By Lois Ann Ell
There’s a creased, faded photo, buried somewhere in an album in my parent’s attic in their Lihue home. I am probably nine or ten, sitting on a bench beside a tennis court, with my arms crossed and my head buried in the cover of a tennis racket. What you don’t see is the rest of my family—brother, father, mother—all bouncing around the court, lobbing, serving, lunging, laughing, all sweaty and smiley-like.
I fiercely protested the forced family fun, this sport of hitting yellow balls across a net on a hot cement slab. Like most parents, mine wanted my brother and me to enjoy and take interest in the same things they did. My brother took the bait and excelled. He didn’t go pro, but still years later he can beat pretty much anyone on the court when he decides to pick up a racket. Yours truly, however, resisted the long days on the rectangular prison, and would stand limp and lifeless with my racket hanging at my side as my mom would serve a ball right in front of my feet.
“Look alive!” “Happy feet!” “Racket up!” She would yell enthusiastically from across the court as I rolled my eyes. I’m still not sure why I resisted it so much, but I do remember being very content when I got to lie in my room and read The Babysitter’s Club books.
Over the years though, I somehow logged in many hours on the court, and even ended up playing in High School, mostly because my best friend did too. We got to be doubles partners and come up with goofy strategies like singing our calls and unnecessarily zigzagging across the court. And we got to play Mad Libs on the bus rides to and from matches.
The photo came up the other day because my mom took my kids to the tennis courts for an inaugural lesson. They loved it.
Here’s the thing: I love tennis now. I only play about once a year, but when I do I have good, sweaty fun, and I’m grateful to have lifelong skills of the sport; that even when I pick it up here and there, I can still play. My arms remember to reach high and flick my wrist to come down on a serve, my feet naturally gravitate towards the baseline to return ground strokes, and my racket is held high and firm when I approach the net. It’s muscle memory. It’s the same with any activity you return to after a respite: the instinctual push on the front of your board to duck-dive a wave, the signature gait you gain as you run, the familiar fall into a forward fold on your yoga mat. It’s a feeling of coming home to your body.
It’s not that we should push our kids into an overscheduled frenzy of sports, but there’s no better time to learn than when you’re a kid; when you’ve got agility, time, and adults—teachers, coaches, parents—who are willing to teach. And, as my mother explained why she pushed tennis, it only makes sense that you have at least some shared interests with the people you spend the most time with. It’s the reason I learned to surf when I met my boyfriend (now husband), I quickly realized it was the only way we were going to spend time together.
Thinking back on that photo, it conjures up the recent memory of my daughters dragging their feet and whining “are we there yet?” for the thirtieth time on one of my favorite hikes. I have a feeling they will love hiking when they are older.