Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What if parenting was an Olympic sport?

Like 59,999,999 or so other people, I've been spending a lot of time (multitasking) in front of the TV lately, tuned in to the Olympics. And I started wondering... what if parenting were an Olympic sport?

Look at it this way: It's more of an endurance challenge than running a marathon, as your kids get older it becomes more nerve-wracking than any routine on a 4-inch-wide balance beam, if you have a partner then you have to work on synchronizing your routine perfectly, and if you don't then you're swimming the 4x400 relay solo every single day.

Competition is fierce because, as Keanu Reeves's character, Tod, put it so succinctly in the movie Parenthood, everyone qualifies automatically, so the field is crowded. The opening ceremonies involve ice packs in odd places, pain killers of some kind, and sleep deprivation. (The fireworks were spectacular, but they technically came before the games truly began.) There are coaches everywhere, but their advice is often contradictory. There is no training -- or, rather, you train as you perform and the athletes who think they are most prepared are often not even in the running yet (though some are more than willing to judge anyway). Work is a separate competition, but one that affects your performance in this one.

If you do win some sort of award at any point for any event, it's hard to know for sure because your own national anthem changes depending on what event you've won. (Infant division? The sound of success is contented silence. Kid-level competition? A hug in front of your child's friends is more precious than gold. Teenager events? You're doing it right if you're accused of being "the meanest mom EVER.")

You're going for a record number of gold medals every single day, no matter what event you're in and not merely once every four years -- and you don't have a team of stretchers, high-tech uniforms, or 12,000 calories at your command. And the stakes are high; in the parenting Olympics, if you're successful, your kid is the one who really wins.

On second thought, maybe it shouldn't be an Olympic sport after all. It's harder than anything else out there -- and much more rewarding.

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