November 26, 2006

Another Kind of Turkey

My youngest son, With-a-Why, is a shy child, so I try to encourage him whenever he shows any interest in extra-curricular activities. When he came home last week with a flyer advertising a bowling tournament for kids, I was surprised at his eagerness because he has gone bowling maybe four times in his life, but of course, I signed him up. He spends so much time with high school and college students that I welcome any chance for him to spend a morning with kids his own age. As we drove to the bowling alley, I told him the story of how his grandfather used to work setting up pins in a bowling alley when he was a teenager, a noisy job that probably did permanent damage to his ear drums.

Although the name had changed, the bowling alley was the same place where I used to bowl every Friday afternoon in seventh grade. We used to walk from school, right after lunch, and bowl three games, then make it back in time for the school buses. I was a painfully shy kid, just like With-a-Why, and bowling is a good sport for shy kids. You have to keep moving around, because everyone is taking turns, and the alley is so noisy from the crashing pins that no one will really notice if you don't talk much.

Some things in the familiar bowling alley had changed. The scores are done electronically now. I missed the little table with the warm light, the big pieces of paper, and the little yellow pencils. Keeping score was always a good role for a shy child. But everything else seemed the same: the smell of french fries, the racks of black balls, the worn rows of red, white, and blue shoes. Honestly, I don't think they've replaced a single pair of shoes since I was a kid.

The strangest change – and this came as a total surprise – is that bowling seems to have turned into a "boy sport." Over a hundred kids, all between fourth and sixth grade, had signed up for the tournament and yet I counted only five girls in the crowd. When I was a kid, everyone bowled, both girls and boys, and I can remember accompanying my daughter to several birthday parties at bowling alleys. I cannot even begin to guess why there were so few girls. Were they all off at Club Libby Lu, learning to walk in high heels and dress pretty? Was the lack of girls another result of the gender stereotypes unconsciously enforced by younger parents these days? Is bowling, like skiing and snowboarding, like practically every fun sport in our school district, somehow not "girly" enough? Are the parents worried about how their little girls will look in the ugly bowling shoes? How frustrating that even informal sporting events are dominated by boys.

The etiquette of the bowling alley hasn't changed. Parents and grandparents milled about on the carpeted areas or sat at tables eating french fries while the kids got the plastic seats right up near the polished wood lanes. Several of the boys in With-a-Why's lane seemed like experienced bowlers, hitting strike after strike, giving me the impression they had been living in bowling alleys since they were very small. I talked to one boy's grandmother, and she confirmed that yes, her grandson had gone bowling every week for the last seven years. The expertise of his peers did not bother With-a-Why at all, who focused only on his own game, happy as long as he hit down any pins at all. Between turns, he came over to talk to me or to Boy in Black, who had come along to cheer him on. As he grew more comfortable with the situation, he talked quietly to Sparkly Eyes, the shyest of the eight boys.

Sparkly Eyes asked my assistance in buying french fries and shot me shy smiles when I clapped for him but said very little else. ("Mom!" Boy in Black said to me quietly, "You don't clap at bowling alleys. You just don't.") But for the most part, the kids ignored the parents and grandparents completely, acting as if they were invisible. This behavior seemed entirely normal to me, in keeping with what I remembered from my childhood. Of course, the exception was Boy in Black, who was treated by the kids like a celebrity – and an expert on bowling, which he most certainly is not. Apparently, a long-haired teenage boy, half-asleep and dressed in an old black band t-shirt, is way cooler than a parent or grandparent.

Some things don't change.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I want to be reincarnated as a teenage boy in a black band t-shirt.

ppolarbear said...

Oops! I want to be reincarnated as a teenage boy in a black band tshirt. Littlemankitty wants to be reincarnated as with a Why.

Anonymous said...

PPB- whose blog did littlemankitty comment on before you got to Jo(e)'s?

I loved bowling when I was kid. I took SFW several times and found there to be an equal number of girls and boys whenever we were there. I'm curious where the girls were today. That's unfortunate.

Joy said...

From someone who has moved and moved and moved again, I'm a little jealous of your having all your family memories in the same place...your lake and now the bowling that was yours is your sons. Sweet.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I can remember bowling being a boy's sport in elementary school, but in recent years, when I've gone bowling, it's been at least 50-50. Maybe the girls will grow into it?

