Every Sunday in the fall, I find myself at the soccer fields, a mostly green piece of real estate nestled between the parkway and a defunct and crumbling state-run campus for developmentally disabled persons. (In rapidly developing suburbia, we have to set up our recreation fields in any available corner of land.)
I’m not the only one there, of course. Hundreds of moms and dads, siblings, friends, and grandparents stand hugging themselves against the early morning chill, chat with other onlookers, and occasionally cheer for the players kicking the ball around. Kids in blue and white uniforms pass to each other and shoot into practice nets, awaiting their start times.
“Take the ball away. Get him,” I yell to my 5-year-old. “Run!” my husband booms.
What has happened to us?
We spend nearly every breath, enforcing peace in our household of three boys. You’ll get your turn, we say. Be patient, we implore. Stop taking the ball away from him. What?
My son lopes around on the field, following behind the cluster of forwards and middies, watching them race past after the ball. He examines his shadow on the grass, plays with it.
“I want to play nice soccer,” he tells me during a substitution. “All they want to do is take the ball away.”
“Yes, of course. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Take the ball away.”
“Nah,” he says and strolls back to the coach. He spends the rest of the game talking about Minecraft to another conscientious objector on the field and teaching a little blond girl on the other team to dance.
My husband heads to an open area and kicks the ball around with our 3-year-old, who shows some potential. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he tells me.
I’ve known my husband since middle school; he was a star midfielder and defenseman, played nonstop for ten years until he burned out and quit in high school. I get it; he’s competitive, uber-competitive. The middle of the night arguments over a game of Risk with his family was an early indicator.
I played for only a year way back when, but I enjoy the game, any game, really. I enjoy having someone to cheer on to victory or soothe in defeat, give him the spirit to try just one more time.
My sister-in-law wanders over from her daughter’s game – two fields over, mind you – and says to me, “You know who you remind us of?”
Not a conversation opener anyone relishes to hear, forcing me to consider was I that loud?
“The mom on ‘˜The Goldbergs.’”
I’ve only seen clips, but I’m not sure this can be a good thing. Yes, I get excited and maybe my “cheers” end up sounding a bit shrill. I’m only encouraging my baby to be the best he can be. And, yes, there are times that I debate the ref, but that number five is always – and I mean always – offside.
“In a good way,” she quickly tells me, balancing her 15-month old on her hip.
“I’ll have to check it out,” I reply, wondering how I became a TV sitcom mom. But it can’t just be me.
I look at our boys among everyone else on the field and, frankly, it’s not just our boys; it’s not just me. Most of the parents standing around are grimacing in frustration, yelling out instructions to their children, kicking the air as if we have a robotic link to our child’s foot. I kick, you kick. Ball is cleared. Ball in net. Everyone happy.
“I know I don’t have to yell at Sam,” one dad says. “Coach yells enough for all of us.” We joke about putting the coach’s voice on tape to persuade our kids to do homework or chores.
“Tommy,” the gravelly voice rumbles, “What is five plus two?”
The fact is we – parents and educators – spend so much time teaching children to share and be “bucket-fillers” only to turn around and expect them to suddenly unleash on the playing fields the aggression we try so hard to redirect every other minute of the day.
I look back at my son, who waves to me as the ball rolls by him, the herd of first-graders stampeding after it. I know he’ll find his place eventually, as long as my husband and I relax a little. My son actually asked to watch the US Open this year, much to my surprise. So, perhaps tennis will be more his speed -- that is until I hear, “Why do they keep hitting the ball at me?”