Ever since our kids’ peewee soccer days, my husband, Francis, and I have loved watching them play sports. Despite their average athletic skills, we planned our entire week around a Friday night football game, a Saturday morning cross country meet, or a Wednesday afternoon tennis match. We wore spirit wear, baked cookies, volunteered, and bellowed chants.

Some might label us as doting parents; others might say we need to get out more.

Regardless, I must admit, there have been times when our enthusiasm for our children’s competitions has gotten us into trouble.

Each sport has its own unwritten rules governing the behavior of spectators, and problems can arise when parents don’t conform to the unique standards for each sport.

For example, our son played high school football at three different high schools. By the time he went off to college, we had mastered football’s spectator rules.

On Friday nights, we proudly wore our 100% nylon mesh replica jerseys, emblazoned with our son’s number. We never ate before the game, preferring to get dinner from the concession stand, where a balanced game night meal consisted of a hot dog (protein), chips with nacho cheese (dairy), and ketchup (vegetable). A blue raspberry Sno Kone rounded out the meal (fruit). Once seated in the bleachers, we tried to resist aerobic activity, other than arm flailing and strolling to the restroom at halftime.

During the game, we were encouraged to exaggerate any feelings of pride, exhilaration, disappointment, or anger. Football parents were expected to hoot, holler, and shout expletives that might otherwise be considered obnoxious or unkind.

Some examples included, “Hey, that’s MY kid! Woohoo!” yelled while pointing repeatedly at the player. Or, “Take that you LOSERS!” directed to the opposing team while making rude spanking gestures. Or, “Hey Ref -- I’ve seen potatoes with better eyes than you!” most effective when screamed with a mouthful of half-chewed hot dog.

But when our daughters joined cross country teams, we realized that we might need to modify our spectator habits.

As virgin cross country parents, we hated getting up in the middle of the night to be at an 8:00 am away race, arriving at the course groggy and confused.

There were no bleachers to sit on -- just hoards of leggy teenagers milling about on tarps in a grass field. We couldn’t help but notice the absence of foam fingers and tacky nylon mesh. The other parents looked like runners too, wearing trendy, moisture-wicking spandex and micro-fleece sportswear. We heard no cowbells or air horns – only two-finger golf clapping and the faint tweet of birds in the distance. We could smell no grilled pork products or locker room odors – only fresh air and a hint of cappuccino.

We never felt more lost and alone.

We heard the crack of a starting pistol, and suddenly, our daughter whizzed by us, among the pack. No sooner did the runners pass, than the crowd of parents started sprinting through a trail in the woods. We weren’t sure if there was a grizzly bear attacking us, or a clearance sale at Pottery Barn, but we followed along.

The jog led us to our next observation point, where Francis and I breathlessly yelled, flailed and gestured, “Hey, that’s our kid! C’mon Sweetie! Make ‘em eat your dust!” The looks on the other parents’ faces made it clear that our exuberance was not appreciated.

After two more sprints to observation points, the race was over, and we found ourselves two-finger golf clapping with everyone else. All that sprinting left Francis and I famished and in search of the nearest deep-fat fryer. But the only food available was granola bars, and unfortunately, they were for the team.

On the way home, while waiting in the drive-thru for a #7-With-Bacon-Go-Large, I realized that we’d learned valuable lessons about becoming cross-country parents: First, spectating the sport requires either an all terrain vehicle with GPS navigation, or a personal defibrillator. Second, until someone starts deep-frying granola, one should keep a bag of Funions and a six-pack of Mountain Dew in the glove box to combat hunger.

Lisa Smith Molinari is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author, blogger and speaker. “The Meat & Potatoes of Life” appears weekly in civilian and military newspapers across the United States.

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