If it weren’t soccer, it would be something else.
This is what I tell myself in my lower moments, during the times I wish the game had not been invented or at least that Rowan had never heard of it, had never put foot to ball and in that moment of connection found something thrilling and addictive. This is what I tell myself during each of the dozen or so daily negotiations about when and for precisely how long I will play soccer with him in the backyard and what must happen before or after in terms of things like eating breakfast and practicing piano and going to school and keeping one’s hands to oneself and the like.
I sound like a monster. I understand this. I realize that I am complaining about my son’s passion for engaging in a wholesome, healthy, outdoor form of exercise, instead of, say, online poker or dealing crystal meth. I understand the value of encouraging physical activity and team sports. I know that the fact that he wants, desperately, to play with me is a gift, something I should treasure now because, “You know, in eight years, he’s not going to want to have anything to do with you…”
I know all this. It’s just that I’m not really an organized-sports kind of girl. Sometimes I would rather not go outside and kick around a ball. Sometimes, I have had enough. Sometimes, I have other things to do, like make dinner or read the Styles section of the New York Times or alphabetize the spices or simply do anything but go outside in the snow (“snoccer”) or the sunshine or the rain or the darkness and play. Sometime over the last seven months, soccer has worn thin for me, even as Rowan’s passion for the sport seems to increase daily.
Sometimes, I just don’t want to play.
But if it weren’t soccer, it would just be something else, like — God forbid — hockey. It’s not so much the sport as it is trying to make my seven-year-old understand, as gently as possible, that I simply don’t care about it as much as he does. He doesn’t get that yet, doesn’t understand how I’m not elated each time I score one of my rare goals, why I don’t roar “YAAHHHH!” and pump my fist. He doesn’t get that I score far fewer goals than him not simply because I am the worse player, which I may well be, but because I don’t try nearly as hard, don’t throw myself after the ball, don’t insert my small, fast-moving body in between it and anything else in my way, as though it’s always and forever the most important thing in the world. For him, “fun” and “winning” are intertwined, while for me, soccer would be a whole lot more fun if winning weren’t quite as important.
And if it involved reading the Styles section of the New York Times while quietly sipping my tea at the pristine kitchen counter.
This is one difference between me and my seven-year-old son. Another difference between us is that I don’t try to convince him that he, too, might really enjoy a decaf latte and a section of the paper as much as I do.
(On the other hand, that’s not entirely fair. I suppose that I do, daily, try to convince him of other things: that he will probably like that cube of marinated tofu if he just tries it (an incorrect assumption); that his foot will fit better in his boot if he takes the time to fish out and uncrumple his sock and put it on his actual foot (I was right); that 900+ Pokémon cards are enough (we continue to disagree on this one); that as difficult as it may be to fall asleep in your bed right now, it is far more difficult to fall asleep while standing on the landing and talking about how you cannot fall asleep (I’m right about this, too); that whining is not an effective negotiating tool. Etc.)
We’ve gone through a few soccer balls over the last several months: the freeze-thaw cycle isn’t particularly kind to the dollar-store variety of balls we’ve purchased until now. Shredded octagons of white plastic litter the backyard now, cast off by the balls as they slowly fall apart. I’ve taken to calling our latest one Wilson, after the volleyball that Tom Hanks’s character befriends in that movie Castaway: Rowan, I daresay, is possibly as emotionally dependent upon our Wilson as Hanks’s Chuck Noland (does anyone else besides me think that the name’s a tiny bit too heavy-handed of a metaphor for a man thrown up on a desert island?) was upon his.
Also, I think that Chuck’s Wilson is in a lot better shape than ours.
Yes, we have signed Rowan up for leagues. We plan to max out the amount of organized soccer we can fit into everyone’s schedules, in order that Rowan can get his fix in while I can sit on the sidelines with a thermos and a novel and look up occasionally to cheer. And, in our rare, unscheduled, moments, I will continue to try to seek some kind of balance between playing his games and playing mine. Even more, I will do my best to actually play when I play with him, to see where and how I can find the fun in this activity that I barely tolerate but he loves. Loves. Loves.
This is the parenting philosophy I try to cultivate, known as Everybody gets most of what they need most of the time. Because, frankly, I’m never going to be the kind of parent who’s able to give it everything she’s got, all of the time.
And maybe, one day, many years hence, the two of us will sit in a café somewhere, quietly sipping caffeinated beverages and reading companionably, together.