The most underrated fans in youth sports are the siblings in the stands. The youngest ones schlepped from game to game, morning and night, rain or shine. The ones who can’t always remember their best friends’ names but are known as Braden’s little sister and the quarterback’s pesky brother. None of whom own phones but intuitively know where to meet and who brings what to endure the hours spent in the bleachers.
In some ways, these feral little children get the best parts of us parents. Sure, our firstborns had appropriate playdates in the park with organic carrots and reusable water bottles. And mothers who didn’t let them out of their eyesight. But we made all of our mistakes on those guinea pigs. A steady diet of concession stand nachos and Dr. Pepper at 9 p.m. is a small price to pay for children who raise themselves while we cheer from the stands.
Every once in a while, we look around and sheepishly ask, “Has anyone seen my kids? I can’t remember what they’re wearing.”
With our firstborns, cops would have been called within two minutes of losing a child. Now, we shrug and say, “Ah, I’m sure they’re here somewhere,” and continue watching the game, knowing full well those uncivilized little humans are teaching each other to do back handsprings under the bleachers.
We all know that sports are beneficial in teaching kids teamwork, character, and work ethic. Playing in the game is an absolute blast, and some of life’s best memories are made on that field. But a child hasn’t lived until they’ve played tackle football without pads behind the end zone. No refs. Few rules. This pick-up game, largely supervised by a very mature 5th grader, is what childhood dreams are made of. No parental oversight. No direction. Just all of the younger siblings working out their built-up angst on kids their own size, for once. And magically, no one ever gets hurt. Neither feelings nor body parts.
Or, if they did, we wouldn’t notice. Unless a knee is bending in the wrong direction, no way we are meeting our deductible tonight. THERE IS A GAME TO WATCH! Walk it off, child. If it’s still swollen on Monday, we will think about possibly calling your older brother’s doctor.
These wild ones have learned young that their parents will do literally anything to watch the game. Want to watch Peppa Pig for four straight hours? Sure! Need some more money to blow your college fund on Mountain Dew and a soft pretzel? Take it all! Precious child, we will happily accommodate any need you have, as long as it doesn’t require our involvement in any way. And for the love, can you please hold your pee until halftime?!
Of course, we will feel guilty about our parenting choices later, but for now, sneak that YouTube video you’re forbidden to watch. Give your oldest brother something to judge us for. When he says, “Mom would have never let me watch that at your age,” remind him I homemade his baby food and read him books without skipping pages.
To the siblings in the bleachers—we salute you.
You have found a way to turn the most boring part of your week into the most magical hours of childhood. Your imaginations run wild, in the best way. You’ve created your own ecosystem and managed it quite well. You’ve siphoned our entire bank account, and we still think you’re the cutest humans alive. And you only complain a little bit (sometimes a lot bit). We ask a lot of you, and you tiny barbarians always deliver.
You are sports’ greatest fans. We cannot thank you enough for keeping yourselves alive until the clock runs out and we resume proper(ish) parenting.