Why I’ll Be Watching the Olympics with My Kids

It’s not very PC, this Sochi Olympics, is it?  The Russians hate the gays and don’t believe in adequate housing for journalists and have dangerous “face water” coming out of their sinks and are killing stray dogs, so we hate the Russian hosted Olympiad, or something like that.

Not me.

Hot babes holding flags -- yep, it's time for the Olympics!
Hot babes holding flags — yep, it’s time for the Olympics!

I love the Olympics.  Not like love the Olympics where I have odd appliqued sweaters.  I just dig the Olympic vibe, you know?  It’s very idealistic, very utopian.  They’re hopeful, and we all know how I feel about hope.  And they bring back the fondest memories of watching with my whole family as a kid myself.  I sometimes wonder who my son’s Nadia Comaneci or Mary Lou Retton or Mark Spitz or Greg Louganis will be.

Tomorrow night is appointment television for the whole family as we will sit down together to watch the Parade of Nations and opening ceremonies for the 2014 winter games.  There will be pomp and hypocrisy hand in hand.  When my boys are older, we’ll talk about that.  For now, at five years and five months, my boys are too little for that particular chat.

What we will talk about is the world and how big a place it is, and sometimes, how small.  We will talk about Africa (do they even have any representation in winter games?  A quick Google search says YES — Zimbabwe and Togo and Morocco, oh my!) and Europe and Asia and some of the record 88 countries that will be competing.

We will talk about how people look different, dress differently, and how that makes life interesting.  We will talk about how some countries have few or no women on their teams and wonder what that’s like if you’re a girl who likes to ski.

So often the news we hear is bad.  War, murder, gun violence, hunger, hatred, discrimination, corruption, and on and on.  I’ve stopped listening to NPR on the car ride to school, as I don’t want my son to think McDonald’s parking lots are places where masked gun men shoot teenagers.  Don’t even get me started on schools and movie theaters.  It sucks.

Despite all the bad news we endure,  every two years we get to sit in front of our televisions and show our kids how, yes, we can all get along.  And that is inspiring and cool and fun and, absolutely hopeful.  For those few short hours during an Olympic opening ceremony, we do all get along, even if it is just for the cameras.

Think about a family portrait.  Everyone is on their best behavior, well scrubbed and smiling.  Even if it is a sham, or not the honest depiction of the family dynamics.  For that brief moment, all appears as you wish it would be.  You and I are grown ups, so we know better.  We know the world is no different than the craziest dysfunctional family.  We know the Olympics are a marketing and corporate juggernaut, too valuable an asset to be lost to politics and human rights.  We know better.

But my five year old doesn’t.  And through him, I get to think about idealism and excitement and healthy competition and differences that can be put aside rather than addressed with guns or chemicals.  And because of him, we’ll have a globe on the coffee table, swirling around to identify all the nations competing. And we’ll cheer the good ‘ole USA, sure, but we’ll also cheer Switzerland and China, and yes, Mother Russia, too.

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