Since I love tennis, and Wimbledon just started today, here’s a little piece I wrote some years back. (Note: This is not hilarious, unlike my previous post. I figured I’d insert poignant. Just to keep you on your toes. I will return to hilarious next time. :-))
Love – Love
Oodles of years ago, when I was lighter and a lot more limber, I felt it was time to teach my then-eight-year-old son, Jeremy, to play tennis. I fancied myself a fair player back then, and he was eager to learn the sport his mom loved so much.
Money was tight, and I thought it made no sense to buy a club membership for him when he could scarcely hit the ball. So we wound up practising where any wily, desperate mother-son duo would: on the paved school playground at the end of our street. The long metal bicycle rack bisecting the area would make a perfect—I thought—net.
That first summer, Jeremy and I traipsed to the schoolyard almost every day, with Anouk, our “ball dog,” bounding at our heels. Unfortunately, Anouk never quite mastered all of her duties. She would chase a ball down like lightning and prance back to me or Jeremy with her prize tucked snugly in her mouth, but then she wouldn’t give it up! Fetch-the-Ball became Tug-of-War.
The setting itself also had a few drawbacks. Our “net” that had seemed so perfect had a disconcerting tendency to bonk balls back to us at a super-crazy angle, if they happened to hit the bike rack dead-on instead of clearing it. Another problem lay in the tall tufts of crabgrass that sprouted up through the many cracks in the pavement. Often a ball would bounce on one of these mini-bushes, then lazily die. “Wimbledon this ain’t,” I’d think to myself.
But that was fitting; if our “court” was no Wimbledon, we were no pros either. Though I’ll admit that next to my son’s unskilled efforts, I felt like the idol of the day, Chris Evert. Jeremy was having a tough time; weeks passed before he could return two balls in succession over the net which weren’t “home runs.” I felt sorry for the little guy. He was trying so hard, and the rewards—decent shots—were so few. My brain constantly searched for new and effective ways to keep him encouraged and motivated. It wasn’t easy. By summer’s end, we were all, including Anouk, as worn out as the tennis balls.
But I guess a foundation of sorts had been laid. Over subsequent summers, Jeremy’s skill gradually developed, and his enthusiasm for the game began to rival my own. Tennis gave us a special kinship, and became a symbol of perseverance as well as fun. Later, Jeremy spent a summer at a tennis camp, where a pro—much to my chagrin!—taught him some wicked spins. Jeremy eventually would slaughter me on the court (a real court) every time.
“Hey, Ma,” he’d ask, with a glint in his eye, “wanna play tennis?”
I’d look up at my strong teenager warily, remembering the bonk-y bicycle rack, the crabgrass, the tear-streaked face of a determined little boy, and I’d answer, with unending love for him as well as for tennis, “Sure!”