Sixteen years ago, a group of eight mothers decided to start playing tennis Monday mornings at 10 am at the courts on top of Bowlmor Lanes in Greenwich Village. We knew each other from the neighborhood, from our kids’ pre-schools, from hours of hanging out at the playgrounds and from playdates our kids shared. We talked about our families, politics, our work. We hung out at the water park, stayed late on hot summer nights, ordered pizzas, played with the kids. It was a wonderful time of our lives.
Only four women of that original group of eight continued playing tennis and a few years later the day was switched to Fridays at nine. We eventually added a fifth player, and now we are up to seven women who take turns playing – four or five weeks on, then a few weeks off.
Most of us don’t see each other too often off the court. Occasionally there’s a party or a fund-raiser, or a screening or opening of someone’s work. There are two sisters – one of them is our organizer, she does our Excel spread sheet every year to set up our schedule, the other one books the court . They are both excellent tennis players and someone once said to me, “You have the nerve to get on the court with those two?” I do. It's hard.
What I find fascinating about tennis is how psychological it is. The actual playing is easy – somedays you’re better than other days, but the hard part is not letting your feelings get in the way of your game. Listening to the voice in your head say, “This is humiliating! I can’t do anything right” does not help your game. I’ve tried all kinds of tricks to help me shut up that voice. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The tricks include trying to pretend that I am Serena Williams or Derek Jeter (okay, weird, I know). Or saying the serenity prayer, over and over...or pretending that my eyes are laser beams, focused on the tennis balls.
Over the years one of our players has had two serious medical issues to deal with. The first one turned out to be a large infection, which resembled a cluster of grapes – that no doctor could find or diagnose. Her husband, who’s a heart surgeon, eventually tracked down a doctor in Chicago who understood the condition and did the surgery. She was sick for a long time and she couldn’t play tennis for the better part of a year. A couple of years later, she had breast cancer and that kept her away for almost another year.
One woman’s daughter dropped out of high school, got a GED and this year, at 22, she enrolled in the Culinary Institute and just became an intern at one of the best restaurants in Manhattan.
There were the years many of us had horrible perimenopausal symptoms and we spent almost as much time complaining about hot flashes and sleepless nights as we did serving and lobbing.
When my mother was on hospice care, twice, my friends listened willingly and offered comfort, advice and support.
We all lived in downtown Manhattan and after 9/11 one of our group had to move out of her loft for several months, it was so filled with dust and debris.
There have been no divorces since we started playing sixteen years ago and everyone is in some kind of relationship – not all great, but workable.
During our time at the tennis courts on top of the bowling alley (they closed them about ten years ago), we always played next to a foursome who were all in their 60’s and 70’s. One of them had Alzheimer’s and hardly played, but he was there on the court every week for years, until he died.
I like tennis quite a bit, but honestly, waking up early on Friday mornings, racing to a packed subway just to play tennis wouldn’t do anything for me, if I didn’t have that group of women to play with. I hope we can continue playing tennis together for at least another sixteen years.