This is how things go with 4-year-olds.
All last week, my 4-year-old Mark talked about soccer.
“Did you know I’m going to be on a soccer team?”
“Did you know I have a real soccer uniform?”
“In soccer you can kick the ball with your feet or your head, but you don’t use your hands. I learned that on Sesame Street.”
His first game right around the corner, he was excited to try on his (enormous) uniform. We all made admiring sounds.
“Do I look like a real soccer player?” he was dying to know.
“Yes, absolutely,” I told him. “Like a soccer player in a blizzard.”
“You look great,” I affirmed.
But I wasn’t kidding about the blizzard thing. I mean, the kid is 4, so the jerseys are enormous and the shorts are super long. And they wear these long, thick, wool-like socks that might as well be thigh-highs, all pulled up over their shin guards, ending several inches above the knee. Not a speck of leg skin in sight. There’s not much I understand about soccer, but I really don’t understand these socks. I mean, it is HOT out there. Way too hot for wool-like thigh highs.
But I digress. The big day came Saturday, his first soccer game. He was thrilled to get dressed–“For real this time!”–and lace up his cleats. We filled a bazillion water bottles, and off we went to Pelican Park.
“I can’t wait to see my team!” he said.
And there they were, in all their glory: Mark’s team. The Dragons. They were practicing before the game, doing drills or…something. There was a lot of confused wandering around. (As is common among 4 and 5-year-olds.) Some of the team was crying. Actually, a lot of the team was crying. One kid clung to his dad, wailing to the sky, “Nooooooo!!!” as his bewildered father responded, “But you LIKE soccer!” For good measure some of the younger siblings were crying, too, because why not?
Mark might have participated in the brief, before-game practice, or not. I couldn’t really tell what he was doing. Once the “real” game started, he decided his soccer career had come to an end. His coach sent him out onto the field a few times to play, or do whatever it is 4-year-olds do on their first day of soccer, but he just shuffled around with his shoulders hunched over and head hanging down, all Charlie Brown like, finally crossing the field to where I was sitting so he could climb into my lap. This happens a lot in 4-year-old soccer, kids just wandering off the field in the middle of a game.
“Uh. You need to be out there playing,” I told him.
“I want to go home,” he said.
“But your game! Don’t you want to play?”
“Well, we’re staying the whole game, so you might as well get out there and at least give it one shot,” I was using my no-nonsense voice.
He shuffled back to the team bench and plopped down next to another little boy who was similarly grieving. “I want to go home!” the other kid cried between sniffling hiccups. Mark flung himself over the bench, belly-down, head hanging over one side, feet dangling over the other, while his teammate next to him mourned.
A nearby 2-year-old whose brother was on the field was crying because he COULDN’T play soccer. He held his tiny ball on the sideline and wept forlornly, sometimes dropping the ball to roll around on the ground for good measure. His mother ignored him, because really, what else can you do with a 2-year-old?
It took a particularly encouraging pep talk from one of the coaches to finally encourage Mark to actually make contact with the ball on the field. After that, he seemed to enjoy the few plays left in the game. At least he was running around in the vicinity of the ball. One time he even kicked it. His coaches high-fived him and told him “Good game!” He was victorious.
“I played really good,” he said to me on the ride home.
“See, you just had to get in there and give it a shot, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he fiddled with his shoelaces. “Soccer is fun, but I don’t like to be hot.”
Our game this weekend is at 1:30. Your prayers are appreciated.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)