f you wish to gaze long upon the blank face of ambivalence, you need look no farther than Marcel and his relationship with his track team.

Marcel is running track. Well, sort of. Kind of. Barely. He had been mildly interested in going out for the team and we were quick to strongly encourage his involvement for our own ulterior motives. But absolutely no coercion was involved! Misguided enthusiasm on our part, sure, but the dark arts of bribery and blackmail were never called upon to forward our agenda. Marcel walked onto that track of his own free will.

From the start though, there were problems. Track practice is four times a week and Marcel had preexisting commitments that interfere with two of those days. Then he slipped on water in the cafeteria and fell, hitting his hip. He walked like a mistreated, disjointed marionette for three days afterward and was in no shape to walk briskly from one point to another, much less run 400 meters while someone kept time.

Today is the first scheduled track meet. Marcel has no event assigned to him yet but that doesn’t matter, really, since he still hasn’t turned in his grade check to the coach. As of this writing, he has no uniform and no idea whether he is supposed to go directly to the meet from school or if I need to bring him home from school and then ferry him to the track at the appointed time.

We are shockingly, appallingly uninformed.

Or we aren’t. Because what I hope Marcel gains from this experience is already different from what I would have told you it was a month ago, and even then I didn’t have any real preconceived notions about what that would be. With no track dreams at stake—not for him and certainly not for us—you might wonder why we’re even wasting even a few minutes of our time working out who will retrieve Marcel on what days from his half-hearted pursuit of speed and agility. I can tell you now that it is because I have realized that the point of this extracurricular activity will be to help him to run long rather than fast.

And he has so much farther to go, my son.

Before he comes to the car today, I have asked Marcel to find his track coach. He is expected to turn in his grade check and to tell the coach that, while he is sorry he cannot help out the team today, he hopes to be able to at some later day and time. These are not easy things to ask a 12-year-old to do with so many other, more interesting, 12-year-old things on his mind. There isn’t much room to fit in real-world expectations of teachers, parents and teammates, much less the conveyance of information to one’s elders. But this is the very practice he needs, I think: the everyday strengthening of his interpersonal and organizational skills. That’s what he’ll need in the long run.