SOCCER: a game played on a field between two teams with the object to propel a round ball into the opponent’s goal by kicking or by hitting it with any part of the body except the hands and arms
When the coach pulls out the long-sleeved jersey and padded gloves and turns toward Son, one of us grins and the other cringes. Son loves the Saturdays he gets a chance to play goalie, but I dread them.
I can’t relax when he’s in the goalie box. I pace the sidelines with an elevated heart rate and start bartering with The Almighty hoping that what I have to offer (e.g. fewer road rage expletives, clamping down on gossip, rededicating myself to the Fifth Commandment) will entice Him to grant the outcome I’m requesting.
I’m not praying for a win. I don’t care how many goals Son lets in. I’m praying for his safety. When the final whistle blows, I want Son returned to me with his facial features and digits in the same condition they were in when I brought him to the game.
I hold my breath each time the other team charges down the field to kick a ball at my firstborn. I want to scream at them to be gentle but 1) that would be ineffective and 2) I don’t want to be that mom.
I try to focus on the lessons he is learning in front of the goal.
There are games when his team (Go Panthers!) dominates their opponents. Those games aren’t fun for a goalie. Sure, he can say he blocked every goal, but that’s not much of a boast when there were so few shots and the shots that came were slow and predictable. Easy games aren’t fun. In fact, it’s lonely and boring to stand at one end of the field when all the action is at the other end.
The triumph of a goalie is proportionate to the skill of his opponents. There is little to celebrate when anyone could have stopped the shot but justifiable exuberance when the other team should have scored but didn’t because of the goalie’s speed, agility, or sheer luck.
While I’m praying Son’s nose remains unbroken, it is a small comfort to think that he will leave the field understanding that accomplishments worth celebrating are preceded by challenges.
I also like that Son has to stay in the present when he’s goalie. A great block doesn’t mean the next kick won’t go in, and sulking about a goal doesn’t help. When he is goalie, Son has to shake things off and move on. He has to forgive himself for his failures and avoid getting cocky about his successes. He has to do his best every time and accept that sometimes his best wasn’t enough.
Life lessons, I tell you, are there for the learning each Saturday.
Those lessons might just be worth a broken nose or finger.
At least, that’s how it seems on Sundays when I sit down at my computer comfortably philosophical because I know he’s still in one piece.
Come next Saturday, the life lessons will seem less important than his safety and I’ll have to plant my teeth firmly in my tongue to avoid screaming, “Don’t hurt my baby!”