Captain Mom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Sara Matson

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As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.
~Robin S. Sharma

My sixteen-year-old daughter, Leah, burst through the front door, bringing frigid February air. “I’m home!”

“How was your gymnastics meeting?” I called.

She dropped her backpack and joined me in the kitchen, where I was preparing dinner. “Coach Brittany told me I should run for junior captain next year. So I had, like, five minutes to come up with a speech.”

“Captain?” I repeated. “Wow!”

She saw the look on my face. “Don’t worry. I probably won’t win.”

“No!” I protested, weakly adding, “Really, it’s great that she considers you captain material. Good for you.”

I returned to slicing carrots, my mind racing. Leah a captain! If that only meant a leadership role for her, it truly would be great. But as Leah and I both knew, her being a captain would mean one other very important thing: I’d be a captain mom.

I’d never been super-involved in Leah’s extracurricular activities. As the ultimate introvert and someone who struggles with insecurity, I tried to avoid situations that sapped my energy or required me to make dreaded small talk. But then, as an eighth-grader, Leah joined her high-school gymnastics team. When the inevitable requests for volunteers came, it didn’t feel right to dodge them. So, I signed up for things in my comfort zone, like flashing scores at meets or supplying garlic bread for team dinners.

I was always glad I wasn’t one of the three captain moms who did the lion’s share of the work. They organized and often hosted team dinners. They also ran the parent meeting, ordered apparel, headed up fundraisers, delivered sandwiches to the gym before each meet, and planned the end-of-season banquet. Oh, and they put together twenty-five individualized photo books, a task that reportedly took fifty hours to complete. If Leah became a captain, I’d have to do those things, too. Did I have it in me?

I didn’t think so.

A few weeks after her meeting, Leah was indeed named a captain. Over the next six months, every time I thought about the upcoming season, my stomach fluttered with anxiety. I’m embarrassed to say that when Leah experienced leg pain during summer workouts, I entertained hopes of her quitting gymnastics. And when a coach resigned in late October, right before the season started, I fantasized about the entire team folding. Leah, fully aware of my feelings, always acted apologetic about my new role. “I’m sorry you have to do this,” she’d often say. “I’ll try to make it easy for you so you won’t have to do too much.”

Then, one day, it hit me. Was I actually hoping Leah would quit something she loved just so I wouldn’t have to face my fears? I was forty-seven years old, for crying out loud! It was time to grow up.

First off, I knew I should change how I talked. Most of what I said about being a captain mom was a complaint or something negative — or both. I didn’t want to lie about my feelings, but I could still attempt to be positive. So, when the subject came up, I tried to say things like, “I’m going to learn a lot from this,” or “This will be a good challenge for me.” Being a person of faith, I also started to pray about it, asking God to help me do the job with a good attitude… and to please help me not hate it too much.

My prayers intensified after Deb, the head captain mom, set up a meeting with me and Jody, the third captain mom. My insecurities intensified, too. Would I fit in? What if I had to take on a task I couldn’t handle? When meeting day arrived, I felt almost overwhelmed by nervousness. “Help me!” I prayed. “Help me to see this in a different light.” And, suddenly, I received a new insight. Yes, I was feeling afraid, but that fear was just an illusion. Behind all the smoke and mirrors, there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of. I was a capable person, and I had the ability to do this job.

Clinging to that thought, I went to the meeting. To my surprise, I enjoyed it! Deb and Jody were friendly, and the tasks assigned to me were doable.

As the season progressed, that continued to be true. Each time I encountered a hurdle — the gymnasium set-up, the parent meeting, the first time I delivered sandwiches to the team — I received grace to leap over it. I actually liked being a captain mom in some ways. During previous seasons, I’d felt a little on the outside at meets, having no one in particular to sit with. Now, I often sat with Deb and Jody. Conversation came easily because we had business to discuss, and as I got to know them better, we had other things to chat about, too. Slowly, my confidence increased.

Then, in February, while watching TV with my husband, I got a text from Deb: “Just want to remind you that Senior Night is next Monday. Junior moms have traditionally been in charge of that.”

In spite of how far I’d come, I panicked. In three years of gymnastics, I’d only attended one Senior Night. And now I had to plan it all by myself?

I hurriedly typed, “What does that involve?”

Seconds later, I received Deb’s reply. “On Senior Night, the team recognizes the senior girls with a reception after the meet. You’ll need to get a cake, drinks, decorations, flowers, and a banner.”

For the rest of the TV show, I maniacally texted back and forth with Deb, trying to figure out exactly how things had been done last year. I couldn’t mess this up! As I waited for Deb to find her banner order from the year before and text me a screenshot of it, I suddenly came to my senses. I didn’t have to do this perfectly; I just had to get it done. If I kept the goal in mind — to make the senior girls feel special — everything would work out fine.

And it did. The day after the reception, one of the senior moms even took time to e-mail me, thanking me for the good job I’d done.

A month later, the farewell banquet arrived. As the gymnasts received their ribbons, plaques, and certificates, I felt like I’d earned one, too. I had faced my fears and made it through the season.

But my job wasn’t finished. The next year, Leah became a senior, and now I was the head captain mom. Some parts were challenging — leading the planning meeting, trying to get people to volunteer for those team dinners, and putting together those notorious photo books. Overall, though, I’m glad I had the experience. I learned that if I approach something with faith and a positive, can-do attitude, I can accomplish a lot more than I thought I could.

And I can show up — like a grown-up — to support the people I love.

— Sara Matson —

Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC 2023. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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