With heart in mouth, I signed my little boy up for an indoor soccer class last week. It seemed like a great idea - for him! As a classic oldest child, he's been having some significant struggles at our unprogrammed gym time at our Homeschool co-op. Everyone is, in his opinion, "mean to me!" Mommy, however, is pretty sure that what he really means is "Everyone isn't playing the game that I want exactly the way I want to play it!" Of course, at 5 1/2, it would be nothing short of miraculous if he could actually understand, let along act on, that advice from his loving mother. Suddenly I am in such sympathy for my father who told me literally for Years to ignore the kids who were teasing me at school - only to have me figure it out like it was a brand new idea when I started 9th (!) grade.
Anyway, I figured a structured class / game might give him the help he needs in interacting with his peers, not to mention some good physical activity and training. The class in question is specifically for home schoolers age 5-8, and while he's at the bottom of the age range it's not a terribly broad one, and no fewer than 4 of his friends from co-op would be in the same class.
And then as I was telling someone about this new adventure, she said "Annette, you're a Soccer Mom!" I did a double take and realized that I have some significant baggage about this! Aside from the culturally loaded label, the pure logistics are complicated. It's 20 minutes away, and I was not looking forward to the "keeping Grace and especially Lucy out of trouble in a small space" aspect, at All. Food and drink have to be packed; toys and games provided or - more likely - made up on the spot - it's a pain! More to the point, I spent years attending my brother's little league games, and while I honestly can't say that I resent them, there were certainly many times that they were inconvenient. Suddenly I feel like I'm staring down the barrel of a decade of pee-wee sporting events, most of them probably in the mud and/or rain, dirty uniforms, busy evenings, and committed weekends. Then there's the single season of softball I played as an awkward, shy, nonathletic 12-year-old with an unsympathetic coach. Let's just say it didn't go well! So it is only with some effort that I am yanking myself back mentally and emotionally and promising myself that a single 8-week class of soccer is not a signed commitment to keep the kids in sports year round 'til he's out of the house.
As is so often the case, in the event the problem was not the one I anticipated - although I probably should have. James balked. Hard. Having taken a wrong turn and then had trouble locating the proper warehouse, we ended up about 2 minutes late and the kids were already huddled on the field. James ran out willingly enough, but lasted about 5 minutes before running back to me in tears and what can hardly be described as anything but terror. I didn't react as well as I could have. OK, I didn't totally screw it up, but there's no doubt that my irritation with his sudden fear came through loud and clear. 'Cause I was embarrassed. A dozen home-school parents watching My kid alone from the whole crew have a melt-down and refuse, even with pushing and shoving, to go back on the field? By the grace of God I was able to take a step back, calm down, say a prayer with him for courage, and let him just sit on the bench for a while. (One of the moms I didn't know also helped by letting me know she'd been there too!) Finally I hit upon bribery. The tiny candy bars I had with me were no help, but the promise of ice cream if he actually played for 15 of the remaining 30 minutes turned out to be the trick. It helped that the instructor sent the kids out for water about every 10 minutes: On the second or third visit I was able to enlist one of his friends to help to get him out there, where he assigned himself as goalie with another of his friends. Five minutes after that he was chasing the ball with everyone else, and by the time the buzzer sounded he was proclaiming it the "greatest thing ever," and making plans to keep going his whole life long.
Meanwhile, I was having little or no trouble with the girls. Lucy had to be redirected a few times, but Grace happily traced her alphabet cards - doing better than I knew she was able, honestly - in between bites of the apples I'd packed. So honestly, from the low 25 minutes into the class, I was on a pretty good high by the time it was over and we were headed towards McDonald's.
There, I had another good surprise in store: when I returned to the play area where I'd parked the kids, a little black girl who turned out to be just Grace's age had seated herself at our table - apparently to play with Lucy. In typical introvert fashion I tried just ignoring her, figuring she'd either get bored and walk away, or that her parent would notice and reel her in. As it happened, neither of these things came to pass, and as James rudely asked what she was doing there, I decided I'd better be the grown up and make introductions. Madison was perfectly polite and we had a nice little chat for several minutes, until her grandmother (seated just behind us) finished her phone call and noticed what her kid had been up to. By that time it was clear that there was no problem with the arrangement, and within a few more minutes the grandma and I were chatting. (Yeah, this is So not like me!) She turned out to be a mother of 7 (!), all grown except for two adopted teens. She is also a pre-school Sunday school teacher and English teacher at the Korean church just up the street from us. We had quite a nice conversation, which she proclaimed (and I agreed) as we parted was a "blessing." With luck (OK, with God), we'll meet there again!
It could have gone so much worse. I could have given up, let my emotions and especially embarrassment get the best of me, and retreated from the class in disgrace, writing my $50 off as a loss and spent 3 more years before considering another attempt at extra-curricular activities. I could even have done my typical "pretend there's no-one else in the restaurant" routine at McD's. God's Grace saved me from my instincts, though, and at least for now, I'm perfectly happy to be a Soccer Mom.
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