One spring day, sitting at one of those endless softball games, a dad I know places his high-end chair next to mine He is one of those guys who thinks he hit a triple in life through hard work and brain power… even though he stole second by sliding into a partner position at his dad’s highly lucrative law firm.

“How ya doing?”

I reply. “Well, thanks. How are you? Nice day for a game. I think we’re still in the second inning.”

“These games are so friggin’ long. The coaching sucks, the kids suck. That coach always has his daughter pitch. She sucks. And he put her new best friend at first who also sucks. Meanwhile, my daughter is way out in left field. Is this guy an ass or what?”

I ponder my response. For two reasons. First, I am friendly with the coach who is basically a really good guy. Second, I know the fellow next to me is a long-time friend of the coach. Their daughters have been best friends since pre-school. Maybe not such best friends now. This is a field of dreams minefield.

“Well, he does try to be fair. He moves the girls around. And his daughter’s not such a bad pitcher. I know he means well.” I hop, skip and jump away quickly from the conversation.

As the inning drags on, I am bombarded with a devastating assessment of each kid on the team (except mine), their parents and income brackets. This lawyer is making his case, tweens and evidence be damned.

As we move to the third inning, forty minutes later, this conversation makes me think. Why all the judgment at a Saturday game? Or is that really the game we are playing?

I see it all the time. Hunger games conducted at orchestra concerts. Mind games at mindless school socials. Soccer games are like Game of Thrones. Though instead of dragons and poison, it is poisonous conversation aimed at someone sitting five feet away. And it’s only one of the games suburban parents play.

There’s Get in the Game, where parents send their children on playdates with other children just so they can befriend the other parent. No bother if your kid is getting emotionally pummeled in the playroom by a diva in diapers. You’ve been invited for cocktails and lunch dates so what’s a little uppercut to your kid’s confidence?

There’s Malcolm in the Middle where Malcolm, a shy six-year old, becomes the third wheel between two more aggressive boys. Malcolm’s dad has been invited to join Friday-night poker and beer. Malcolm’s miserable but dad’s getting wild with his new boys and their toys.

There’s the Shame Game, where every skirt, dress and pair of leggings little Suzy wears is scrutinized and analyzed with head wagging, disapproving stares and back-biting comments. Until every sixth-grader is following Suzy’s lead and suddenly Suzy is bring praised from classroom corridors to bucolic cul-de-sacs. Suzy’s gone from isolated to icon over night.

There’s the Smartphone Game (formerly known as the Telephone Game) where a simple dialogue about a school project turns into a monologue of anxieties and anger aimed at anyone and everyone else. Bake sales mean raking little Angela or Billy’s moms over the coals.

And nothing is off limits or out of bounds. Teachers, tutors, troublemakers… they’re all fair game.

There are even the reverse psychology parents who speak badly about their own kids in an effort to heap more accolades and praise. But be careful. Just agree with that parent once about one of their kid’s shortcomings and that parent will cut you off at the knees. Forget being asked for tea or a tee time.

Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes do it myself. I am drawn into critiques and criticisms against my better judgment. Why do I put myself in the dog house by being a bit catty? Am I scared that I’m not being a team player?

You’re walking a fine line between what’s fair and what’s foul. Little Andy may be acting like a brat but criticizing him to a bunch of guys and you’re a bully. Exclude Jenny from a sleepover because she throws temper tantrums and you’re almost sideswiped in a parking lot by her glaring mother. One close call on the Starbucks line and the front door can be closed in your kid’s face. It’s a nightmare on Elm Street.

As the softball game wraps up three hours later, and I’m busy throwing away protein bar wrappers, my conversation comes to a close.

“That was a good game. 22-19. The girls played well.”

My sideline lawyer responds.

“It was great. Did you see my daughter got three hits? Joe did a great job coaching. I really like the way he shifted the players.”

Before I can pick my chin up off the ground, my lawyer acquaintance has his arm wrapped around the coach, chatting him up like the ambulance chaser he is. The coach beams with pride.

“Your daughter’s a pitching ace. She really stood in there. Only threw maybe six, seven wild pitches per inning.”

Game over? Nah, they’ve just begun.


NOTE: This article first appeared in The Good Men Project blog at http://goodmenproject.com/families/the-blame-game-scoring-points-by-pointing-fingers-gmp/

2 thoughts on “The Blame Game: Scoring Points by Pointing Fingers

  1. Rob Dunton says:

    I love this, Brian – submit this one to the New Yorker! You have taken me to the playing field with all its landmines. And I thought Jr. High and High School were rough! I can only hope that mellow SB, home to Earth Day (yet with its fair share of Type-A millionaires and billionaires) will be a kinder, less caustic place. So far I haven’t see a stitch of what you describe on the playground of our co-op preschool, though cliques are forming already (as is only natural)… we’ll see once sports start up if things get testy. I’m not built to handle a lot of the personalities you’ve describe here – self-serving, hypercritical, overly competitive, insensitive (cruel), two-faced, superficial social climbers… qualities I steer far away from in people I like to befriend… I’m crossing my fingers.

    1. bprcomm0612 says:

      It’s not all bad. You will meet some amazing people through your kids. Great friends. But the negotiation and renegotiation of friendships based on kid’s connections creates cliques and comments that can make your equilibrium teeter and totter. Maybe SB will be a much more mellow place but there will always be those alpha or alpha-in-training moms and dads who will see every perceived slight as a means to take two giant steps ahead. I know you will do fine. And you always have me to fight your battles! There is still some New Yorker in me!

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