Every sports season is more hectic than the last. Fall comes, I brace for the chaos, whine quite a bit, then finally accept the inevitable and fall into step: school, afternoon run, dinner by 4:30 – 5pm, water bottles filled, triple check the schedule: who needs to be where? Game or practice? Home or away? Will he get home on time? Should I leave out his dinner?
“Mom, can you help tie my shoes?”
“Does everyone have everything? How about snack money? No, I don’t know if the concessions will be open, but just in case…now you have to go to the bathroom? For pete-sake, Sister!”…and on it goes.
For as much as I dread the start of fall and spring sports, Superman transforms into a kid in F.A.O Schwartz. He carries the Team D. spirit while I haul the bottles, bags (under my eyes and otherwise), children and camp chairs. He talks strategy with the boys before games and relives glory moments or analyzes mishaps on the way home. During fall soccer season, I can easily walk into my living room only to find it transformed into locker room film sessions – Fifa soccer on TV and Superman with game analysis. Or huddled around his computer illustrating a particular play from You Tube. “See how he cut through traffic to find open space, always looking for passing opportunities? See? That’s what your team needs to work on.”
Spring is no different, only with baseball in focus (which I confess, I like better).
This year has been different, however. Rather than become more enlivened as the season’s worn on, I’ve found us wearing thin under the constant going, traveling several nights a week to the far ends of our county playing teams with seemingly more skill, greater depth on their bench and – let’s face it – Spanish speaking players. One son’s team has a fabulous coach who’s brought the boys far in their skills, but working with little raw talent. The other sons’ team is fat with talent, but working with coaches who – don’t get me wrong, super great guys – huddle more than run plays, causing Superman to twitch funny with frustration and both us to consider filling our travel mugs with spiked coffee before each game.
More than the outward calendar mess, is the inner mess being made in our dear boys’ souls. A holy mess. A good mess. But a tiring mess. One son is incredibly talented but plays with reserve and lack of confidence. His father calls him out for it; honest in answering the question, “So, how I’d do tonight, Dad?” Of course this honesty isn’t what the son wants to hear, so he argues, makes excuses, says we don’t understand. Back and forth half the way home, making amends at bedside, but exhausted by it all. We question our honesty. Should we have tempered our answer? Well, I suggest, you know he isn’t you and sometimes your comparisons aren’t fair to him. Stubborn man slowly gives way; anxious mother’s soul wears thin from it all. How do we parent this one?
Another son (born to play soccer) plays with a skill and tenacity not matched by many his age. He and his “twin” brother (I believe the correct adoption terminology is “artificially twinned”) play every game with their hearts on their sleeves and oftentimes blood on the field. They are beautiful to watch – art in motion. Yet, off the field, this other son’s behavior concerns me. Out of tiredness, his own insecurities and past wounds worm out to the surface. He becomes more sensitive to correction; can’t tolerate teasing (worse than normal), reduced easily to crying his ‘special cry’, which makes my neck hairs stand straight. He fishes constantly for compliments. “What’s famous?” he asks. I describe famous. “I want to be famous,” he declares.
My mother heart wears thinner. He cries, I correct. He becomes overly-sensitive, I under-validate his deeper needs. He plays with something dangerous, I say, no more. He could be seriously hurt if his fingers slip. As I walk by him he asks, would you be happy if I got hurt? I freeze; then turn on my heels. Are you seriously asking me this question or just teasing (which he often does inappropriately)? Son, that’s not a funny joke. It hurts my feelings when you joke that way. I was just joking, he asserts. I stare at him hard; then turn toward kitchen. I hear from behind me:
“Well, I just wanted to know. Would you be happy?”
Oh God! How do we parent this one?
These sports season put us all under pressure. Some days I wonder, why allow such chaos (well, easy answer for me, I have no choice. Superman insists). Look how thin we’re worn. See how our tempers fray and our nerves grow raw. You want to see some big parenting gaffs? Just come live at our house during sports seasons.
In running, the rule for changing shoes is every 300-500 miles, depending on the brand. The soles wear thin. The foam cushioning is pounded to stiffness. Knees start aching. Shins start splinting. The runner’s body wears thin and screams, “Refresh! Time to change!”
Last night, after coming home from another disappointing loss, and a disturbing question from one ‘twin’ son – “Dad, am I any good at soccer?” – rather than send everyone quick to bed I offered a bedtime story (a routine in our family, but not on late soccer nights). As they brushed teeth and jammied up, I dug through old board books in closet boxes, looking for that particularly well-worn story. Where is it? Shoot! I hope I didn’t pack it away – YES! Here it is.
“What?” a confused son asked. “We’re reading that one? Why?”
“Shhh,” I chided. “I think it’s perfect for tonight.” I sat on twin-son’s bed, put him in my lap and began:
“Little Nutbrown Hare, who was going to bed, held on tight to Big Nutbrown Hare’s very long ears. He wanted to be sure that big Nutbrown Hare was listening.
“’Guess how much I love you,’” he said…”
And my five children, ages 12 – 7, sat enraptured by love’s sweet telling.
There are times when souls wear thin. Life’s pounding causes it. We grow tired, shorten our tolerance, question our belonging, gaff our parenting. But, I wonder, rather than try and beef up and toughen to the friction, really what’s needed is a refresh. An opening to grace. A soft landing for all involved.
And, if we can just turn our thin souls to listen, we will hear through the chaos, “Guess how much I love you.”
How is your soul? Is it wearing thin? How do you refresh?