After twelve cool, spring-air soccer games every Saturday, my daughter announced she was officially done with soccer all together. Not only were there not enough smooth paths for her to glide on her scooter, but my son’s soccer team had yet to win a game (after playing for two seasons together). For her, these soccer games were long and boring because nothing ever happened.
However, in the moments between goals being scored by the other team, minuscule steps were being made by my son.
At about game six, after I’d warmed up from the spring freeze, I began to listen to what my son was saying when he was on the field. I would hear things like “I’m going to break your house,” as he charged at the opposing team’s striker, intercepting the ball and kicking it out (out of the field that is). My first reaction was to think of something to say to him after the game – to correct this behavior. I certainly didn’t want him to be bullied or hurt by someone else who didn’t understand his true intentions. Really, he was saying something that he heard from a friend at school – and he just didn’t know the implications of what it might mean to say those words to an unknown person. My brain created numerous scenarios: someone would think he was serious and report a threat to the police; another person may not like being talked to that way and would decide to punch my son in the face; and even, Buddy saying something like that over-and-over-and-over, again, to the wrong person, because he was stuck in a stimming moment. (Note: Be careful. Your brain is a powerful muscle and it is easy to believe everything it masterfully creates.)
And then the game continued, and I heard other statements such as, “Let’s cut that cheese,” and “I’m the Samurai sword!” This was always followed by some dramatic kick and sometimes a slow-motion tumble to the turf. And then I heard laughter. Laughter from the parents. And I had to pause. … And I listened, again. The parents on the sideline were laughing because my son was truly being funny. It was the kind of laughter that brings tears to your eyes. The kind of laughter that wipes away your gray moments.
And, so I suddenly felt a belly-laugh emerge from me. I saw my son for who he was in that moment on the soccer field. I saw him for the funny, animated kid that others see him as. I forgot about all the times he said the wrong thing to someone who didn’t consider another’s feelings. I forgot about the behavior plan at his school and the special accommodations built into his day that made him feel different than his peers. And I laughed, out loud, when he kicked the ball as hard as he could and then yelled another crazy statement, “See you later ball!”
And then at game number ten something happened that makes any mother (or parent for that matter) feel as tall as a sequoia tree. After, yet another loss, the coach huddled the eight-year old boys into a group and gave them her pep-talk. “Alright, we can’t let this bring us down! We all need to be more like Buddy. Just have fun and get out there and play without caring.”
We all need to be more like Buddy. …play without caring.
That single moment shifted my fear into hope. My fear had driven me to believe that my son would never be able to interact socially with others. My fear affirmed that Buddy would one day get hurt by saying the wrong thing someone. I suddenly felt hope and beautiful ray of pride because someone else also saw the awesomeness in my son. His coach saw his character on the soccer field. He didn’t come to win, in fact, he really doesn’t care about winning. Instead, he comes to the soccer field because he feels elated when he runs fast and when he watches the ball fly in the air. He comes to the soccer field to make silly faces to his teammates and to just be himself. He comes to the soccer field to drink his green Gatorade and wear his soccer jersey (always tucked into his shorts). These are the simple things that make him happy.
And while nothing ever did happen in the games (no goals scored by our team), I learned that I also need to be more like my son. I need to shift my fear into the joy of life itself. I need to take time to listen, because sometimes the unexpected moments teach us the most important lessons.