I certainly HOPE they're not all at Club Libby Lu.

medieval woman said...

Reading your posts always makes me feel so good about life...

Yankee, Transferred said...

Jane Dark! You took the C.L.L. words right out of my mouth.

landismom said...

Interesting. My daughter really doesn't like bowling--but I don't think it's gendered, I think it's just her. At first, I thought she was weirded out by the rental shoes, but she doesn't seem to have any qualms about rental skates. Certainly in her acquaintance there are plenty of girls who bowl--there is a bus that comes once a week to pick up kids from her school and take them bowling.

What did With-a-Why bowl?

zelda1 said...

Does that bring back memories. Those old wrinkled bowling shoes and the noise. Sorta like skating rinks where the only thing that has changed is the music.

Poor Mad Peter said...

There is a splendid debut novel called Broken for You, by Stephanie Kallos, in which bowling and bowling alleys (among other things) figure prominently. She has caught the spirit of the bowling biz, as you have in this post.

--PMP (from the land where 5-pin bowling was invented)

jo(e) said...

Yeah, the absence of almost any girls did really surprise me. But perhaps it shouldn't have. Last year, I chaperoned a ski/snowboarding club for With-a-Why's grade, and it was mostly boys.

I think one of the differences from when I was a kid is that kids' lives nowadays tend to be planned and organized by adults. And for some reasons, most of the parents think girls should be in dance or gymnastics, while boys should bowl or ski or snowboard. It's kind of weird.

My kids are very rarely in any organized activities at all so I don't see this stuff much, but I do read about it on blogs. It doesn't seem healthy to have boys and girls separated so much during their growing up years.

Landismom: What did With-a-Why bowl? You mean his score? Was I suppose to notice that? I think the first game was 105 or something like that. I remember that he was trying to get more than 100.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Now you've got me wanting to go bowling again... even though I suck at it (it's a big deal if I ever break 100). But it's so fun cheering on (or making fun of) your friends. I swear, I think I'm going to have my next b-day party at a bowling alley.

Anonymous said...

I took LG candlepin bowling with some of his preschool buddies last summer. What weirded me out was that the electronic scorekeeper kept track not only of the scores, but of the speed at which the ball travelled. Which went a long way towards explaining why LG was far less successful a bowler than any of his (bigger) friends.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I applaud at bowling alleys. And I cheer, and try to do the wave, but apparently no one else thinks it's a good idea....

LutheranChik said...

Club Libby Lu sounds like my idea of hell.;-)

Happy Delurking!

elswhere said...

My 1st-grade daughter goes bowling once a week with some kids from her after-school care center, and seems to really like it. I don't know if it's mostly boys or not, but my guess is that if there weren't other girls in it she would've asked to drop it by now.

Maybe some of the non-bowling girls are playing soccer? Most of my daughter's friends are on soccer teams, and the soccer camp she attended this summer was almost entirely girls.

Scrivener said...

I admit to almost no expertise wit hregard to bowling, but on the few occasions I've bowled in the last half-dozen years or so, there's been a fairly even mix of boys and girls on the alleys.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I haven't been bowling in ages but it always seems such a timeless exercise to me--each time we do go I feel as if I were stuck in a time machine...

AnotherStrike said...

Your commenters seem quick to dismiss the gender bias.

Here's what I've seen. When we have Open Bowling, we get families and groups, and I see a lot of girls, maybe not half, but at least a third. Birthday parties too -- we get girls just as often as boys.

But tournaments, leagues -- competitive bowling -- that is very much male-dominated.

Teri said...

Since when is there no clapping at bowling alleys?

I'm terribly afraid that I must have joined the ranks of the tragically unhip...

BeachMama said...

Makes me want to go bowling. I love bowling. And I love how you paint your son as a celebrity, how cool for the younger kids.

And I think I clap everytime we bowl :)

Anastasia said...

bowling is totallya boys sport in all my older Archie comics (they're kind of a hobby), complete with the obligatory girl named "Sam" or "Mel" who wins a place on the team and therefore the attention of all the boys.

halloweenlover said...

We have a new C.L.L. near me in Boston, I am so disappointed.

I was on a bowling league when I was a kid! Funny you should write this, because I love bowling, especially the sitting around eating french fries and drinking soda. In fact, I asked Josh if he thought I could bowl 8 months pregnant, we're still not sure ; )