Lyle did not want to go to today’s soccer game.
It started yesterday, when I mentioned that there would be soccer today. I don’t want to go. I told him we’d talk about it in the morning. It started again first thing this morning. I put it off again, suggesting we discuss it after our weekend guests left, so I didn’t hear about it for a few hours. But as soon as their car disappeared from view, it started again. No soccer. There was whining and a lot of general freaking out. After some thought, I told him he didn’t have to play but he did need to get his uniform on and we’d go to the field, where – if he so desired – he could explain to his coach that he didn’t want to play today. He loved this idea, especially when I promised I’d help him talk to the coach. He put on his uniform and then pulled on his winter hat and scarf, despite the fact that it was in the 50s outside. I suspected he was covering up in order to feel more secure – kind of like throwing a blanket over one’s head – so I didn’t argue. He got into the car looking like a despondent, over-dressed little elf.
On the way there, he expressed again his dislike for soccer. With complete honesty, I told him it doesn’t matter to me if he continues with soccer; that just because Baxter likes it doesn’t mean he has to be a “soccer guy”, and after this season he doesn’t need to sign up again. I told him he could forego the spring season he’s registered for. We talked about things he does like, and he agreed with my suggestion that maybe he’d rather swim than play soccer. I mentioned that he’s starting violin lessons soon and we don’t want to be too busy, anyway.
At the field, we approached his coach and explained that Lyle didn’t feel up to playing today but that we’d stay on the sidelines in case he changed his mind. The coach was extremely understanding, simply smiling and saying that was fine. (Gotta love AYSO!) And so we set up a chair and sat down under the clear blue sky together, and watched the kids practice. Realizing there was absolutely no pressure on him, Lyle’s demeanor brightened and he began to strike absurd poses for me in his hat and scarf, and asked me to take some pictures of him.
I didn’t remain silent on the soccer question. I occasionally asked things like, Do you want to put your shin guards on now in case you change your mind? So you can just run out there? [No.] and You might want to think about watching during practice and then joining the game afterward. [No.] As the game began, I thought about how foreign this game is to Lyle. He’d never watched it before he started playing this fall, and all the other kids on his team played last year. He always enjoyed running with the pack on the field, but I suspected he didn’t truly understand the basics. So I decided that since I knew he wasn’t going to play, I could use the time to teach him a bit more about the game. I began to play sportscaster for him, explaining what was going on in the simplest of terms. I did it with a lot of excitement and he was riveted. Look! Your team has the ball and they’re working together to try to get it down to their goal but – oh, no! – the blue team has it and – oops! – red has it again! Wow, they’re passing it to each other to get it down there!
Without any warning, Lyle suddenly leapt off my lap to the grass and exclaimed, “It actually does look pretty cool! I’m changing my mind!” and he whipped off the hat and scarf, jammed his shin guards into his tall red socks, and ran onto the field as soon as the coach gave him the sign. I was well and truly shocked. Lo and behold, he played with more enthusiasm than I’d seen all season. He flew ecstatically, arms outstretched, around the field, and kept up with his teammates with a gallop and a spring in his step. He confidently made contact with the ball quite a few times, and his coach gave him opportunities to shine. It was clear that the boy had chosen this.
The best part was that he wore an enormous grin the entire time. Sure, sometimes he flew off in the wrong direction, and I was amused to see him pause mid-game to study the league name and number on his own shirt, air-writing the numbers and letters to himself for a minute. But he was happy. I have to believe that for Lyle, knowing he had total control over the decision to play (and a better grasp of how to play) gave him enough confidence to change his mind and go out there, swooping around the field on a crisp fall day, loving every minute, rather than digging in his heels, which was my biggest fear.
I don’t know if Lyle will want to continue playing soccer, and truly, it doesn’t matter. He’s only five and it’s one sport of many that he can try. But it would have bothered me if he’d quit today not understanding the game (at a five year old level) and not realizing that he is absolutely fine at it. I knew that the only shot we had at him playing again was if he felt no pressure about it. It had to really be fine with me if he walked away from it, and it was. If he doesn’t want to go back next week or in the spring, I’m grateful that he was willing to change his mind, show some flexibility in his thinking, and grin his way through this game today.
This won’t always be so easy for me; my kids will want to quit things that mean a whole lot more to me, and it will be much more difficult for me to be so zen about it. I know this. There will be days when I have to let go of my own hopes and dreams for them. Thankfully, today wasn’t one of those days.