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Bring the Family

Tennis, an accessible family sport

Hayley Kaufman/Globe staff

Who: Living editor Hayley Kaufman and her son Nate, 8

What: “Playing” tennis

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Where: Any available court

It’s a tableau straight out of a Disney film: a boy and his father having a game of catch, or playing hoops in the driveway, or touch football in the backyard. But where’s mom? Working? Folding laundry? Reading “Gone Girl” before summer completely expires?

That’s generally the division of labor in our house — dad coaches, mom watches. Or all too often, doesn’t even do that. So it was a watershed moment when, after watching several Wimbledon matches this summer, the kids persuaded me to get out on the courts and play. Or perhaps that should be “play,” since we’re all quite lacking in the skills department.

The great thing about tennis is, for all its elitist trappings, it’s cheap to get started. Rackets for the kids ran about $20 each. Throw in a can or two of balls and you’re set. Parks and playgrounds are full of tennis courts, free and open to the public. Few are pristine (town budgets usually don’t allow for frequent resurfacing). But if you can find one with a net, visible court lines, and only minor cracks, it can be your own Flushing Meadows for an afternoon.

Now, after years of hearing my son Nate ask his dad to play catch or street hockey, he comes to me (me!) requesting a game of tennis. We grab our rackets and a couple of water bottles and head over to the courts. Often, a handful of neighbors are playing a round robin on a couple of them, but at least one will be empty, usually more.

As I said, we’re not very good. Nate’s getting to the point where he can serve; I still have trouble with the toss, the reach, the bend, and the thwack. But we often get real rallies going, pounding back and forth across the court, alternately laughing and groaning when we miss a shot, the ball vectoring off at outrageous angles and speeds.

“OK, Mom, now you’re going to feel my wrath,” Nate will call from the other side of the net. Sometimes the wrath takes the form of a wicked little drop shot or a forehand much faster than I expect. Sometimes it’s a goofed shot straight up in the air, with Nate staring at it for an instant before yelling, “I’ll play it!”

Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hkaufman@globe.com
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