Grading Day: A Second Look

Meadowbank Park, City of Ryde


Out of respect for my daughter and her mother, I hid this story from view on the blog a couple of months after it had been published. However, since then I’ve given the matter further thought and have decided to make it available again, accompanied with a brief author’s preface that I hope clarifies the context it was originally conceived in.

I entertained the idea of revising the story, but I felt that doing so would harm the historical integrity of the document. It was composed at a time when I was feeling quite dour. Modifying the original would be tantamount to a denial of those feelings, feelings which although misdirected, were and are still valid.

Rereading it, I feel my characterisations of the actors in the story are unfair, inaccurate and unjustified. What I was describing, as an unreliable narrator of events, was not what actually happened, but rather my state of mind at the time. Contrary to what I wrote, the parents were cooperative and good spirited. The officials professional, respectful and efficient. And importantly, the girls, including Alex, had a good time.

Incidentally, no one in her team made the first grade. Only a few made second, and the rest of the girls, including my daughter, made third grade. Over the last six months Alex and her team mates have shaped up into fine young athletes, and as I write this, they are coming first on the leader board in the district for their division.

To close, I wish to emphasise that, with the exception of my daughter and her mother, any similarities between characters in the story and people or events in real life are purely coincidental, since much of what I wrote is simply, fiction.

– Marios 16 Jun 2016.

Grading Day

Today, Saturday 14 November 2015, is Grading Day for the 2016 netball season. I didn’t really appreciate what this meant until I arrived mid-morning at the faded green hard courts at Meadowbank Park with my daughter Alex and her mother.

When we got there, it was raining and the rain did not abate throughout the wet couple of hours that Alex and her her 9 year old peers were put through their paces.

Her mother was pensive, which manifested in her telling me to lower my voice each time I opened my mouth. I was equally pensive, which manifested in me replying that she was a policewoman. We’ve been separated for some time now.

The selectors demanded that parents keep a distance from their children, so, we were told, we wouldn’t put additional pressure on them. The selectors looked unkind, mean spirited. That’s what happens when you spend your adult years breaking children’s hearts. You develop a permanent curl in your lip.

Mothers (netball is still a woman’s domain) who, in times past, had seemed nurturing and supportive of each other’s children at junior netball level, where the rules were relaxed and the emphasis was on learning rather than competing, appeared surly and detached this morning.

Frocked up in lululemon pants, nike trainers and The North Face vests, mums foamed at the mouth, flushed with envy, as some other child and not their own little precious one, seized the valuable opportunity to score, attack, defend, throw. I could feel the already tenuous bonds between us weaken. Actually, crumble, would be more accurate.

Standing still in the humid Spring rain, my pathetically small umbrella doing nothing to keep me dry, it dawned on me that I was surrounded by enemies who I shared nothing in common with, other than the fact that our children were jumping up and down on the same slippery hard court playing their guts out – for what?

One particularly annoying parent weaved in and out of the crowd, conspiratorially, offering uninvited reassurances, or more irritatingly, unsolicited character assessments, such as the one I got: ‘You don’t look happy.’ Oh how I wish I had the presence of mind to reply with the right combination of words, which would have been something like ‘sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, do you mind repeating that?’ Getting someone to slowly repeat a question or comment, that was intended as an ambush, is an effective way of shutting down the conversation, quick.

As I watched Alex lurch inexpertly for the ball, it would have been apparent to all and sundry present, that she was not going to make first grade. But this is not what put me in a gloomy mood. I was upset because I was surrounded by people who I felt did not have my daughter’s best interests at heart.

I was standing shoulder to shoulder with emotionally distant strangers, whose own children were dominating mine on court. And nothing is more insulting than being comforted by someone, or having someone feign concern for you, because they believe their advantage, in this case their child effortlessly assailing mine with their netball prowess, gives them permission to pity others.

The best, most noble thing that the parent in question could have done, was leave me alone. But of course, she didn’t. What I actually said in reply to her snide comment, was that ‘I don’t want to be here. I am here because my daughter asked me to be present.’ In doing so, I involuntarily revealed a little part of my inner soul to someone who couldn’t care less. I’m sure my comment affirmed her warped dichotomous view of the world, that I was a loser and as such, the author of my daughter’s failure to make the grade.

I felt a strong compulsion to tear away from the company of these mealy mouthed parents and hide in the backseat of the Volkswagen Golf we arrived in, because I found it distressing seeing Alex, who doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body, being haplessly subjected to the vulgar forces of natural selection. But I couldn’t leave her side, and didn’t.

When the humiliating and hypocritical exercise of selection had run its meaningless course, I told Alex how proud of her I was, that she had tried her best, and that’s all that mattered. To try and give your all is much purer than winning.

Some readers might suspect that I’m hyper-sensitive, or accuse me of being a sore loser, or worse, but I don’t care much for the idea of being a good sport. That’s an oxymoron. I’d rather beat myself, than beat you. ✏️

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