You probably know the feeling. I certainly do. It straddles somewhere between nausea and abject panic. You sit in your seat -- folding, bleacher or otherwise -- fighting the feeling that you want to get up and run away, but you endure, pinned there by an unseen but palpable weight. Your heart may or may not be beating in your eardrum. Mine usually is.
You want to close your eyes and have somebody just tell you what happened when it's over, but you don't really actually want to miss it, either.
Your child, your baby, that vulnerable little person you are raising is all alone on a sports field, a court, the gym or the ice. There are few more helpless feelings in all of the parenting experience.
When that moment is happening, maybe just don't talk to me, OK?
There are plenty of days when it's not easy or particularly fun to watch your child compete, witnessing as they learn lessons about success and failure before your eyes. But certain positions on a team cause a special kind of fetal-position-inducing trauma for parents.
Look, if you are one of those chill moms or dads who can watch their kid play and just hope for the best, rather than trying to will it to happen with every fiber of your being, well, then good for you.
But that's just not how this brain is wired. I went out to an Oakland A's game last weekend and watched a young pitcher, Sean Manaea, make his major league debut. While the fans cheered as he ran out to the mound on one of the biggest days of his life, I turned to my friend and said, "His mother must be a wreck."
It made me wonder, what are the most stress-inducing sports positions, from a parenting perspective? Just for fun, and the sake of argument, here's my ranking of the top five, in order of pain and suffering from moms and dads in the stands.
5. Baseball pitcher
This is my personal hellscape. Your kid standing on the mound, his ability to throw a strike or hit a location having a whole lot to do with whether the team wins or loses that day. It's a very solitary place up there, particularly when things aren't going well, when the walks are piling up or the big hit was just surrendered.
And that doesn't even take into account the possibility of a comeback line drive up the middle. The day my son took a glance off the head in a high school game and lay facedown on the mound for what seemed like an eternity, my knees buckled. He was fine. Luckily. I dreamed about it for a week.
He plays in college now, and they're grooming him to be a closer. They are trying to kill me.
If your kid is a kicker, life is pretty good most of the time. They aren't going to get the stuffing beaten out of them every game, don't really have to deal with double-days or tackling drills. But when it's time to show up and do the job, well, it's almost always with something big on the line -- like the entire game, with seconds left on the clock in a driving rain.
Kickers are heroes or goats. Missing kicks can haunt a player for a long time. Kickers' parents? Bless them.
Talk about the center of attention. I have a friend whose son was a high school quarterback. She couldn't sit in the stands during the game with, well, anyone. At least not for long.
She stood off to the side along the fence by herself. Or up at the top of the bleachers standing silently next to the guy running the video camera (her husband). Finding her during the game was like playing "Where's Waldo?" She didn't want to talk as her kid was getting sacked; not really even when he had just thrown a touchdown pass.
And when he came home after the game, bruised and sore -- win or lose -- she cleared the spot for him on the couch and left him alone.
Soccer, hockey, field hockey, lacrosse ... doesn't matter. Being the parent of a goalie is an exercise in constant stress.
You can sit and relax for a while, when the ball is down at the other end of the field, but then, suddenly, your kid is on! It's the same hero-goat situation as kicker, but with more opportunities to be either.
Nothing has to be quite so excruciating as watching your kid defend a penalty kick/shot or a shootout. I've seen those parents at games. I don't know how they do it.
1. Gymnast. 1A. Figure skater
We see these parents on TV every four years, sitting in the stands clutching one another as their kids pin years of work -- not to mention family sacrifice (educational, financial, geographical) -- to a vault or a triple axel or a balance beam that's only a little wider than a protein bar.
The focus and mental strength of these singular and solitary athletes is built over time. And you have to imagine the same could be said for their moms and dads.
After all, it's the only way they can remain in view of the camera, and not, say, under the seat with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears.