This past weekend, I earned uber points towards Mother of the Year by going to my daughter’s softball game on Friday night, roasting in the beastly humidity, racing home, washing her sticky, sweaty t-shirt so that she could wear it Saturday in her next game, a game which I attended in 95º heat with full sun, trekking up and down five fields to have team photos taken and sticking around for a water balloon fight, all the while as my bra filled up with about a gallon and a half of boob sweat, and I didn’t complain. Not that anyone can prove anyway. It doesn’t matter though because usually my chances of winning that award are shot to hell by January 2nd every year. But I continue to keep track of points because I have masochistic blood running through my veins.
We are smack in the middle of our third season of softball and soccer so I’ve spent a good amount of time sitting on the sidelines in hellish heat, drinking water, taking shallow breaths and generally moving as little as possible so as not to unduly exert myself. I want to save the little energy I have in this heat to lift myself out of my chair and cheer my girl on whenever appropriate. I know she appreciates my efforts and I’m just going to pretend the eye roll at my screeches of GET IT, HELENA, GET IT, GET IT, GET IT is simply the sun glaring in her eyes and nothing more.
In soccer, I’ve yet to figure out the phenomenon known as “soccer ball suck” which happens immediately upon the ball going into play. This is where every single player on the field, regardless of position or team affiliation, is automatically sucked as if by a vacuum to the ball. This creates a tangled mass of kicking legs and flailing arms that proceeds to move up and down and all around the field as one collective unit. The ball can no longer be seen. As spectators, we cheer like maniacs whenever there’s a break in formation and the players actually separate for a brief moment, allowing the ball to escape. This is not so much in hopes that a goal will be scored or saved as much as it is in relief that our children did not, in fact, superglue themselves together while the coach wasn’t looking.
Way over on the opposite end of the spectrum is softball where I can quite easily see the ball at all times as it rolls on its merry way across the infield and sometimes the entire outfield, unfettered and free, while the players all look at it and each other and then scramble to figure out who should run after it and pick it up. No fear of any superglue funny business happening in softball.
I love to watch seven and eight year old girls play these sports. That’s because they don’t look upon soccer or softball as an athletic event so much as a social gathering, an opportunity to catch up on all the latest and greatest happenings in second grade. Actually playing the sport at hand is incidental. Apparently they need this time to catch up with each other as there simply isn’t enough time in the 6.5 hours they’re in school with one another to properly and thoroughly discuss the merits of flip flops over crocs, argue over whether Colin likes Maddie or Alexa better, contemplate why Jessie was being such a goober that day and to STOP EVERYTHING AND LOOK AT MY CARTWHEEL! I’ve got to think that the conversations happening out there on the field must be absolutely fascinating in terms of the seven year old psyche.
Emma (first baseman, picking a scab): Hi Lis.
Alyssa (running over first): Hey Em. Watcha doing?
Emma (wiping her fingers on her jersey): Ick. I’m bleeding!
Alyssa: Ewwwwww … that’s gross, Em. Lemme see it. Cool.
Emma: Like my socks? My mom got ’em at Target. Look how high I can pull them up!
Alyssa: Awww, those are awesome! I want some. Can I wear ’em sometime?
Emma: Yep – you can borrow them after the game. We’ve having icies for snack when we’re done. What’re you guys having?
Alyssa: Fritos and juice!
Emma: No way! I love fritos. You’re so lucky. Can I have some?
Alyssa: Yeah, I’ll save you one. It’s hot out here. I’m sweaty. Lookit, I’m a dog! (shaking her head so sweat flies everywhere). Hah, I got you! Did you see Jason today? He said his armpits were sweating! I didn’t see any sweat though. He’s such a show off. He likes Amanda.
Emma: Ewwwwwww. That’s gross. Wanna come over to my house and play later?
Alyssa: (jumping around excitedly): Yeah, yeah, yeah! Can we go swimming?
Emma: (eyes widening like saucers): HEY, CAN YOU SLEEP OVER?!?
Alyssa: (convulsing with excitement): LET’S HAVE A SLEEPOVER! SLEEPOVER, SLEEPOVER, SLEEPOVER!
Bloody scab and sweat forgotten, the girls hold hands and jump all around first base together, giggling.
And from somewhere in the vicinity of the pitcher’s mound comes the exasperated shouts of the coach: Hey! Look alive out there! Who’s getting the ball? Somebody? Anybody? Throw it to first! To first! No, that way! JUST THROW IT ANYWHERE.
I watch my daughter and her teammates out on the field, blowing daisies, looking for four leaf clovers, practicing their hand stands or watching the sky for airplanes or blimps or anything of the like and I am struck by the irony.
As parents, we try to instill in our children the virtues of being polite. To say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and to patiently wait their turn. To use their indoor voices. No budging. No hissy fits when things don’t go their way. No celebrations if everyone isn’t included. And as a parent, I hold my breath whenever my child finds herself in a situation where her manners will be the deciding factor in getting an ice cream or getting a lecture. I then breathe a happy sigh of relief when, more often than not, scoops of triple chunk brownie gelato are in our immediate future. Then I pat myself on the back, tell myself I’m doing a good job and inhale my gelato.
So yes, I’m all about good manners and consideration and courtesy.
Except on the playing field. There’s no crying in baseball and there’s no Miss Manners either. Same goes with soccer. So throw those cleats on, put your game face on, march onto that field and forget everything having to do with manners that we drilled into your head for the last seven years.
Because on the playing field, it’s OK to budge a little in soccer. It’s OK to run to be the first to get the ball in softball. It’s perfectly acceptable to use your outdoor voice. It’s totally OK to celebrate a run, goal or out, even if your friend on the opposing team doesn’t want to celebrate with you.
So in response to my daughter’s open mouthed shock and exclamation of “I’m not allowed to budge!” I step lightly into the murky sea that separates politeness from competitiveness. I try to plant the seed that she can be competitive on the field within the boundaries of good sportsmanship and even if she gets the ball first, scores a goal or gets her friend out at third, she’ll still be invited to sleepovers. I try to explain the subtle differences between being competitive and being mean spirited. It’s OK to budge in soccer, but it’s not OK to body slam your opponent to the ground. It’s OK to overrun first, but it’s not OK to steamroll over the first baseman in the process, leaving her unconscious with your tread marks on her shirt. See the difference? It’s OK to celebrate a run or a goal or a win, but it’s not OK to flaunt it in your opponent’s face. It’s OK to be happy for your friend when she or her team does well. It’s OK to want to win and to try your best to make it happen as long as you practice good sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship is all about playing to the rules and having respect for your teammates and opponents. It’s not about standing over the soccer ball and waiting politely to see who wants to kick it first.
For a seven year old who still cannot read the word “stupid” out loud without glancing at me for permission, this is all pretty sketchy and when I launch into this discussion, she’ll look at me suspiciously, wondering if I’m just messing with her. Because my sole purpose in life, other than driving her where she needs to go, is to CATCH HER IN THE ACT and dish out consequences. I live for that stuff.
So anyway, it’s a lesson in progress and as it stands now, Helena is more polite than she is competitive. And really, she’s only seven and wants to have fun and there will be lots of time to nurture this philosophy. I just wanted to plant the seed and then spend the next couple of years on the sidelines watching it grow. And if there is a merciful God, boob sweat will be kept to a minimum during the process.