Sunday, January 31, 2010

True love waits

There was a time when I loved the Bobby McFerrin song 'Don't Worry, Be Happy.' I'd walk around singing it. I'd call radio stations and beg them to play it. I'd watch MTV hoping they'd play the video. Seeing that crazy guy dance while at the same time helping me realize that I shouldn't worry, but instead be happy, despite losing my job, my girlfriend or whatever tragedy that may have befallen me.

It was also around this time in my life that I enjoyed seeing the lessons Papa Smurf would impart to his Smurf subjects (as well as my first celebrity crush on Smurfette - and I'm still thoroughly confused about how there was only one female smurf in the entire smurf village. And I saddened that I missed the episode when Smurfette got tired of all the other smurfs hitting on her and filed a sexual harassment suit against them. That episode exists, right? It has to, and if it hasn't, surely there's fan-fiction of it.) as well as watching the Muppet Babies before they grew up to hang out with the celebrities of the day.

I was also a HUGE fan of both grape and orange soda. Loved the stuff. Wanted it every time I walked past a soda machine or went shopping with mom. The fact that neither tasted like the fruit they claimed to be named after didn't matter. It only heightened the desire to consume such a beverage. It was a conundrum. It was named after a fruit, so it must be healthy, and yet I was told I couldn't have very much because it would rot my teeth out. It wasn't until years later I learned it was all a marketing ploy to get kids like me to drink sodas like that. I'd been duped by clever marketers.

Despite liking all these things when I was seven or eight, my tastes have been refined (though I still enjoy a Sunkist every once in a while). I no longer wake up on Saturday mornings hoping to watch Muppet Babies. I don't have 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' on my iPod and I can't remember the last time I had grape soda (though, in an odd way, writing about it makes want to go get one.)

It was also around this age when I started to watch baseball. Because they were on television in the afternoon and I could watch their games (more specifically, the end of the games), I became a fan of the Chicago Cubs. Little did I know this decision would be one go on to affect my life more than any decision made by an eight-year old should.

Unlike favorite songs, favorite foods, or favorite underwear (which get changed quite frequently), your favorite team is something you're stuck with. They don't tell you this when you're eight years old. Instead, they're teaching you about multiplication tables, long division, and whatever else you learn (if my second-grade teacher is reading this, sorry I don't remember what else you taught me. I'm sure it was valuable in my development as a person, I just can't think of what that was.) But the fact is once you pick a team, they're your team for life. Oh, don't get me wrong, you can change favorite teams, but then you're labeled a 'front-runner' or a 'bandwagon fan,' which is actually worse than being called a 'terrorist' or a 'Lady Gaga fan.'

How can such an important decision be expected to be made at such a young age? The emotional consequences of choosing the wrong team can have serious long-term consequences. Every April for the past 23 years, I've looked forward to the Cubs season, thinking (sometimes rationally, often irrationally) that this would be the year they broke their now century-long curse of not winning the World Series. Every October (often September, and sometimes, even August), I've lived with the consequences of that fateful decision.

We have academic counselors in high school, career counselors in college, pre-marital counseling, post-marital counseling, regular counseling, and counselors on television all trying to help people lead a better life (well, maybe not Dr. Phil), yet none of them are dedicated to helping impressionable young children make the most important decision of their lives.

So I'm proposing a sports counselor to help kids decide when the time is right to choose a favorite team. There's no reason for someone to rush into a decision when they're not prepared to handle the consequences. They could have their heart broken, ripped out, trampled on and no one would have warned them that this was possible. Or worse, they could make a decision that has repercussions for life. It could cause them to become so depressed or overwhelmed that they drop out of school to try to deal with the consequences of their impulsive decision. Don't you think there are Viking fans or Browns fans or Indians fans who wish someone had told them of the heartbreak they would likely experience.

If you know of kids who are getting close to the age where they start asking questions or may be thinking about picking a favorite team, be sure you take the time to talk to them. Explain to them the consequences of them making this decision before they're ready. They're so young and I'd hate to see them throw away their future by making a decision they could grow to regret every October (or January, or June, depending on what sport they go with.) Together, we can prevent tragedy.

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