BONUS! In addition to the post below, you can click on The Bug Circus Page for a look back at our production of Hedda Gabler. If you prefer your drama on the field and not on the stage, here’s a soccer game for you:
August 2013. The F.C. Northwest U10 Boys soccer team plays hard. They’ve played hard all season, practised hard, listened to their coaches. They are good boys, and perhaps this is part of the problem. They are a little too nice. You need to play aggressively to win and it’s an odd contradiction in parenting: we teach them to be gentle, to share, to “use their words.” Then we buy them a set of shin pads and hope that a killer instinct will arise, just for these couple of hours each week. For we are fifteen games into a season of about 20 games, and we are zero for fifteen.
I have started to think of soccer as the Nausea Hour. I have little hope but I don’t let it show. I am running out of encouraging things to say on car rides home. We tell our kids “work hard and you will be rewarded.” It would be nice to see some evidence. Oh, I know it’s not about winning. The satisfaction of playing well, the camaraderie of belonging to a team, the joy of trying your best should be reward enough and most days it is. Still: would one lousy win be too much to ask? For these nice boys?
Soccer is both better and worse than I pictured it when we first joined the kids up. I was imagining warm evenings on the green grass, watching my kid be great. He is a terrific player, and I’m not just saying that because I’m his mother. When he runs, when he really pours it on, it is a beautiful thing. But I hadn’t imagined things like…oh, the time our assistant coach, our assistant coach, got banned from the league for life for shoving a ref. He didn’t like the call she made. You know who the refs are at most of these games? Fifteen year old soccer players. He shoved her.
Soccer game sidelines are full of pitfalls. You can’t win here either. I don’t blend well as a soccer Mom, and it reminds me of the one time I had an office job in a place that wasn’t a theatre. No matter how hard I tried to dress conservatively the women in the break room would have a nice laugh, daily, at how “artsy” I was. Here on the sidelines there is a lot of small talk about shopping and so on: not my forte. I have never known what to yell during the game except “good try,” which I yell to both teams indiscriminately, and when I try to parrot what the other parents say I know they can spot me for the pretender that I am. “Man up!” Can that be right? But you meet some interesting folks, and I am eternally grateful to my children, for their existence has forced me to meet people, to go to soccer games and parent’s council meetings and choir concerts I would otherwise not have experienced. My world would be uselessly small without them.
The game starts and the nausea begins. This time we are feeling a glimmer of hope because the other team has had only six players show up. That is just enough to play. All six of them will have to play the entire game because they have no extra players to “sub.” (That’s soccer jargon.) We have eleven players and I feel guilty for being pleased about the other team’s disadvantage. Maybe, just maybe, we can beat a really tired team. I can hardly watch. My daughter sits next to me reading a book, blissfully free of any interest in the game or its outcome. After a while she goes and plays with a puppy belonging to one of the other families.
My attention strays to a boy on the sidelines to my right, whose brother is on the other team. He’s wearing mirrored sunglasses and is sort of hopping and pacing around. He comes over and asks what my daughter’s name is. They are about the same age and I think maybe he thinks she’s cute. Sort of adorable, to be that forward at age twelve or thirteen. Then he keeps talking.
There is only the merest hint of difference in this child. Just about the same amount of difference as there is between a plum tomato and a beefsteak. You might not be too sure about it at first. He seems sociable and talkative. Maybe that’s what tipped me off: is he too friendly and personable to be a “normal” thirteen-year-old? Shouldn’t he be grunting sullenly and avoiding eye contact? Let’s call him Tyler. Most boys are named Tyler, I have found. Or Dylan. But we’ll call this one Tyler. He talks. And talks. He talks like a precocious five year old. He says: “Did you see the movie Hook? Hook has no hair. That’s why he always wears that hat. That long hair? That’s just a wig.” Every new thought, and there are many of them, is preceded with the phrase, “and, also?” I notice after a time that for Tyler, every thought has the same weight, every subject is only for a moment. A running stream.
I should be watching the game but it feels rude not to engage with my talkative new friend. Tyler tells me the exact spot on the St. James Collegiate grounds where his parents first met. It is a sweet story, but not the stuff of your average male adolescent. I try asking him some standard-issue grownup-to-child questions about school and the like, but it seems he can’t be led further into any subject. He just keeps sailing along on his running stream. He tells me about his dogs, and how hard his Mom has to work to take care of three kids all on her own. He tells me about when he played soccer. He tells me his Dad lives in the country. He tells me how he fell down the stairs when he was one year old, how he “walked into the side of a wall once,” and he tells me about the time he had a very high fever. What’s he trying to tell me? Is one of these mishaps the reason for the subtle difference? “And, also? This fall my Dad is finally going to let me shoot a deer. And, also…?”
The other team scores. The ref gives the boys an extra water break because it is hot and they have no subs. I guess that’s why they’re in the lead. Tyler goes to take a water bottle over to his brother. When he runs back he runs hard, with just the slightest ungainliness, and throws himself into his folding chair, tearing right through the seat as he does so. His Dad comes over and helps him up. Dad and I exchange greetings, Tyler sits on the ground and talks. “And also? My Dad is –“
Our team scores. The parents are beside themselves. It is many games since we even scored a goal. I start to sweat. We are tied. What if we could just maybe even tie. That would be great. I don’t care about winning. At least, I say I don’t. I care about my kid. I want him to feel good, is that wrong? I want him to know that hard work is a reward in itself, yes, but also that sometimes it can pay off in a more straightforward way. Sometimes, dear son, if you keep trying, you can fucking well win.
Tyler asks me to guess his favourite colour and is stunned when I guess correctly. The sunglasses, the t-shirt, the shoes, the chair: all blue. He talks some more about hunting. I am having trouble sounding enthusiastic, as I often do when people talk about hunting. Don’t get me wrong: that’s an honest way to get your food. I just don’t want to talk about it. And, also? Should this child be handling a firearm?
We score a goal. Our player kicked the ball, not very hard, it bounced off the side of the goalie’s foot and sort of wandered into the net. It won’t make Plays of the Week, but it counts, and FC Northwest is – dare to believe it – in the lead. But our boys are looking a little tired. How much time left in the game? How much? Seventeen minutes? Dammit! That’s too long! We’ll never hang on to this lead, we –
The biggest kid on our team, let’s call him Dylan, bangs into a kid on the other team. The kid – the smallest kid they have, who has played an impressively fierce and sweaty all-out game – goes down, and all the players “take a knee.” This is my favorite thing in soccer. When someone is hurt everyone gets down on one knee until the injured player is helped off the field. Down on one knee, they look as though they are ready for anything: to get back up, to pray if necessary, to burst into a vaudeville number, or to propose. They look like nice boys, don’t they? When the injured player is up, everyone applauds. This to me is entirely civilized and should be instituted as a world-wide rule. I thought of this after the attacks last fall in Paris. Stop tweeting, stop talking. Take a knee. Someone will tell us when it’s time to stand back up.
Their coach (who looks distractingly like James Taylor after a rough weekend in 1973) comes out and helps the kid up. He’s up, but he’s limping for real and they’ve got no one to sub. So that’s it. The ref calls the game. Which means…we won. Our team goes nuts, our parents go nuts. After the teams shake hands (also very civilized) everybody starts folding up their chairs and I tell Tyler it was nice to meet him. Our coaches (who look taller somehow) announce that they are taking the team for ice cream. The other parents look as relieved as I feel not to have to think of drive-home consolations. But those six poor boys on the other team played so hard. They might be the ones who need the ice cream.
We are one for sixteen, and sometime in the fall Tyler is going to shoot his very first deer. Everybody likes to win.