What My Children Teach Me
How I Pictured Motherhood
Four years ago, through a fluke of YMCA scheduling, my two younger sons wound up on the same soccer team. Sam, my eldest, had abandoned soccer years earlier in favor of baseball, so each week I had to sit through only one soccer practice instead of two. The Saturday obligation was over with one 40-minute game, and I had a single absurd jersey color to wash each week instead of managing one load for fluorescent orange and another for Barney purple. Plus, the coaches were brilliant -- offering just the right combination of skills training, encouragement, and reminders that soccer players don't tackle each other, especially when they're on the same team. I know a gift from God when I see it, so that team is exactly where my sons have stayed ever since. (Henry, 11, plays in his own age bracket; and Joe, 9, plays up.) All the other soccer moms I know are jealous. They think I've pulled off some kind of cosmic act of fraud. Isn't total subservience to the demands of the league the whole point of being a soccer mom?
The thing is, I was not meant to be any part of a sports team. I am, in fact, a miserable athlete, though no one had the heart to mention that fact to me in childhood, so I kept signing up for teams anyway. I once broke all but two of my fingers in a single volleyball play. In softball I played right field -- until a left-handed batter happened to come along, at which point the coach summarily transferred me to left field. I comprehended so little about the game that I didn't understand until years later, when Sam explained it to me, that I'd essentially been moved to a spot on the field where no ball would ever come near me. It made sense: I had about as much chance of catching a pop fly as an asteroid, and I tended to spend my time in the outfield making necklaces out of crimson clover.
By the time my children were born I'd become a total sports agnostic. It's not that I was ever hostile to the team mentality -- I always liked the idea of people pulling together to achieve a single, ardent goal. It's what they're working for so ardently that puzzled me. How can so many people so passionately care about whether a ball makes it into a net or a goal? Even if the team happens to win the game, they still have to play the same people again next year. I just never got the point, and eventually I gave up trying.