I cannot watch the Olympics. With everyone around me consumed with Olympic Fever, I sit alone, reading a book, taking a walk or anything to avoid the deluge of world sports activity coming across my television. I love the idea of athletes putting aside cultural difference to come together for the Games, but emotionally, I struggle with it.
Part of it is the pain I feel watching athletes who have been working toward this goal for their entire lives stumble. Sure the triumphs are there. Those moments are glorious. But what crushes me are the errors. Years of effort and medal hopes dashed by a misplaced hand on the balance beam, a botched swim turn or a faulty landing.
Then there’s part where the television cameras show the moms. I lose it every time. My kids are nowhere near these kinds of competitors, but I know how it feels to be the mom in the stands and I can’t imagine how much more those sentiments are magnified at the Olympics. To see their faces when their child makes those mistakes is heartbreaking and to see their joy is thrilling and yet either way, my emotions get the best of me and I find myself tearing up.
I thought maybe I was exaggerating this to myself, but I happened to walk into the room Monday night as my husband watched American swimmer Matt Grevers win a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke. Sure enough, the cameras panned the stands and showed his mother holding a big “MATT” sign. I lost it. The tears started flowing as I thought of this mom who had sat beside the pool for years cheering her son and got to see him in his shining moment. How proud she must be.
As I’ve been reflecting on this and in the wake of the Colorado shootings, I started thinking about the other side—when you’re the mom of someone who has been accused of a horrific crime. Sometimes the mothers of serial killers are extremely dysfunctional themselves, but sometimes they are parents who love their kids and have done everything in the power to raise terrific, engaged, functioning children.
On a smaller scale, I know what it’s like to be the mother of the playground bully (and if you know my kids and think you know which one I’m referring to, you are probably wrong). I know how it feels to be whispered about and have fingers pointed at you when your child grabs another’s toy or worse, scratches or hits them. I left that playground red-faced and shamed many times and was never so relieved for winter to come and playground season to end. I’m sure those other mothers were judging my parenting skills and finding them lacking.
Now imagine the crime being a thousand times worse. Imagine being the mother of the person who walked into a college classroom, movie theatre or high school and opened fire on innocent victims. In the cases of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in Columbine and Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, the parents also lost their sons, who killed themselves, too.
They don’t even get the closure of trying to talk to their children to understand why this happened. What could they have done differently? As the public tries to absorb these horrors, inevitably fingers point to the accused’s parents and what must have been inferior parenting.
How do you survive that? Ten years after Columbine, Susan Klebold, Dylan’s mother, published an essay in O Magazine that sheds a lot of light on what she, as a mom, went through. Yes, Dylan was struggling through high school, but the Klebolds seemed very concerned and involved. They loved their son and were trying to help him through a difficult adolescence.Never in their wildest dreams did they think he’d become violent and take his pain out on others.
I relate to Susan Klebold, she sounds no different from the moms I know, yet one day her son committed an atrocious crime and all fingers pointed at her. I recommend you read her essay before you censure any parent of a murderer or other criminal. It’s not always as simple as someone’s poor parenting, though sometimes we’d like to believe that—that way we’re safe in believing it couldn’t happen to us.
Becoming parents changes us. The world is viewed through different glasses now. The tsunami hit the Indian Ocean communities in 2004 and I was haunted by the thoughts of the parents who watched their children swept out to sea, unable to save them. The earthquakes in Haiti, Japan and Chile brought similar sadness.
Maybe I should watch the Olympics. Surely the joy outweighs the stumbles. Maybe I need to find the good news and grab it and rejoice with those parents who get to see their children compete. Making it to the Olympics is an accomplishment in itself—one that would make any parent proud, no matter what the outcome.