My husband looked up from the computer Thursday and said, "I sent you a love note."
Interested (if only because this is a pretty rare occurrence), I made my way to the inbox. There, for my organizing convenience, was this weekend's tournament schedule, all laid out and mapquested. How to get from home to Stephen's games, to Paddy's games and back to Stephen's games and then back to Paddy's games. This was a lovely thought.
Pssst: he forgot ballet rehearsal, basketball practices, meals times and locations, and the fact that it's not going to be warmer the fifty degrees with a wind chill in the low forties.
And so it begins. Another autumn soccer weekend. Somebody tell me again why we do this?
We do this because it's a part of our family culture. Ah, but is that the chicken or the egg? Would it be a part of our family culture if we hadn't made a conscious decision to do it in the first place? Probably. Before my children were playing sports, they were sitting in the stands at the local university watching sports. My husband was working in the athletic department. Those babies were nursed at every conceivable sporting venue. It was quite natural for them to grow up wanting to play.
I remember the day of Michael's first soccer game. We lived about a mile from my mother's house back then and she stopped by in the morning with some very sad news. It was break-a-mother's-heart news and my mom's heart was definitely breaking. Michael came down the stairs in his uniform and with all the earnestness of a six-year-old who'd waited his whole life for this day, said, "Grandma, just look at me. I'm dressed to play soccer on a real team. Doesn't that just make you want to smile?" And she did. His buoyant enthusiasm--his unabashed joy of the game--brought us a lot of smiles over the next twelve years.
And it was infectious. Balls multiplied in our house like mushrooms in the rain. Our afternoons filled with training sessions. Our weekends were--and still are-- given to matches all over Virginia, DC, and Maryland. And then there are the tournaments. Those are the family trips our children will remember, for the most part. There have been tournaments in Virginia Beach in the pouring rain, while we waited out a hurricane. Tournaments in Pennsylvania in October when cotton and linen and plenty of water were are greatest necessities as the temperatures soared into the nineties. Tournaments in Richmond in March when it was snowing sideways.
My strollers are always purchased with an eye towards whether they can be maneuvered on an old farm-turned-temporary-field at the end of November. My babies all say "ball" as one of their first five words. They learn to play contentedly on the sidelines and I learn how to keep them entertained. I know how to nurse a baby when it's freezing outside and the last thing in the world I want to do is lift my shirt. I know how to pace the sidelines at the end of a nailbiter with a wee one in a sling. I even know how to quickly pack four little kids into a double stroller and leave the sidelines at the request of a referee.
That said. I am not a yeller. I don't call out anything from the sidelines. I know how distracting that is for the kids on the field. Whether they are screaming good things or bad things, I don't think parents should yell from the stands. And I don't do it--it's just not in me. But I know people who do;-). Sidelines are a great place to study human nature. Enough said there.
At the beginning of every season, we scope out the parks and the playgrounds. They set "monkey bar" goals: "I'll get across the Crestview monkey bars by the end of the season." We do nature study along the Occoquan and at Burke Lake Park and at Algonkian Regional park. We collect seashells in Virginia Beach between State Cup matches and we pray that we get to go to Maine for the Regional tournament. We know where the Catholic churches are in every place we frequent and we know the Mass times at those churches in cities other than ours. (Psst, God bless the Benedictines in Richmond who hosted us on their fields and in their church.)We also scope out the porta-potties. I've been known to delay potty training so that it does not coincide with games at fields with bad porta potties. I'm just saying.
It is in supporting my children in athletic endeavors that my organizational abilities are stretched and strengthened. Honestly, I don't have many weekends at home to get my act together. Not only that, I'd better have said act together while I'm on the road. Last Friday night, my mother called. While I tried to have a coherent conversation with her, I instructed Christian and Stephen on vegetable prep for crockpot stew. I knew it would be very cold and I knew that when I got home Saturday, I wouldn't want to cook. While they chopped vegetables, Patrick and Mary Beth laid out clothing and checked equipment, she for the girls and he for the boys. Mary Beth handled leotards and tights and ballet shoes, water bottles and snacks and something to to entertain Katie when she wasn't dancing. Then she made sure the baby had layers and layers of clothing to keep her warm at soccer. Patrick built "kits" from the inside out: under armor, shirts, shorts, gloves, hats, sweatpants, sweatshirts, ski jackets, charcoal activated handwarmers, extra dollars tucked inside the coats with the promise of hot chocolate.
I stashed some CDs, made sure I had cash for the ferry, packed the water-resistant "neat sheet" and the big blankets, the stroller, and the folding chairs. One more check of the weather. Ack. Throw in an umbrella. The notes my husband made go in page protectors in a tournament binder. With them, there is a printout with directions to reputable food places and a printout of Mass times within a reasonable distance of the venue. I've learned that I can't just choose a time and place ahead of time because Sunday's games are always contingent on Saturday's results and often on Sunday morning's results, too. In the notebook as well is a copy of medical release forms (not sure why I do this) and a list of my doctors and insurance information (I know exactly why I do this--I've had to call our pediatrician from a distant location more than once, only to discover that she was at the same tournament on the sideline with her cell phone.) Also in the notebook is a roster for each team which includes cell phone numbers of every parent.
