Feb. 16 2015 05:27 PM

Taking a page from the U.S. Tennis Association handbook


In a burst of local activism at my daughter's school last week, I asked a district hoity-toity some questions about an ongoing leadership vortex on campus. My concerns were predictably and promptly dismissed with a tense smile and the Company Line, followed by a fun game of pass-the-buck-to-the-interim-principal-and-other-onsite-staffers. It occurred to me, as my Julia Roberts vein began to bulge right out of my forehead, nearly splattering blood all up and down the yellow blouse of the district lackey, that the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) prefers that parents obey the No. 1 rule imbued on tennis parents by the USTA: Zip it. 

Let me explain: Among the many dispiriting things I've learned about the public school system is that physical education is offered one measly hour each week—seeing as how it cuts into math, reading, math, reading, math, reading and test prep. 

Never mind that SDUSD's posted P.E. fact sheet promises kids in grades K through 6 a staggering 200 minutes for every 10 school days. (Because I can do math and reading, I know this amounts to 20 minutes each day, but at one-hour per week, that leaves 80 unaccounted-for minutes supposedly covered by recess.) Never mind, too, that research has shown a correlation between exercise and concentration

If it makes peer-reviewed sense—if it's good for the kids—you can count on SDUSD to ignore it. Year-round school is better for (the growing number of) children in lower socioeconomic classes? Let's spend unknown millions on transitioning all schools to the traditional calendar! But I digress.

SDUSD has defunded and deprioritized P.E. to such a degree that P.E. teachers frequently leave schools where they might be in part-time appointments for full-time positions elsewhere. Early in my kid's elementary-school career, after witnessing the long-term, elderly P.E. sub limp across the quad in peep-toe kitten heels, pleated slacks and a navy-blue sport coat, I questioned whether the term "physical education" shouldn't just be retired; its jersey should be hung permanently in the same closet where art supplies and musical instruments go to die. 

To supplement the copious amount of exercise my daughter wouldn't be enjoying, I offered my kid a choice of after-school sports. And when she refused each and every one, I enrolled her in tennis. I knew she needed to get her ya-yas out after long days of sitting. I also knew that if she stuck with it, I'd have to go watch her play. A lot. And if I had to go watch, I reasoned, it absolutely had to be a sport I liked. 

Granted, if Ruby fell in love with golf, I would write the check, bite my knuckle and don my best pair of plaid, knee-length solidarity shorts because: I love. But, oh, the anguish. Going to the DMV without an appointment would be more bearable than having to throw elbows on a green just to get a peek at zzzzzzzz. Note: If such a situation should ever come to fruition, you'll find me happily slumped at the 19th hole. 

What I didn't understand until Ruby started competing this school year was that, while junior tennis is the polar opposite of the natural sleep aid that is golf, it's also heart-poundingly excruciating. Because, get this, soccer and baseball parents: There are no refs or line judges or scorekeepers. The kids do all of that. And parents? We can't say squat to our kids during matches. 

Just let that sink in for a minute. 

The players on the court keep score and call every point and every error themselves, requiring a level of honesty that, let's be honest, is hard to come by in the grownup set. Meanwhile, we parents have to shut our traps, which is basically the universe trying to teach you-know-who a thing or two. As my friend, the lovely and kind former director of Barnes Tennis Center once instructed the parents before a tournament, "The kids are going to make bad calls. They're going to drop points. They're going to drop whole games. And I know it's painful. But this is how they learn. So your job is to sit on your hands, bite your tongues and cry behind your sunglasses. "

I do love me some big, dark sunglasses, and I frequently opt for waterproof mascara. So I'm adjusting to the rules—though, I can't deny my blood pressure shoots up when spectating, and I don't look anywhere near as purty as Julia Roberts when my Julia Roberts vein bulges (Julia, if you're reading: I love you! Call me!)

And I've had to walk away on occasion. Like, when the opponent in Ruby's very first tournament bullied and cheated and temper-tantrumed and racket-flunged his sorry-ass way to a tie break from what had begun as a righteous 4-1 pummeling. I wore a path in the parking lot of Escondido High School that day. I'm quite certain the kid has a bright future as a subprime-mortgage lender. 

For the record, my kid—with her poker face and unflappable demeanor—won. Not that I'm schadenfreuding. OK, maybe just a bit. But only because I can't do that at the match. 

I may yet have a heart attack from stuffing down all my emotion, but I'm adapting to my role of politely demure parent spectator. (Me as demure. Does anyone believe this turn of events?) I have actually come to think that more youth sports should employ the Tennis Parent Rules, as it's healthier and more civilized for everyone in the long run.

And while I don't think there's any room for Tennis Parent Rules when it comes to public schools, you may find me crying behind my biggest, darkest glasses at the next unsatisfying meeting. Because there's a whole damn lot to be crying about.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.