My daughters just started playing soccer. Yes! I am now officially a soccer mom. As we went to the latest and greatest new sporting store in town, to buy them their soccer cleats, shin guards, and balls, my heart was singing. I started playing soccer at age five and played all through high school. I wasn’t great, but I was good enough. Because I was overweight and slow, if I ever let a ball get past me, I had a hard time getting it back, but I rarely let a ball get past me. I loved to play and I still love the game.
I coached girls soccer before I had children and I dreamt of the day my own kids would play. When signups came around this time, I jumped at the chance to get my girls playing in the Petaluma Youth Soccer League.
I know my oldest is pretty lazy and has told me she doesn’t like to run, but I want her to run, not only because it’s great exercise but because I want her to at least try to love the game like I did. So far, she’s asked me to skip practice on more than one occasion but my Georgia goes and doesn’t complain (I think the force will be strong in this one). I’d like to put all my money on her, but Olivia has surprised me before.
Last Saturday we plunked our lawn chairs and blanket down on the sidelines to watch the girls in their first-ever soccer games. I was so excited for them and I felt proud of them that they were trying a new sport. It was fun to watch but as I did, I couldn’t help but feel this overwhelming urge to cheer and to try to coach them along. “Go to the ball! Get it! Go! Run! Stop! Turn! Go the Other Way!” I yelled from the sidelines. There were other parents yelling too, but I felt embarrassed that perhaps I was yelling either too much, too loudly, or both.
What I learned was that it was difficult for me to just be on the sidelines in general. It was uncomfortable to watch kids play who have so much yet to learn about the game and how it is played. I wanted to run in there and tell them what to do. I wanted to force their little bodies to kick the ball the right way, to stop and turn, or to just not use their hands (unless they were in the goal). It was hard to be simply a spectator.
This week a couple of things happened that got me thinking about sidelines in general and how my experience as a parent on the sideline of that soccer field was a metaphor for how hard it can be as a parent to just sit back and watch my children’s lives unfold.
Olivia came home a couple of weeks ago and told me that two of the boys she just adores at school had told her she was fat. We then had a long discussion about how that was absolutely not the case. I reminded her that she wasn’t fat, that she was beautiful, and I threw in a little Eleanor Roosevelt at her by telling her that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” I told her to say to them, “I think I’m beautiful and I’m not fat”.
Olivia moved on to talking about something else, but inside, I was incensed! I wanted to find those boys and shake them. Do they know what it can do to a little girl to be called “fat”? I spoke at length with my husband about getting their mothers involved. I know both of the boy’s moms and I know they would be so bummed if they knew that their boys said something unkind to Olivia. I also thought about calling on our beloved Principal who has been telling the kids each week at assembly that at our school we refrain from put-downs of any kind.
What I couldn’t decide was if this was yet another instance of having to sit back on the sidelines and let circumstances unfold. When do we get involved as parents? Is it just a part of growing up? Can I get involved? Or is my job to just build them back up after a put-down and to continue to instill self-love and confidence?
Then on Friday, Georgia gave a birthday invitation to Olivia’s birthday party to a little girl who she is friends with. Georgia and the little girl always have had a hot-cold rivalrous relationship and on this particular day instead of thanking Georgia for inviting her, the little girl took the invitation and threw it in the garbage can. Georgia’s feelings were immediately injured and after school she told Olivia what had happened. Olivia was sad that this had happened and the two of them couldn’t understand why the little girl was being so mean.
Maybe it was the icing on the cake, but it became hard for me to sit back and not say anything to the little girl’s mother, who I know quite well. I shot her a quick email, saying that it was not my intention to punish her daughter but rather to let her know what had happened and to make sure that she knew that even if her daughter didn’t want to come, which is perfectly fine, that her older brother was also invited to attend and we’d love him to be there.
She was so receptive and kind and is going to be on alert, helping us monitor the interactions between our daughters in the future. It gave me some hope that if I do say something to the little boy’s mothers about their comment to Olivia, that maybe we can all nip this kind of poor behavior in the bud.
I know that this isn’t going to be easy this aspect of parenting. I may not always know when to hold my tongue and when or if to intervene. The one thing that is crystal clear is that my journey of sitting on the sidelines has only just begun. It is going to be uncomfortable. And since I’m not one who tolerates discomfort well, I better get an amazing chair….with cup holders.