I was supposed to be in a squash tournament this past weekend. Before you all go thinking I have some hidden athletic talent, let me assure you I was not destined to be victorious. The victory was going to be showing up.
I’m not sure what prompted me to start playing squash again. It was probably my friend Carla. She’s good at convincing people to do stuff today that didn’t make sense yesterday. Besides, if I started playing it would be something Luke and I could do as a couple, since we have so much time for those pursuits, and eventually we could play with the kids. In terms of family sports, this one seems to be on lower end of equipment costs and, so far as I can tell, there’s no risk of a chairlift disaster.
I fished my racquet out of the far reaches of the garage, cleaned off my oh-so-fashionable goggles and met a couple of friends (Carla among them) at the courts. Within fifteen minutes, I had realized two things.
Hitting a ball against a wall is addictively cathartic.
Squash racquets don’t like being left in the garage for 15 years.
Within a week, I had commandeered one of Luke’s racquets and signed up for lessons with a group of women who are mostly better than I am but who don’t seem to care about keeping score (both on the court and off). I started off in decent form and was having a great time. I was especially enjoying the passive calorie burn. I mean, why spend an hour on a treadmill when you can run around chasing balls to get the same result?
Then, something in me switched. I started to care too much about winning and being thought of as a good player. So, of course, I started to suck. Like, really bad. I was missing balls that a two-year-old could have hit. I was running into the wall. I somehow managed to hit myself with the ball and even tried to return a serve with my face. It was like an extended movie montage where the protagonist attempts to learn a new skill in order to overcome some taxing social vendetta, except that my vendetta was with myself and it never culminated in success.
Typically, in these situations, I fall into the same analytical pattern. The first is to imagine it as a screenplay worthy of Judd Apatow’s attention. The second is to look for a life lesson behind all the comedic failure. I went from not giving two hoots about squash to wanting to reign supreme in a matter of weeks. Clearly, something was amiss.
The funny thing is, as I started to find more time for squash, a thought in the back of my mind kept knocking on the door of self-awareness, wondering if I might have time to entertain it. I knew what it was going to say. It was going to suggest that maybe, just maybe, squash was not the thing I wanted to conquer. Maybe, squash was coming in as a convenient placeholder. Something I could care passionately about and put my heart into and find joy in, all to be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and belonging. I was looking for an easy in and an easy win. I wanted to be part of something and to feel that I was good enough to belong. After all, if I wasn’t on a squash court, I would have been sitting in front of a computer, facing the reality of my creative rut. I think I’d rather return a serve with my face.
As the tournament grew closer, the distance between my racquet and the ball grew wider. I kept thinking, maybe my role in all of this is to lift the other new players up. By playing me, they could leave with the reassurance that at least they weren’t dead last. Then Luke, the wonder that he is, forced my hand. He decreed the necessity of a work trip, so sad, on the very days I was supposed to play. Darn it. Public humiliation would have to wait. At least, in that form.
I backed out of the tournament five days before it was set to begin and heaved a huge sigh of relief. And, even though the weekend of solo parenting involved re-distributing all the food in a broken fridge to various spots in the cold basement and driving a child to the edges of the universe for a two-hour play date, in my mind, it was a glorious stay of execution. All I had to do was parent and, in that game, the best score you can hope for is Love all.