The Beautiful Game

This week our eldest children played their first “real” soccer games ever. They have played a number of games at “soccer in the park,” which is in its fifth year (!!)–but this was the first time either child had played on a field with a referee and a team uniform and parents in lawn chairs watching and shouting, and a coach who wasn’t also Dad. We all went to AppleApple’s first game. I packed a picnic. It was sunny and not too cold and we laid out a blanket and set up beside the field. But it wasn’t much fun. The children who were not playing were mostly misbehaving. While twirling around a goalpost, CJ whacked his head with a resonant whump that could be heard across the field. Tears. More tears from Fooey who was afflicted with general unhappiness at not being the centre of attention. Ditto Albus, whose first game wasn’t till the following night. He did not take well to seeing his parents focused on his sister, and the first thing he said when she came off the field at the end of the game (flushed and delighted), was: “Did you win?” (He knew her team had lost; he keeps careful and accurate score of all games).
It was a grim parenting moment: What are we doing wrong? Why are our children unkind to each other? Onward. He was bored. And sibling rivalry happens.
We actually had a good talk about the subject the following day, when he refused to show AppleApple how to play a song on the piano that he and I had worked out by ear (K’Naan’s Wavin’ Flag, which everyone in our house sings and hums at random points during the day). He wouldn’t show her how to play it because it was his secret. After some mean words, he was sent to his room, and I followed a minute or two later. I explained that I could show AppleApple how to play the song too, and that it was really K’Naan’s song, and he had been very generous with it, and had shared it with many other musicians and artists. And I said that bullies were often (though not always) people who were insecure about their own abilities, or feeling envious and jealous, and who tried to make other people feel small so that they could feel big. I said that it’s a sign of self-confidence when we’re willing to share what we know with other people–like K’Naan. I didn’t end up showing AppleApple how to play the song (by the time I came downstairs, she’d moved on to something else). But yesterday morning, Kevin and I were in the kitchen and we paused and looked at each other: we could hear Albus in the living-room, helping AppleApple figure out how to play Wavin’ Flag.
At AppleApple’s game I discovered that I’m the kind of mother who shouts things from the sidelines. Nothing bad. But I was quite amazed, as if standing apart from myself, watching this woman excitedly cheer on her daughter, “Go, go, go! Good job! Try again!” Etc. I really couldn’t help myself. It’s likely a good thing I was distracted by misbehaving children most of the time. At the end of her very first game, Kevin ran out on the field and gave her a huge hug. I felt the same way: so very proud.
The next night, only Kevin was able to go along for Albus’s first game. His games don’t start till 7:15; not to mention that it was pouring rain and about 3 degrees Celcius. No kidding. I got a before picture, imagining a dramatic and sodden after picture, but by the time I saw him, he had shed his soaked uniform: the after picture was taken in a warm bath, and he’s drinking a cup of hot chocolate. And he’s beaming. He had a blast, though does seem at a disadvantage for never having played on a “real” team before. When Albus had to throw the ball in, and hesitated and hesitated, not sure when he was allowed to, Kevin heard other parents (on Albus’s team) muttering amongst themselves, and he wanted to say, “It’s his first game!” It’s not exactly painful to watch our children struggle, but it is genuinely painful to see them judged … by other adults … in a game that’s supposed to be fun for the kids … (Kevin also saw a few parents yelling at their own kids at the end of the game).
The good news is that Albus had a wonderful time, win or lose.
For AppleApple’s second game, yesterday, Kevin took her alone, with a packed supper for afterward, and I fed the other kids at home before we walked up to the Eco-Fair event at their school (most popular area at the Eco-Fair was, hands-down, the juice and cookie table; CJ had to be physically restrained from going for fourths).
Meanwhile, back at the field, AppleApple played goalie for the entire game, and was, according to her dad, quite amazing and fearless. (She’s never played goalie in her life). By the end of the game, the parents were all cheering her by name. The game ended in a tie. But Kevin said it was gut-wrenching to watch.
Honestly, I’m not sure either of us are cut out for the sidelines. But we’ll do anything for our kids.
The experiment of soccer almost every night is already taking a toll, as Kevin and I pass each other and wave hello and goodbye, and we’ve yet to figure out a way to enjoy supper together as a family (which is an important part of our everyday routine); but I’m glad the kids are getting a chance to do something just for them, which is hard to pull off in a family with four kids. May it continue to be fun.
(And here’s hoping each child shines in his or her own way, and enjoys his or her own pursuits, without comparison. Comparing siblings is nothing more than toxic parenting. I’m trying to make sure the kids don’t label each other and measure against each other, either, difficult as that can be. I don’t mean we don’t recognize differences, just try hard not to say: why can’t you be like … or so-and-so always … etc.).

"Mother's Day Surprise"
From a Writer to His Younger Self

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