I've had to get up at 6 a.m. start driving at 7 a.m. to get my son here at 8 a.m., and I know I'll be here for at least another couple of hours. I've lived in Southern California for 30 years and driven around quite a bit, but I've never had the pleasure of visiting Palos Verdes.
There are some pretty houses here and quiet streets, and I'm told there's a golf course or two nearby, but for the life of me, I haven't been able to find a bathroom or a place to buy a cup of coffee anywhere in the area. So I'm irritable and hungry and more than a little sunburned, wondering out loud why I have to spend my Saturday in this fashion -- it's not as if I don't have a life, you know, or as if I'm doing the world a favor by sitting here.
I'm not feeding the homeless, or doing a beach cleanup, or raising money for Hadassah and ORT and the Israel Defense Forces. I'm here because my youngest son, who is 14 years old and in eighth grade, is playing goalie on a lacrosse team for his school.
Never mind I didn't even know what lacrosse is, or how to spell the word, until my son started playing three years ago. Lacrosse is what my kids call a "white person's sport" -- like rock climbing or sailing -- stuff you do on the East Coast if you're white and Catholic and go to Maine for the summer every year. My son doesn't consider himself "white," but I'm told he's a good goalie, and he loves his teammates and takes great pride in representing his school, which is why I've been getting up at the crack of dawn to go to his games all season or driven at night to faraway fields to pick him up.
One thing I've learned through this experience -- aside from the fact that there are no bathrooms or coffee shops in Palos Verdes -- is that I am not, and will probably not become, what you'd call a lacrosse mom.
Not that I don't celebrate a win or hurt when his team loses, but I've been around this block -- with other children and other sports -- twice already, and I've emerged from it more or less unscathed.
I've been through 12 years of team sports, swim meets and tennis matches, not to mention five-day-a-week practice sessions and all the additional driving and mental juggling that go along with having three kids playing sports at the same time, and I have yet to take any of it as personally as I see some other parents do.
I don't get as passionate about winning or losing, am not willing to change my kids' schools so they can play on a better team, don't keep a mental tab of the season record of every team my child might play and of his teammates, as well.
As far as I'm concerned, unless the kid's bound for the Olympics or playing in the World Cup, I'd rather not wander the desert for 40 years -- or sit in these dusty bleachers -- so he can play a game.
On the way home later, I take a few wrong turns, get completely lost and finally have to stop and ask directions from a guy who's selling cherries from the back of his truck. By the time we actually get on the freeway, I am nothing if not relieved that I've survived this day and will live to tell my husband about it.
Next to me, my son, not the demure type, is unusually quiet.
"Aren't you glad you won?" I ask.
"Are you tired?"
We drive some more. Then he says, "You know mom, this was my last game in middle school."
I take a minute to process the information. Yes, it's true, the school year is about over. Yes, next year, my son will be in high school. He might or might not play sports, but either way, he'll be too old to have his mom go to his games.
My two older kids, who are in college, similarly banned me from every high school activity they were involved in except, mercifully, their graduation.
This is good, I think.
This means I'm done with the games and the driving, the water bottles and orange rinds and end-of-season pizza and trophy-giving. I'm done with having to be "team mom" because no one else wants the job, having to report to the school's "parent sport coordinator" like we're Marines in the midst of a war, getting e-mails from her or some other top-ranking "sport mother" about proper protocol for serving cake at victory parties. Done with standing on a soccer field for two hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon when I could be writing or working out or doing whatever else people do when they have a life.
I'm done with watching my kids race across a grass field and marveling at the beauty and strength of youth. With holding my breath every time they serve, gasping when they miss, feeling elated when they don't. With seeing them volunteer to take the penalty kick that will win or lose the championship game and asking myself where they got this kind of confidence. With watching their tanned, slim bodies glow in the water against the afternoon sun as they glide back and forth through the lane, wondering how much longer they can keep the pace, how much longer I can hold on to them before they slip out of my hands and away to where I won't see them.
Gina B. Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her new novel, "Caspian Rain," will be published this fall. Gina Nahai's column appears monthly in The Journal.