Lisa: (Silence. Baleful look.)
Jon: (Grin and uptilted chin) "I am."
Lisa: "O.K., then, I'm not rootin' for you, either."
In the first two meets of the summer, people rootin' for Jon have lots to celebrate. He wins the long jump as well as his heats of the 70 and the 220. Then, between the second and third meets, he turns five and moves into another age group. Blue ribbons suddenly get scarce. In the last meet he doesn't win any first places and sits dejected on the grass, responding to sympathy with silence.
While Jon suffers the trauma of growing up, Tegan, the long jumper who runs on his toes, comes into his own in the four-and-under group. The first time he gets a blue ribbon he claps his hands and his tiny face is radiant.
If only this weren't so rare. I think of the 12-year-old girl who ran a 5:41.6 mile in the first meet. She looked so easy and fluid doing it that it was a pleasure to watch her. When I told her her time she said, "Oh, no! I should've broken 5:40. My dad said I had a chance of breaking Lili's record. Are you sure that's what my time was? My dad. ..." She was plainly upset at the prospect of her father's reaction. All I could think of was that lovely fluid run. I looked for her in later meets, but she never came back.
This kind of parental pressure is hard to abide. One Tuesday down at the track it was about 94�. A man came through the turnstile carrying a rake and a tape measure and wearing dark slacks, a long-sleeved shirt and a woolen vest. He had with him a boy about 11 years old, in shorts and an oversize T shirt. The boy began to practice long-jumping while the man raked and measured, standing off to one side judiciously.
The boy ran with a grimace and all the muscles of his neck stood out. Kenny said something to the man, who said, "You tell him. He'll listen more if someone like you tells him." So Kenny, the Olympic marathoner, explained that the trick was to relax all the muscles except the ones doing the work. The man said to the boy in a scathing I-told-you-so tone, "Do you understand?"
Was the father pushing or did the boy really enjoy the humorless instruction? Why didn't the man, who could've used it, jog with the boy himself? And why did the man wear all those clothes in 94� heat?
But whenever I get too discouraged by parents like this I think of Scott Slovic, who comes to run with his father and a university faculty group each noon. Or Lili Ledbetter, whose father breaks the wind for her as she runs her best mile, and afterward she says, "I couldn't have done it without him."