“Come on Gal! Hit the ball! God dammit!”
This is the sound of my 77-year-old Mother shouting at herself during her tennis lesson this morning.
“No! No! No!” she screams as she slams the racquet into the ball.
“Move it!” she shouts, rushing to the net.
She’s not actually playing with anyone, just hitting with Dan, the pro, an easy going guy in his early 60’s who stands at the net hitting balls to my Mom.
“Suzy,” he says, lobbing her another ball, “if you do all the talking I’ll have nothing to teach you.”
My Mother is hardcore. She’s broken her nose three times in adulthood – twice on the baseball field while playing catcher – and once when an apple fell on it when she was up in a tree. She brings her mitt to the Dodger’s games, and has actually caught the ball three times.
She’s nobody’s fool, doesn’t mince words. A couple of years ago I was Christmas shopping for her and she called me as I was entering the mall. “I’m just about to go into Chico’s to find a nice holiday gift for you,” I said sweetly.
“Chicos!” she shouted! “Don’t you dare get me anything from fucking Chicos!”
She got a lovely pumpkin colored jacket from fucking Chico’s that year and she wears it all the time.
Back on the court I’m kind of astounded that she’s so rough with herself. “What if you shouted ‘YES” instead of “NO” when you hit the ball,” I suggest, ever the positive thinker. “Maybe you wouldn’t have taken that nasty spill,” I say, referring to a fall she took at the end of her lesson yesterday, landing on her ass and hitting the back of her head on the court.
“Don’t write about that,” she instructs.
The truth is, while my Mother appears to be the hard ass in the family, all you have to do is watch me hit the ball to see the family resemblance.
“Easy Sluggo,” Dan says to me as he ducks a ball that whizzes past his face.
It’s been years since I’ve been on a tennis court. I played as a kid – the whole family did. We were like the von Trapp’s of tennis, each weekend the six of us piling into my Mother’s Country Squire station wagon and heading to the courts. We took it seriously, competing, taking lessons, and joining teams. Some of us got ranked, and while winning was wonderful, working hard, never quitting and “giving it your all” was what was rewarded by my parents.
Years later I took that same spirit into racquetball. My husband and I joined a club after a few married years because we were drifting and we needed something we could do together. It was fun at first, all that sweaty play. I even published a piece about it called How Racquetball Saved My Marriage, but then I got too competitive and wanted to beat his little ass all the time. He returned to the yoga matt and I joined the racquetball league at the gym.
30-years later and on vacation with my Mom and my kids, we get the zany idea that we should take some lessons together for old time’s sake, which is why I find myself panting and grunting, swinging my racquet madly as I attempt to return Dan’s balls. My shots are wild, and balls are flying over the fence and into the next court. I’m not cursing like my Mom, but what started out as pure fun is getting serious.
“I got this,” I tell myself, eyes narrowing in on the ball, “I can do this.”
The way you play the game is the way you play the game. Or, said another way, if you want to understand how someone approaches their life, just watch them play tennis, or any sport for that matter.
“Keep’em coming Dan,” I shout, as ball after ball goes into the net. Playing poorly only seems to inspire me to work harder. Call me a perfectionist, chalk it up to that productive childhood or all those planets in Taurus, the fact is I’m wired to work hard, to put my all into everything, wired to get it right. And let’s face it, I’m a competitive son – or in this case daughter – of a bitch. Watching Mom on the court reminds me that I come by this trait honestly.
“Come on Gal! Move it, god dammit!”
It’s funny to watch her. I think she’s enjoying herself, but if her eyes were daggers Dan would be dead. Then there’s all that cursing, and then, boom! She’s down on her ass!
She was all right, just a bloody elbow. She perked up when security rode over in a golf cart to check her vital signs and to make sure she was okay. And then Craig, the other pro, promised her that if she fell again tomorrow he’d respond with mouth to mouth – which I think she seriously considered for a moment.
Later I asked Dan if everything he needs to know about a person can be seen by the way they play tennis, and if so, what does he see in me?
“Everything has to be full blast with you,” he says. “Am I right? You throw everything into what you do.”
“Is that a problem?” I ask, because I already know there’s a blog post brewing and I want to hear him say it.
“No,” he says, “it’s just that full blast isn’t the only approach.”
It’s certainly not great for my shoulder, which is killing me after one lesson.
“That’s not where your power comes from, Sluggo,” he says, referring to the dramatic wind up I’m doing with my arm. “You’re over compensating and making this game much more complicated than it needs to be.”
This is all too familiar to me, and I’m wondering where the fine line is between working hard to get something right – because you’re a competitive son – I mean daughter – of a bitch – and landing on your ass. I can see it in my game, the wind up and all that huffing and puffing, and I can see it in my Mom who has actually left blood on the court. “Just leave it,” Dan says when I say I’ll clean it up. “It’ll be like Suzy was here,” he says.
Jeez, the truth is that I’m just ambitious – always have been. When I started taking Jazzercise classes 100 years ago my then boyfriend chided me by saying, “soon you’ll be teaching it!” I would have if I thought I could have gotten the one two timing right. It’s just my way. If I’m having fun with something, I just want to have MORE fun, and that means getting BETTER! I’m actually salivating as I write this.
After our lessons are over for the week, my Mom and I are musing about my future in tennis. “Maybe you’ll get on a ladies team and compete,” she says brightly.