Soccer mom, stage mom — it’s a learning experience

Soccer mom, stage mom — it’s a learning experience

We parents wear many hats.

We chauffeur. We teach. We cook. We launder.

We are also activity directors. Each season we plot out our kids’ extracurriculars and calculate how the practice schedules may or may not fit into our own lives.

And with that role comes another responsibility: parent volunteer. I have to say my record in this area is somewhat checkered.

I am more than willing to help, and I have. Let’s just say I’ve struggled with a steep learning curve — or two.

The questions involve everything from parent etiquette to sports lingo: Do we send snacks? Are we Blog Photosupposed to go to away meets? That uniform/costume costs how much? What exactly is a cross-country “chute”?

In the beginning, I was on familiar turf. My son played baseball and basketball, games I knew well from my youth. And my husband was in charge of that arena, coaching a few teams, helping with practices, buying the right equipment, etc.

I did backup duty, going to games, fulfilling my snack rotation and cheering at all the appropriate times. I’d organize gifts for the coaches or step in as a “bench coach” (essentially, reminding players when it was their turn to bat and making sure no one hit each other in the dugout).

I loved sitting with friends in the bleachers, from our team or others, and getting to know new baseball parents. (I also admired the moms who — let’s not name names — brought paper cups full of “special lemonade” to the games.)

But other parents stepped it up a notch. They’d show up with giant coolers of water or Gatorade for the whole team, or bring sandwiches for them to eat between games at a doubleheader. One mom sewed neck-coolers for each player that they could freeze ahead of time, to stay cool during the summer heat. Show-off.

Then there was the concession stand. I had no idea how much work went into providing snacks and drinks for fans. I signed up for my share of shifts — and even learned how to use the popcorn machine — but I marveled at parents who dove in and took charge of ordering supplies or depositing concession money or bringing a grill so we could sell hot dogs. Not to mention all the people who actually run the leagues and schedule the games. It’s a full-time job/headache.

Then we moved further outside my comfort zone.

Take soccer. I knew how the game worked, though I hadn’t played it as a kid. But it was clear other parents had their children kicking a soccer ball shortly after exiting the womb. I never quite got the offsides rule down, and wasn’t sure what to yell besides “Go!” or “Kick it!”

While we weren’t as involved in the coaching end, I enjoyed being out at Dodds Park on those crisp fall Saturday mornings (except those really windy, cold ones) and seeing all kinds of people we knew. I was devastated when my son quit soccer after third grade. Didn’t he know he was messing with my social life?

We met a whole new set of parents when we entered the dance and theater world.

Ballet is in my wheelhouse (probably not the right term), as I took lessons as a child. So I was thrilled when my daughter and several friends got to be mice in “The Nutcracker” several years ago. But I had never actually been a stage mom. And the big, beautiful production at Krannert is serious business, requiring lots of parent help.

One stint in the sewing circle was enough to reveal my shortcomings. I bowed to the veterans, and focused my energies on working at the Nutcracker gift shop during performances (shopping expertise) and “wrangling” kids backstage (just what it sounds like). I was terrified that I’d send them on stage at the wrong moment or that my makeup technique would make them look like clowns.

Then our girls signed up for a Champaign Park District production, which depends on volunteers to build sets, put together costumes and, again, corral the kids backstage so they don’t get so loud that no one hears the dialogue. With the Nutcracker experience under my belt, I opted to wrangle again and bypass the sewing altogether: another mom found some perfect costumes online. Gotta love parenting via Amazon.

In middle school and high school, each new activity brought a new set of practices, uniforms, rules, parents — and learning experiences.

The army of volunteers supporting band is huge. They organize fundraisers, handle logistics for festivals and competitions, recruit chaperones, provide snacks at marching band camp, set up equipment for concerts and generally make sure kids get where they need to be. My work schedule precludes some of that, but chaperoning the trips was a blast. Mostly.

When my daughter took up cross-country and track, I wasn’t sure exactly how the meets worked. I signed up to volunteer along the “chute” — a roped-off stretch that keeps athletes in a single-file line after they cross the finish, to ensure their times are recorded in the right order.

I took up a spot about 12 feet past the finish line, making sure the runners didn’t switch places in the crush of bodies. I swelled with pride when one of the coaches commended me for rearranging a couple of kids who’d gotten mixed up.

The glow was short-lived: I was apparently standing at the very spot where kids who ran a bit too fast for their capacity would have to stop and, well, throw up at my feet. Baptism by fire.

I now consider myself an old pro.

This summer we’re back in baseball and theater mode, with another play under way. And band and cross-country are right around the corner.

I’m ready. Let’s face it, these activities involve parents as much as the kids — the people who will patiently teach a child to run to first base instead of third when they get a hit, or smile gamely as their musical novice squeaks through another show.

I wouldn’t miss it. I just hope no one remembers my mistakes.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or

Photo: Helping out with the cross-country team seemed like an easy gig -- until things got messy.

Julie Wurth/News-Gazette


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