My single season as a Pop Warner cheerleader ended one cold, November afternoon with a bee sting to the ass. (Who knew those bumbles hung out on cold, metal bleachers like the kissy-kissy teenagers?) Though a broken ankle sidelined my varsity tennis semester, the McEnroe type behavior I exhibited toward my racket would have ended it sooner or later. Snorkeling was suffocating, running was torturous, yoga was….eh. After I nearly harpooned my ski instructor through the heart with my ski pole, everything about skiing went downhill…except me.
Even the sports category of Trivial Pursuit throws me for a loop.
When it comes down to it, I don’t know my offsides from my elbow, my corner kicks from my corner shop. But after ten years of dodging the dirty socks and sidestepping the soccer moms, I’ve found myself a full-fledged football parent. (I am married to a Brit. One of the deal breaker conditions of having children was that they would grow up knowing soccer as football. I graciously acquiesced, but please note I will go down fighting over the correct pronunciation of zee-bra.)
For the past few Saturdays, I’ve found myself standing in questionable weather alongside other parents watching my son run up and down a football pitch. Much to my astonishment, I have found myself screaming and clapping and jumping up and down and shouting things like “Clear the ball!” and “Get in there!”, even though I’m not 100% sure what those things mean.
I am rather late to this parental team sports thing. Though my eldest son showed an early interest in football, finding a local team when you are expat is a bit more difficult than showing up at the town common and forking over fifty bucks. There’s the language thing. There are transportation difficulties and cultural differences and well, the language thing. When you’re playing on a team and trying to figure out who goes where or who is open or where to put the ball in the heat of the half, communication is key.
Though my preferred niche of parental tyranny tends toward the academic, even I recognize the benefit of playing sports, particularly a team sport. My husband and I were in agreement that it was past time for the boy to learn how to play; with others, against others. It would be good for him to learn how to win, how to lose; to work hard at something, to see results, to focus his energy. The long game was to get him interested in something that would carry him through the next few testosterone heavy years, something to channel those pent-up hormones and emerging emotions. The short game was to get him off the iPad and to tire the bugger out. I would go and show my support, shuttle him to and from, cheer a bit. And it was working out brilliantly. Until today.
Because today….well today his team, which has been getting soundly trounced for the last 18 months, today they did the trouncing. When they scored their first goal, I was shouting just a loud as any other parent. By the time they scored their third goal I suddenly understood the whole thrill of victory thing. By the fifth goal, I got caught up in thinking that those kids out there playing in the rain might actually pull it off, and I understood why the emotions of sports parents sometimes get a little too heated. By the sixth goal, I understood why a friend of mine asked me if I had yet to find and channel my inner tiger mom.
Then the other team’s goal keeper started to cry. By the seventh and final goal, I understood the agony of defeat part too. Somehow when it’s your own kid out there crying, you are confident you can reassure them. You know you can give them a hug and tell them it’s going to be ok, you can go and get an ice cream to soften the blow. You can talk about effort and practice and hard work and use sporting metaphors that you don’t fully understand. When it’s a child you don’t know, raw emotion escaping in the face of an a big loss, it hurts your heart a little bit. Or it hurt mine a little. Not enough to overcome my joy for my son and his team, but enough to make sure I measured my responses a little bit more.
All those life lessons we were hoping the boy would learn were stitched up in one sixty minute game: the benefits of working together, the beauty of playing as a team, losing graciously and today, for my son and his team, winning graciously as well. I sincerely hope that my inner tiger mom gets to come out a bit more in future matches. I suppose I should brush up on offside rules and the difference between a throw in and a corner. But I also hope that if it is my son out there, teary with frustration, swiping at his eyes while he waits for the ball, that another mom will see. Maybe she’ll catch his eye. Maybe she will smile.
There are lessons out there on the pitch for all of us. It’s not just my son who is leaning to play.