kids, slipped out of the celebration early, to uncomfortable silence, to bring their son to his basketball game. At the time, having just babies myself, I was stunned that anyone would prioritize a kid's basketball game over a special niece's day to be celebrated. Now that I'm on the "other" side, though, and have two kids in team sports, I understand the pressure that sports puts on families. For one, with all the hard work and planning that coaches put in, you want your kid to learn what it means to be a team player, by showing up when expected. But also, a child who doesn't ace their attendance record may not be eligible for end-of-season awards, or to attend special tournaments. Complicating things is tryouts often are when they are, and if a kid has a family party or, say, the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with extended family, well, too bad.
My children will only be young once, and this could be my oldest's last year to put on a mask and trick or treat. I'm not giving that up for a hockey game.
But one day some years from now, will I, too, be sitting in the bleachers with my teens somewhere behind me, watching the high school football game and marching band and cheerleaders, on a crisp Thanksgiving Day?
As an American parent, I don't doubt it.
Gail O'Connor is a senior editor at Parents.