Staring down the expiration date as a sports parent

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I was never one of those parents who felt compelled to watch every single moment of every game my kids played when they were young. And I'm not going to lie, I found myself being a little judgmental of those who did. "What do you mean you can't go on a moms' weekend away? There are plenty of soccer games."

I believed then, and admittedly still do, that my kids didn't need to see me sitting in the stands cheering them on in order to have a great experience. I didn't want my son searching for me in the bleachers as he stepped to the plate to hit, or my daughter glancing over to determine whether I was on the sidelines before the soccer game began. Their experience was their own, and I didn't need to bear witness to every second of it.

It wasn't some sort of line in the sand -- it was just the way things were. I worked full-time as a sportswriter during much of their childhood. I traveled a lot. I worked a lot of weekends covering games. I relied on my husband -- also a sportswriter with his own travel schedule -- and my friends to make sure my kids got to some of their games. I relied on my mother to run to the store to pick up snacks if it was our turn on the schedule. I was always grateful for the help, and my kids were always fine with it. They didn't know any different.

But the hard truth is, I missed stuff. I missed big hits and important goals, but I always got the play-by-play later. When I wasn't working, I was right next to the action in my folding chair, wringing my hands and yelling loud encouragement to relieve my stress.

What I didn't understand then was the concept of the expiration date.

When you are in the middle of parenting young children, taking them to and from games and activities and events, you never see the end. If we're being honest, there are some days when it feels like it will never end. But the end finds you. Sometimes it comes sooner; maybe in middle school, when a child's interest wanes or changes. Often it comes in high school, when the vast majority of kids lay their athletic careers to rest with a walk across the field or court on senior night.

As a parent, you are never quite prepared for how abruptly the finish line arrives, whether it involves a sport, a scouting troop or a band. You wrap your brain around the idea of graduation and college and forget that the rest of it -- the moments that have defined a childhood -- are all done as well.

When my kids graduated from high school, those endings were emotional and strange, and a true sign that things were really changing in a big way.

If you are lucky, maybe you aren't quite done. In my case, my son is a college athlete. But because he goes to school far from home, I only get to watch a small handful of his games. I've never had an actual conversation with his coach, and have been introduced to his teammates only in passing. I've also never bonded with the other parents.

During his freshman season, we made two trips out of state to watch him play. Because he's a relief pitcher, we saw him throw a total of two innings over the course of those two outings. Last fall, we made the 11-hour drive to watch fall ball scrimmages, which were promptly rained out.

This spring, we made plans to attend a full weekend of games. We bought plane tickets and rented a car. Upon arriving at the airport, we were faced with a cancelled flight, a diversion to another airport, and a missed double-header. We arrived the following day, and sat through 14 innings of baseball over two games. We donned our team gear, enjoyed the sunshine and got to see our favorite reliever throw the final inning of the final game.

He has returned home to play summer baseball, and I'm going to get to as many games as I can, pulling up that folding chair and yelling really loud. I will cherish days like Father's Day, when his coach gave him the start and we saw him pitch six innings, more than we had seen him throw in more than two years. I know it was the best gift my husband could have received, and it was pretty great for me too.

With just two years of competitive baseball left, I honestly don't know how many more games I'll get to see.

The expiration date, as it turns out, waits for no one.

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