I like soccer. I really do. In fact, I played soccer for six or seven years as a kid, and in fourth grade my team won the state championship (you should probably know, though, that my contribution to this victory was fairly minimal; that is to say, I occasionally blocked the ball with my face when it was kicked in my direction).
But there's something about walking onto the field with your 5-year-old for his first soccer practice/game that feels like the first day of junior high (minus the zits and bad haircut) -- except the sensation is doubled because you're also feeling it for your preschooler: Will he make friends? Score goals? Or just occasionally block the ball with his face?
Within a couple of weeks, however, I realized this was worse than junior high -- I mean, in junior high you eventually discover other mutant thirteen-year-olds dealing with zits and bad haircuts who will at least sit with you at lunch and not make fun of you when your hamburger goulash gets inextricably lodged in your top braces. But I quickly became convinced that I would never fit in with the other soccer moms.
For one thing, the other boys all had names like "Talon" and "Gage" and "Stryker" (as if their parents had actually wanted cars or tools or heavily-armed science fiction action figures instead of kids). A kid named after a sixteenth-century poet/playwright could get eaten alive out there.
And if the kids didn't get him the parents might: I actually overheard one of the dads telling his boy who had fallen down and was crying, "If you don't stop crying, I'm gonna sign you up for the girls' team!" Honest. I'm not making it up (I wanted to say something to the guy, but I had problems with what he was saying on so many different levels I didn't know where to start).
And then there was the mom who, every week without fail, dressed her three-year-old daughter up in a sparkly pink and purple cheerleader outfit (complete with pompoms) and reminisced with another mom about their cheerleading days. This is the same mom who, after watching her five-year-old perform remarkably straight cartwheels out on the soccer field, called him over and said, "If you don't stop messing around and start scoring goals, we're going home!" Yeah, I'm not making that up either.
So, after going the first three or four games without a goal (in fact, I'm not sure Will even kicked the ball -- he spent most of one game inspecting a weird bug he found in the grass), I began to wonder if I should have prepared him better, practiced with him more, so he would be able to play like the other kids.
But then I started to appreciate the entertainment value in a kid who, after the first five minutes or so, completely loses interest in the game and becomes oblivious to the ball going back and forth across the field.
For example: Gage steals the ball from Stryker and runs down the field. Talon pushes Gage down, takes the ball, scores a goal.
Will picks several handfuls of grass and tosses them up into the air.
Talon throws the ball in, Stryker takes it down to the goal. Gage kicks him in the shin, takes the ball away and scores a goal ("Get him, Stryker! Get him!" screams Stryker's mom).
Will runs over to show me the pile of rocks he's found on the field.
You know, maybe next year Will will be more interested in the game and score a goal or two, right along with "Ridge" and "Titan" and "Truck" (okay, I might have made some of those up). Then again, maybe he won't.
But in the meantime, I'm okay with the fact that when the game's over and Gage runs over to his mom and exclaims, "I made five goals today!" Will runs over to me and says, "Guess what Mom! A kid fell down and I helped him up!"
Good enough for me.