So, now we're all organized. Tell me again why we do this? My children don't go to school. We don't do co-ops or outside classes. There's no 4H or scouting. Frankly, sports and ballet are all we do, because that's all I can manage. The time and money committed on a daily basis truly bring me to my brink. So why? What's the point. The short answer is because my husband thinks it's important. Some days, I just take that and run with it. The long answer is that I agree with him, though I have to think about much longer and harder than he does. He sees the enormous role that sports can play to help prepare a child for the real world. So do I.
With sports, my husband brings his sons into his real life grownup world in an appropriate way. He shows them the way men behave and helps them navigate the twists and turns of long-term commitment to an ideal. Frequently, his father is also along. Granddad has probably driven to as many practices as Mike has and he's definitely seen more games, since Mike frequently travels over the weekends. The boys and their dad have a culture of their own and it's a good thing. One recent Saturday, Mike and the boys and Granddad all went to watch Christian play basketball on the same court where Mike played in high school. The older men, I'm sure, were taken back in time to their own memories. And then, they all went out to the track. They ran footraces (well, Granddad refrained but everyone else ran) and they kicked field goals. They competed heartily and bonded in a way that I am sure I will never quite understand and they had a grand time. Someone asked me once how to interest her son in sports. I couldn't answer her adequately. For us, it really is a dad thing. Mom knows the game, supports them in every way possible from nutrition to transportation to miles and miles of videotaped matches to every ridiculous fundraising scheme to countless weekends spent on sidelines when I could have been home cleaning my house or planning lessons. But it's Dad who truly inspires the love of the game.
(In a couple of weeks, we'll talk more about dance and we'll see how that works in very much the same way for the girls.)
My children learn what it is to discover their gifts and then to discover that's only half the story: they have to work very hard, with great discipline, to develop those gifts. They also discover what is not their gift and how to move on. Or they learn that though they all have the same family and the same resources, they were created differently and what is good for one of them isn't necessarily the right thing for another. They hold each other accountable and they have zero tolerance for laziness amongst each other. Woe to the child who squanders his God-given ability. The child who wasn't as abundantly blessed but works ten times as hard will be relentless until the gifted child starts to live up to his promise.
They learn both how to lead and how to follow. They learn the value of the dollar. They know what training costs, what shoes cost (and how to make sure Grandpa stays abreast of the latest in athletic shoes). As they get older, they learn to demand (politely) that their coaches deliver the services for which they are paid. On occasion, they've also learned to be the player-coach when a coach has been negligent.
As soon as they are old enough, they get certified to referee. They teach the game. They volunteer to coach. And then they also earn money to offset the cost of playing. Even Mary Beth will referee soccer. Her money will go towards pointe shoes, no doubt. Speaking of referees, my children learn how to handle "unfair." When the ref blows a call--either accidentally or on purpose--and the whole game goes awry, it's quite a lesson in a reality: life is not "fair." It's not. And we all can benefit from lessons in "unfair" because someday it's likely that something a lot more important than the tournament title decision will be "unfair."
Of course my children also learn about their peers. They learn from the boys who are dedicated and from those who break the rules and squander opportunity. They learn a great deal about human nature and about both cooperation and competition. They know all about friends who are still friends after you miss the penalty kick and lose the tournament and "friends" who are pleased to see you humiliated and defeated. That's good. They will meet those friends again in the real world, no matter what God calls them to do.
Even with all my organization, they also are held accountable for their own personal responsibility stuff. We don't let a child play or take lessons until he or she is old enough to keep track of the uniform or necessary equipment. I admit that this so intimidated one child last year that he never put his team socks in the hamper (all season) for fear that they would get lost in the shuffle and he wouldn't be allowed to play. On the way to a game a few weeks ago, we were running late due to a flat tire. My husband called back to Stephen, "Be sure you're all ready. Go ahead and put your shin guards on."
"Oh no," came a plaintive wail, "Paddy took my shin guards out of my bag again."
"No problem, " quickly came the sigh of relief from the same child, "I've learned to pack an extra pair in this hiding place in my bag. He always takes my shin guards. I knew this was going to happen some day." Survival skills for eight-year-olds. I'm sure he lost sleep thinking up that one.
Siblings who aren't playing are not always the most cheerful companions. I pulled a sleeping teenager out of bed in the cold and dark yesterday morning. He wasn't impressed by my promise of bagel in the van as we crossed the Potomac River on ferry. I repeated the "You Have Choice" speech several times in the hour or more we traveled. It goes something like this: You don't have a choice about whether or not come spend the day with us and support your brothers. You don't have a choice about what time to get up or how we're going to get there or even what you are going to listen to in the van on the way. But you have a choice over whether this will be a miserable day for you or a cheerful one. You can choose to see the beauty in the sunrise, to see how much fun Katie thinks the ferry is, to see how well Stephen is playing, to be happy to take the little kids to see the horse on the field next door. Or you can mope. Your choice. Sure would be a shame to spend the whole day moping. If you choose to mope, though, please go to the back of the van and don't let me see you." He muttered something about needing to build a bridge as we made our way over on the ferry. By the time we went home--twelve hours later--he still thought they should build a bridge but maybe a little further down the river. This ferry was pretty cool after all.
There are days when I whine myself and I point out to my husband how much simpler
my our life would be without intense sports and ballet. And he asks, with all sincerity, what I would do on the weekends. Truth is, I'd probably do laundry and plan lessons and cook ahead. But I always say I'd take a drive out to the country on a perfect autumn day and just enjoy being together. Or go to the beach. Or head for some historic location. Honestly, we do do that on the weekends. We just play soccer or basketball while we're there. Because that's what the Foss family does.