Five Things I Learned from Watching the Olympics with My Kids

1. TV is not necessarily evil. We don’t watch much television in our house, in part because we don’t have a TV set in our living room, but also because our kids would rather squander their daily hour of screen-time pretending to be penguins accumulating garish interior design elements for their posh igloos. But for the past two weeks, we’ve gathered each night in front of a widescreen TV in a house we’re renting while my husband works in California. And, unlike sitting around our family dinner table, where fights frequently break out and people are known to cry, I’ve found that sitting in front of the TV at night is kind of fun and relaxing. It reminds me of the entire 1970s and has me rethinking my whole approach to parenting in the evenings.

2. Bob Costas looks old and tired because he is old and tired and that’s OK. When my husband made a joke about Bob Costas’s bizarre-looking eyes on the first night of the broadcast, I shot him an inexplicably mean look over the heads of our three kids, and we got into one of those weird marital tiffs that defies explanation and surely had nothing to do with the possibility that Bob Costas was the victim of some poorly executed eye-work. Our kids registered our icy exchange and in the days after, every time Bob Costas would appear onscreen, our six-year-old daughter would cast me a worried look and say, “There’s that guy,” which I took to mean “Are you and Papa getting divorced?” That made me laugh out loud and hug my husband hard, meaning, in some weird way, Bob Costas’s unverified-though-certainly-possible plastic surgery somehow brought our family closer together.

3. Title IX worked, but we have a long way to go in our own home. The U.S. women rocked the Olympics, garnering two-thirds of our country’s medals. But in our house, gender equality took a nosedive when our daughter, upon seeing Jordyn Wieber’s massive arms, said, “Ew! She has muscles like a boy.” I shuddered, then tried to explain that Wieber needed those muscles so she could fly and tumble and twist through the air—that maybe those “boy muscles” would earn her a big, honking gold medal and a prime spot on a cereal box. She just looked at me like I was missing the point. But over time she grew so enamored of the U.S. gymnasts—even asking at one point if we could visit them in their homes—that one night I found her eyeing her own slim biceps in the mirror. When she saw me, she asked, “How do I get big muscles so I can be in the Olympics too?” Phew. Game on.

4. Those of us who are raising our children without religion have next to no hope of sending our kids to the Olympics, or really getting them to accomplish much of anything. The number of athletes attributing their success to God seemed so high and the the God-fearing athletes themselves so impressive that I started to wonder if I should introduce a little prayer into our family life. At this point, it probably won’t help us get to the Olympics, but it might smooth things out at the dinner table.

5. George Michael’s performance in the closing ceremonies was not that bad. No, it wasn’t the same as hearing him sing “Freedom” in 1990, when we’d don our cute Levis’ 501s and croon every word from our high-profile perches on the windowsills at dorm room keg parties. For one thing, George Michael’s poof of brushed-back hair has been sheared off, but, also, we don’t attend dorm room keg parties anymore (I hope). So instead of complaining about what was, I took his performance as an opportunity to savor the now. The kids and I were in our pajamas, and I told them they could stay up an extra five minutes if they’d get up and dance to “Freedom” with me. And that’s how we ended our day, dancing wildly in our rented living room, the widescreen TV ablaze like a warm fire before us, an aging musical hero belting out a once-great song. It was, like the Olympics, warm and exhilarating and filled with hope. Though we were sad it was ending, I was thankful. For George Michael and Title IX and Bob Costas and those amazing “boy muscles” and whatever supreme being may have helped those runners blaze across their finish lines as we all watched in quiet awe from the warm embrace of our ordinary lives.