Any Other Heart - Go Radio (mp3)
“Daddy! Hey Daddy!” my 5-year-old son shouted.
“Cobras live in China!”
“That’s right, pal! Pay attention, buddy!” I shouted back from the bleachers to my 5-year-old son as I stifled my amusement.
This was one of several random and non-baseball conversations my son instigated while standing somewhere in the vicinity of center field, one of seven outfielders. The outfield had almost as many humans as blades of grass, yet somehow a decently-struck ball would certainly pass by all of them.
A few of the other parents in the bleachers looked at me with what could have been amusement but felt like annoyance. Two of the moms were definitely looking away and shaking their head. One mom yelled at another: “Don’t you dare encourage my son after something like that!” (No, seriously.)
For most of these moms and dads and for our coaches, there is nothing funny about the Single A Division. There is nothing funny about 5- and 6-year-olds picking grass and kicking up dirt and shouting Random Cobra Facts in the middle of the game. There is nothing funny about kids running to third base after a hit, or running from second to home, or running right past first base and toward the right field fence.
Four of these moms who aren’t laughing are barely into their 20s. One is older than me. Two kids are regularly brought by their grandparents, and I’m not sure if the grandparents are the active guardians or just consistently doing this favor for their son or daughter. Our head coach has at least six tattoos, but at least two other head coaches have him beat on ink acreage.
What I’m saying is, I’ve never felt quite so classist and snobbish as I have as a first-year parent in the Dixie Youth League.
Although I cannot find any studies on the topic, it’s become increasingly clear from anecdotal experience that child sports are an amazingly reliable indicator of class and income. Little league baseball is a poor sport, at least 'round these here parts. A majority of the kids’ parents are divorced or don’t even have a dad in the picture. The parents are not, for the most part, college graduates. Tats and freaky piercings are rampant.
Swimming and soccer are, amongst the white population, the stuff of middle- and upper-middle-class families. Under half the families are divorced. Several dads and moms show up at games in the business attire of ties or female power suits. Tats are the exception to the flesh.
Golf and tennis are the stuff of upper crust. Both require intense one-on-one teaching, and the equipment and fees ain’t cheap, either. Caddys and other high-end SUVs mark the parking lots. The parents tend to be older, their skin tighter and tanner.
All of this is vague generality. These observations risk indicting me as a snob. As a “moderate slash liberal,” I believe in taking stances politically that value the contributions of all people to our country and that seek to protect and assist those at or near the bottom of the heap, and I believe that they are not always there by choice or sheer laziness.
But my Dixie Youth experience is proof of a complexity we don't like to acknowledge in discussions about equality, fairness and class in our culture: the attitudes and choices of a great many people in lower-income brackets are, simply, unsavory. Children before 20. Divorce before 22 if they ever got married. Treating 5-year-old baseball as more important than education or... well hell, just about anything else in life is more important than 5-year-old frappin' baseball.
What makes me uncomfortable sitting in those Dixie Youth stands has nothing directly to do with how much money sits in their bank accounts or 401k and everything to do with how they treat their children, how they talk of their ex-spouses or baby daddies, how they comport themselves.*
Is this hypocrisy?
Can we not believe public schools are too screwed up to entrust with our children’s futures while also fighting to make public schools better? Can we not believe many poor and low-income parents are often royally screwed up while believing they (and their kids) deserve a legitimate and fighting chance at something better? And that, no matter how annoying they can be, that they live in a country that won't let them drown if we can help them?
Would it be less troubling if I were discussing my distaste of “characters” from Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo Boo rather than people at my son’s ball games?
* -- Super-rich parents and people would probably annoy me almost equally, but they're safely behind gates that my Old Navy Visa simply can't pass, so they rarely have to sit in the presence of my judgmental observations.