When the last of your parents dies, as Christopher Buckley wrote in his memoir, Losing Mum and Pup, you are an orphan. But you also lose the true keeper of your memories, your triumphs, your losses. Your mother is a scrapbook for all your enthusiasms. She is the one who validates and the one who shames, and when she’s gone, you are alone in a terrible way.
My mother never really helped me with sports. I'm not even certain if she loves sports. All she ever did was pack me up in the car for the first 17 years of my life, dragging me out of bed and telling me to eat something before driving me off to tryouts, to practice, to tournaments and playoff games that I can no longer remember. All she ever did was make sure that I always had a ride home after the game. All she ever did was abandon huge chunks of her day—her life—to make sure I could play sports with my friends because I enjoyed playing sports with my friends. ...
All my mother ever did was drive me to strange towns and ball fields and sit in the stands with a bunch of parents and watch some of the sloppiest Little League and youth soccer you've ever seen in your life. Sometimes it would take hours to get there, and the games were so boring. I don't know why she never complained. Mothers can be weird.
When the games were over, my mother never gave me a hard time if I won or lost. She never made a big deal about my pathetic batting average, or how many runs I gave up, or why I spent most of the game on the bench. She never asked why that fly ball hit my nose, why I didn't make that tag, why that guy was able to score a goal. She never bugged me about any of these things. Bizarre, right?
All my mother ever did was pay for everything. I was little then, so I didn't know how much stuff costs, but I always had cleats and shin pads and a baseball glove that I got to pick out at the store myself, and broke in with neatsfoot oil. She bought the neatsfoot oil, too. Apparently, it also costs money just for kids to play sports—team fees, equipment fees, league fees. My mom must have had a job or something. Maybe that's why she went to work every day. ...
Now my life is surrounded by sports, by games and superstar athletes privileged to be paid millions for games the rest of us would play for free. And though there is a whole warm nostalgia built up around the idea of sports, fathers and sons, of passing the game from one generation to the next, I can tell you that whenever one of these superstar athletes wins a championship, or breaks a record, or signs a big contract, the first person they thank, 99 times out of 100, is not their father, or a coach, or an agent, or a friend, but their mother.
I am older, and I think about all these things and I wonder if I had it wrong. Maybe my mother really did love sports.
Or maybe just me.