It is no secret that I am not an athlete. My sons constantly try to stump me with sports questions, and if I answer them correctly they ask another question that they know I can’t answer as a follow up. Sadly, it becomes a self-esteem issue. So, this post is my one attempt at writing about a topic that is foreign to me: sports.
My total lack of coordination hasn’t stopped me from watching the Olympic Games over various years of my life, admiring the way coordinated people use their bodies. And while those games are a blur in many ways, some do stand out in my baby boomer memory. They are intertwined with my child-raising years. When my children were little I used to remind myself that the next time the winter Olympics came along, they would each be four years older (or two years if you count the summer games.) I wasn’t wishing those years away, but it sure was tough trying to watch events while feeding or diapering babies. Strangely, over the years of Olympic-watching, my memory got better as my children got older.
Pre-babies, I loved the 1968 games in Mexico City and the winter games in Grenoble, France. The summer games photo in my mind is of Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the podium giving the Black Power sign. That alone should tell youngsters what a wild time we were living through in the late ’60s. I had my first teaching job and grading papers halfway through the night made it difficult to watch any games at all. But I remember watching Peggy Fleming win the gold medal in figure skating and the amazingly handsome Jean-Claude Killy of France pick up a sweep in the Alpine events. I love the winter games because skiing is my favorite Olympic sport. In 1968 we had no children, so watching without an additional sound track was easy. Famous last words.
The summer games in 1972 witnessed the terrifying massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in what was termed “The Munich Massacre.” We watched in horror as the Black September group first kidnapped and then killed 11 athletes. The incredible medal count of Mark Spitz would stand as a record until a future Michael Phelps comes along. During the ’72 Olympics I was pregnant with child # 1, and since no one knew the sex of pregnancies in those days–let alone if the baby were healthy–we were flying on a wing and a prayer. By the time the 8-pound boy was born that November, the summer games were a 2-month memory. This marked the beginning of a decade of memory loss as I took care of three children all born during the 1970s.
By the winter of 1976, my son was 3, making it much easier to watch Dorothy Hamill win the gold in figure skating. In fact, this Olympics was a pleasure since bedtime was early and we could settle back sans child to watch the games. Of course I was pregnant with child # 2 during this Olympics so quiet was not in our future.
By the time the 1980 Olympics rolled around in the Moscow summer, the television was simply a blur because child # 1 was 7, child # 2–a daughter–was 3, and a third child had somehow sneaked in, another boy, who was 1. I remember very little from the summer Olympics, but I was able to see the winter Olympics from Lake Placid, NY, and witness the “Miracle on the Ice.” It was probably a miracle I managed to see it with three children, two of them small. I remember thinking during the summer that the next time the summer Olympics rolled around my children would be 11, 6 and almost 4.
Sure enough, my memory improves by 1984. I watched in the summer as Carl Lewis won four golds and Mary Lou Retton won another four. In 1988 the children were 15, 11 and 9 during the summer. Flo-Jo won four medals, Jackie Joyner Kersee won the long jump and heptathlon, and Greg Louganis won the diving competition. By ’92, the children were 19, 15, and 13. Two were in high school and one was in college. That winter it was exciting to watch an Illinois woman, Bonnie Blair, win the speed skating competition and the Dream Team go undefeated in basketball.
By the following Olympics in ’94, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan fiasco in Lillehammer, Norway, heated up the television screen. In ’96, two out of my three children were out of the house and the bombing in Atlanta was the next big thing in Olympic news. This was the last Olympics before the nest was empty.
Now that the child-rearing days are over, it’s easy to look forward to the Olympics and watch them without wailing interruptions. Since multi-tasking is getting more difficult, that’s probably a good thing. (I knew there was some practical reason that multi-tasking is reserved for those of child-bearing age.) I can concentrate better on the games.
But somehow it seems as if something is missing during these Olympic games…probably the giggling of a baby on my lap or the sound of a burp after a bottle is done, and a tiny head lying asleep on my shoulder.