WAUWATOSA, WIS. — My son quit soccer, and I'm glad. While the rest of you are packing your minivans with black-and-white balls and ruddy-faced children, I'll be reading. And it won't be a map to an obscure recreation area two counties away. Perhaps I'll go to church with the entire family in tow, or watch three kids wrestle with a football in the backyard. I'm not sure which, but it will be my choice.
And I'm here to tell you: You can get used to it, this life after soccer. Soccer is the dominant suburban culture. As cultures go, it's appealing. After all, it's based on health and fitness. It forms community. You get to be outside. At the end of the game there are Rice Krispy squares and juice boxes and, sometimes, neat little plastic trophies.
But this culture didn't really fit our family. I work full time outside the home and have three kids with needs, desires, and obligations to juggle. Not to mention my own, which got lost in the shuffle.
Even before the heightened expectations of select teams set in, soccer was a six-hour weekly commitment for the chauffeuring parent. Six hours per child, that is.
My son, George, loved the chance to run after a ball. He liked acquiring skills. He liked his fine and mellow coaches, Bob and Ed, who didn't seem to mind too much when the boys got absorbed in playing and forgot all about winning. But even at 9, George felt the pressure of being over-regimented, of missing unscheduled opportunities, of being unable to explore other things.
Maybe we're just sort of ... incompetent. I know we're not lazy. But the need to orchestrate children's activities as if they are separate from, and more important than, adult activities is an idea I'm ready to question.
Leading family life as purely child-centered can leave the adults running on empty. I wonder if it might not be doing the same to the children.
Time with children is a gift. But time given to road trips I begrudge. I've heard parents say that drive time is quality time. "That's when we talk," or "I listen in when they talk to each other and get the real scoop," these parents say. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way for me. I spend the time avoiding collisions and looking for exits.
The last time I bought soccer socks, I told the store owner that I was going to lead a soccer rebellion, get families to insist on school-centered teams or let kids play pickup games. He smiled and said, in a charming Eastern European accent, "Miss, I will join your rebellion!"
He said he felt frustrated with losing gifted athletes in high school because they were burned out. "There is maybe too much too soon," he added. Perhaps he was just a fine salesman telling the customer what she wanted to hear. But I think that at least some of his sympathy was real.
George doesn't seem to be suffering from soccer withdrawal. He's playing football and basketball instead - not formally, but with his friends. He doesn't need to be an expert yet. Sometimes we go swimming. Today, the kids and their dad are taking a long bike ride with no particular destination.
Don't think I'm trying to turn this into a lofty, child-based argument. It's purely selfish. I didn't like being a soccer mom. It interfered with more important sports: the domestic biathlon (baking brownies and making chicken soup from scratch), the time-with-friends relay, the culture pentathlon (museums, galleries, concerts, exhibitions, and plays).
Now, please excuse me. It's time to train for the afternoon nap-and-novel marathon.
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