I’ve come to a realization about myself through parenting: the things I didn’t like as a child get only marginally more fun when I try to pass on a false love of them to Owen. For instance, Monday afternoon, I took Owen to an indoor soccer playtime event. We paid our admission fee, put on our running shoes, and grabbed our ball. As we entered the artificial grass stadium, my heart lurched. Oh God. They weren’t just kicking balls around. They were playing GAMES of soccer. The idea made me cringe. I was self-aware enough to realize how ridiculous my expectation was, but still. Games? How awful.
Owen, oblivious, took off, kicking his ball into the middle of the two games (between them, luckily). I was then yelling at him to come back because I didn’t want him to be trampled. One of the games was being played by large, fast, sweaty teenaged boys and adult men, who kick the ball hard enough to bruise (and possibly brain) you. I know. I got a ball in the leg. We were told that we could use the edges of the field, so we did, but we had to be extra careful 1) not to get brained by errant soccer balls and 2) not to let our own soccer ball be errant. Honestly, I was so stressed out. And it occurred to me that for most people, playing soccer means just that, playing soccer – you know – the actual game, with goals and strategy and winners and losers and speed and … all the things I kind of loathe. I don’t mind kicking a ball around. I don’t mind playing goalie with my child. But I did mind having balls flying through the air and athletic bodies pitching themselves in my direction.
We plan to register Owen in soccer this summer. Clearly, though, he is already behind a lot of the kids whose parents actually care about the game that is soccer and play it with their agile children. Another little boy, around Owen’s age, was also playing on the sidelines, but he was dressed in soccer gear (an outfit, green and white, with the logo of some restaurant on the back of it – you know – professional). He was wearing cleats, size 11 kids, and had a miniature soccer ball that he could control with precision. Anyway, he wanted to play with Owen, but Owen didn’t understand why this kid wouldn’t let him score a goal. The only rule I had remembered to tell Owen about soccer was that you were not allowed to touch the ball with your hands. He was so impressed with this rule that he asked, as we were walking into the sports centre, whether he might get arrested by the soccer police if he broke this rule. He also gamely tried to hit the ball with his head by getting down on all fours and trying to nudge it forward. You see? We’re the laughing stock. And then the other child, playing goalie, kept using his hands, and Owen said “he’s breaking the rule!” and I remembered that goalies could use their hands.
In the end, we had an OK time. We both learned a lot about soccer. I remembered that soccer is a game that some people like to play. Owen had his usual response to such occasions, “I’m really bad at soccer. I’ll never be good” but also “I wish I didn’t have to stay on the edges. Can we go back when there aren’t so many people?” We will. I might even throw the child into a game and have him be jeered and mocked by his peers. Sorry: am I projecting? I have so many bad memories of playing team sports (badly) that I cringe when I get into these situations. Then again, we bumped into one of my favourite former students yesterday (one of the athletic young men). He said hello and then said soccer was great for kids. Fine. I just seriously have to leave Owen to the professionals.