Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympics and parenting- what do they have in common?

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Make that the most wonderful time of the quadrennial! (And yes, I did just Google "What do you call a four year period of time?"

Chills? Check. Shakiness? Check. Am I ill? You bet- with a massive case of Olympic Fever!

I absolutely love the Olympics, particularly the summer games. I love the pageantry, the absurd choreography of the Opening Ceremony, the flags, the uniforms, the excitement, the simple fact that Bob Costas is everywhere, and oh yes, the competition isn't bad either.

It's a love affair that began early in my life. Though I was only 3 years old in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci landed that historic perfect 10, I firmly remember in the years that followed, my mom, with her heavy Egyptian accent, would proudly introduce herself as "Nadia, like the gymnast," and everyone understood. 

I remember my dad's furrowed brow as he watched news reports in the months leading up to the 1980 summer games, and his patient explanation of how "boycott" did not refer to a gender-specific type of bed.

My brother and I spent much of the summer of 1984 reenacting key moments from the Los Angeles games in either our backyard swimming pool, or in the basement on our then state-of-the-art Apple II+, where we'd fight over who got to be Bruce Jenner in the Olympic Decathalon game. We scarfed down Wheaties from the Olympic edition box in preparation from the extreme thumb workout that would follow.

I've closely followed every summer Olympiad since then with a growing passion. 1988- remember all the sidebar stories about unusual street foods in Seoul? The 1992 Barcelona games took place just as I was packing my own bags for a year abroad in Europe. The shootings at the 1996 games in Atlanta nearly sent me over the edge. Sydney was one of my favorite Olympics, probably because Sydney is one of my favorite places (and it probably didn't hurt that at one point I had carried an Olympic-sized torch for a certain tall, blond Australian). 2004 in Athens- the modern day Olympics in Greece? Oh, the fabulousness. And who didn't spend the summer of 2008 holding their breath through each flip turn as Michael Phelps splashed his way through Beijing?

Which brings us to now, the start of the XXX Olympiad. And I mean that in the roman numeral sense, not in the "Debbie Does Diving" sense, because fortunately the Olympics are the essence of good, clean, televised family fun.

I'll watch because I love the sports, even though I'm not exactly a typical sports fan (I also have to Google "Who is playing in the Super Bowl" on a certain Sunday in January. Or is it February?), I'm definitely not what you would call coordinated, and I have a massive fear of games that involve flying balls (I was hit in the head with a baseball at my brother's 9th birthday party, which explains a lot in my life). I'm passionate about fitness in general and running in particular, but the only time I've ever won a race was at age 28, when those numbers were somehow reversed on my entry form. Eat my dust, octogenarians.

It's not just the sport but the sportsmanship of the Olympics that draws me in. I love that for this brief moment, regular competitors become team members. They are part of something bigger than themselves, if only for 2 weeks. I love watching the tears well up in their eyes as they hear their national  anthems played, a rare moment of patriotism for our increasingly polarized planet. I particularly love the demonstration sports, the ones played often just to show off something that's popular in the host country, like Icelandic wrestling in 1912.

I love the Olympics so much it made me wonder what the world would be like if we had something similar for parenting. What if there was a time and a place, every four years, where moms from around the world would come together, not to compete against each other, but to just show off the great feats of strength we're capable of and to learn from each other? (Sincere apologies to dads- you are just as integral a piece of the parenting puzzle, but in this case someone needs to stay home with the kids) It would be one giant demonstration sport.

Just like the traditional games, the Organizing Committee would scour the globe for an appropriate location to hold the Momolympics . It would have to be a place with all the required features to host such an elite bunch, somewhere desirable and accommodating, somewhere far from the distractions of daily life. Somewhere like Club Med Bora Bora.

We'd wear momiforms to level the style playing field, preferably something universally flattering, functional, and fun from our official sponsor, Target.

We'd march into the stadium with our flags and heads held high, having had a good night's sleep in our Momolympic Village and a massage from a guy named Sven.

And then, the games would begin. The "Making Grilled Cheese Sandwiches While Emptying the Dishwasher" event would bring out some of our nation's fastest hands, but might perplex the Europeans who don't necessarily share our rushed pace of life. We could discuss further over cocktails. The "Getting Babies to Sleep" event would highlight marvels from around the globe. And don't forget the always popular "Tantrum Taming" event- I can't wait to see what the Brazilians have to offer this time around.

Perhaps if we had the chance to celebrate our accomplishments, as well as our differences, we'd stop fighting "Mommy Wars" that have no winners.

Perhaps we'd understand that if our goal is to raise a world full of happy, healthy children who contribute to a global society, we need to stop tearing each other down.

Perhaps we'd see that we're really playing for the same team.

Perhaps if we felt less threatened and more supported, we'd stop trying to hold our children up as some kind of trophy. 

Perhaps if we could have a round of applause for sticking a landing (or sticking to our guns when it comes to enforcing bedtime), we'd see that what often feels like thankless, exhausting work is actually a gold medal worthy performance.
Perhaps we'd remember that we really are part of something bigger than snot and playdates and bake sales. Something bigger than ourselves.  

Perhaps we'd have a little more fun along the way, because parenting really is the greatest demonstration of love, of sacrifice, and of joy in the world.

 It's a lot to hope for, this Olympic dream of mine, but once every four years, once a quadrennial, it all seems so very possible.

And so I declare with a shiver of anticipation and a glimmer of hope, let the games begin.

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