September 19, 2010
I have a stunning confession to make to all of you today, so sit down, grab some chocolate, have a drink if necessary, but get ready. I’m about to type five words, a simple sentence I never thought I’d have the opportunity to utter. No, I haven’t won the lottery, convinced my husband to ask me a “wh” question without prompting, nor found a publisher (hell, I still don’t even have an agent). None-the-less, this specific combination of syllables heralds a landmark achievement, one for which I wish I had both the medal AND the monument.
I am a soccer mom.
This past Saturday my husband and I ushered an excited little boy to his first soccer practice/game, dressed in full regalia right down to shin guards and cleats. He was so happy to be a “dragon” he was practically shaking, and after we parked the car and I compulsively checked the diaper bag for my camera for the hundredth time, I thought I should attempt to calm him down a bit. We recited our litany of rules, “no hands, just feet”, listen to “Coach C”, “don’t run away”, and I felt the tension lift a little from his body as I carried him upon request across the parking lot. I put him down as our feet collectively touched turf, and quickly found our appointed spot on the field.
We appear to be one of the last to arrive, and I scan the area to see what is ahead of us, metaphorically and literally speaking. I see three other teams beyond us on the sidelines, mostly sitting cross-legged on the white chalk divider, some gently kicking their signing gift to and fro to their parents. I look back to our group, see several children clinging emphatically to their mommies’ torsos with a death grip, a few others wandering around aimlessly, and our coach happily ensconced in the middle of the drama.
Except for the fact that Jeff and I will probably be asked if we’re Zach’s grandparents, we fit in beautifully.
My husband walks over to introduce our youngest progeny to his “soccer teacher”, and I strike up a conversation with the mother of one of the girl “dragons”. She tells me this is predominantly a young team, with most of the players falling on the three-year-old side of the two-year age range. I discover that she has conducted her own fact-finding tour, and she says most of the kids do not have much experience, including her own daughter. I mentally breathe a sigh of relief, as sports are to central Jersey what designer duds are to Fashion Week, and I just don’t want to have the pressure of feeling my son has to perform. We’re all here just to have fun, and I want this to be a good experience for Zach. It’s his first foray into “neurotypical world” in any group type of way, and frankly I’m anxious for him to have a good time.
When it appears the lair is full and all of our imaginary green friends have indeed made the field, Coach C. calls everyone into a circle formation, and begins his spiel. He describes the merits of dribbling, the thrill of passing, the joy of making a goal, which elicits a resounding “SCORE!” from my boy, and laughter from the outer perimeter of parents guarding their young. The coach’s wife whispers to me that he must have some personality, and I smile back at her and say she’s only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. I find myself hoping her husband is a fan of unlimited exuberance as well.
Our honorable soccer leader finishes his speech with the question “who wants to have fun” coupled with a power shout/hand lift up to the sky, and the action begins. Coach C. creates what constitutes a line for the pre-school set, describes how a real soccer player gets a ball down a field, and asks them to imitate him. With some prompting Zach complies, although I make a mental note to practice aiming more often, as at the moment his zig-zag pattern emulates a lightening bolt. After a few rounds where more often than not no body parts make contact with the ball, we are asked to help our offspring form two lines, the object being each child will have a partner to pass to, and said partner will return the favor.
We try, but five minutes later it’s clear our attempt at parallel lines will be thwarted by far more important needs for juice, hugs, and general interaction by the pee wee set. With incalculable patience Coach C. abandons ship and asks each child to take turns passing to him, which ultimately is a bit more successful. Zach at least gets the ball within fifty feet of his coach every time, and reacts to the crowd roar of “Good job Zach!” with an emphatic “Yay!” and a clap that clearly indicates he feels he’s accomplished something.
And of course, he has.
Finally, “Team Dragon” executes a final exercise in which, with considerable assistance on some children’s parts, each player ultimately gets to experience the roar of victory as they slip their soccer ball past their enthusiastic teacher into the empty net. Zach really enjoys this part, offering up his “SCORE!” war-cry each and every time, thrilled that mommy and daddy were right, that he would indeed get to make a goal, would secure a “win”. Following his last successful turn he completes a mini-victory lap, runs back to me, commands “juice!”, and sinks into my lap.
We’re only twenty minutes into our session, but it is clear that he is done.
I whisper to him that he’s not finished yet, that this saint-like man is supposed to organize his rag-tag team for a scrimmage with one of the other three teams lining the field, that he will have to participate. He looks at me doubtfully and sinks back further into my arms as he waits for his teammates to finish racking up the score, and my eyes wander upward to meet those of my husband. Zach will either play or he won’t, the best we can do is ask him to participate. We smile, reading each other’s thoughts, and I bask in a feeling so often alien to me now, called relaxation. Whatever happens, happens. If he doesn’t turn out to be David Beckham, it’s not a tragedy.
Soon it’s time to play, and Coach C. bravely taps Zach, another boy, and two little girls to accompany him onto the field to meet the other team. I look up and notice three teams in almost perfect position, parents on the sidelines ready to cheer them on. I regard our assemblage, and realize at least one parent has accompanied their child onto the field, in some cases, there are two. I’m beginning to recant my decision not to believe everything happens for a reason after all.
In a few minutes both teams are lined up, ready to go, eager and waiting for the whistle that signifies flight. Zach actually looks composed, aware of his duties, although since he’s three, it’s impossible to know what’s transpiring in his head. Moments later that icon of sports shrilly slices the air, and the opposing team gets in a good kick and heads for our goal, with all members of their team headed in the right direction, half of ours in tow.
In case you’re wondering, the other half would consist of my son and his new girlfriend, who has made the brazen choice to kiss my baby, grab his hand, and make a run for it with him down the field. He willingly complies, cheating on both his school girlfriend Madeleine and his wife/babysitter Pat in a gleeful attempt at escape.
Three, and already a player.
The blonde’s parents shake with laughter as they record the event for posterity on video, and I yell to my husband who’s closer to “go get them!” before they interrupt what actually looks like the pre-cursor to a real soccer game just fifty yards ahead. Jeff puts on some speed, grabs their hands and entices them to return, just in time to see our rivals score, which seemed inevitable as they were up two players. My husband tells me he was accompanied by three teams’ choruses of “awe!!” as they made their way downfield, two little blond heads bobbing up and down, periodically regarding each other with wonder, laughing hysterically, never letting go of each other’s hands.
Instead, it is I who have let go. For once, oh, for once, I am in the moment. Mentally, I’m not with Justin at home, not immersed in autismland, not consumed by worries. I’m just here, on a verdant field, watching my son “play” a team sport and revel in a new romance, on a beautiful September day on the cusp of fall.
I’m simply here.