To be in New Jersey

I can count on one hand the number of times this team has lost. They are twelve now and some of them have been playing together since they were four. That's a lot of games, a lot of tournaments, a lot of trophies.My husband and I have often wondered whether Patrick's concept of self was tied up entirely in his exceptional soccer "career."  But we've never been able to test the theory. Last night, they played a team they 'd beaten easily a couple of weeks ago. Last night, they played the biggest game of their young lives. Last night, they lost.

As they left the pitch, heads hung low, they looked so much like the little boys they were a blink or two ago. I wanted to gather them--all of them--into my arms and kiss their tear-stained faces and tell them with certainty that tomorrow would be a better day. But there wasn't enough of me and I didn't have the words and instead I let my own tears fall as we drove home in the dark of night. It's just a game.

I awoke early. It was my duty to rouse Patrick and get him on the road. He's going to spend the weekend in New Jersey with the rest of the Virginia Olympic Development Team (a different team from last night's team). I dreaded waking him. He slept, oblivious to the previous evening's disappointment. As soon as I nudged him, he'd remember.

He staggered from his bed and bent to zip his suitcase, his face crumpling in the lost fight to hold back tears. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it."

The ring of the phone shattered the early morning silence. Patrick's coach. Aware as he's always been for the last eight years of Patrick's needs and aware as well that Patrick's father was hurtling through the air on the red-eye, he was calling to help Patrick rehearse what to say when the inevitable ribbing began on the bus. I never would have thought to do that. Thank you , God, for Dennis.

In the kitchen after the phone call, I cupped Patrick's face in my hands and I told him how grateful I was to have the chance to tell him that I love him even more today than yesterday.

I handed him off to ride to New Jersey, his face freshly washed with the tears of the night and the morning, alone. (Except for all the coaches and a busload of kids.) Without me.
And all day long, I worried for him, I wanted him, I missed him.

As soon as the wheels hit the ground, Mike called him. He echoed Dennis, unknowingly. They know his soul. They know the heart of this competitor. They "get" him. But Mike ached, too. He went on to work. I went about my very busy day. It's going to be a big weekend; I have so much to do.

Around three, we talked. Mike said he's never wanted to drive up to a soccer event as much as he wants to join Paddy this weekend. Me neither. But we can't.

We can't because Mary Beth has a dance recital Saturday morning and Michael's graduation is Saturday afternoon. We can't because Christian has two divisional basketball games. We can't because on Sunday, at RFK stadium, Michael will receive a scholarship at the D.C. United game. We can't because we are a large family and a whole bunch of great things are happening here this weekend. Things that need both parents. Paddy knows that. Paddy knows he wants this chance at the Regional Olympic Development program. Paddy chose to get on that bus and he lives to compete tomorrow.

I'll spend the weekend missing him. He'll spend the weekend growing up.