I am a reluctant soccer mom. After fifteen years and three children I still know very little about the sport. Nevertheless, each summer I bring my folding canvas chair (equipped with arm rests and cup holder), park myself on the sidelines, and cheer for the team. I do my best to pay attention and to support my youngest child’s efforts. But more often than not my mind wanders.
As the game unfolds on the field I’m drawn to the parenting rituals in play on the sidelines. My errant gaze takes in a succession of vignettes: Mothers cradling babies. “What’s the score?” Corralling toddlers. “Kick the ball!” Keeping track of the water bottle. “Good play!” Reading magazines. “The ref must be blind!” Making phone calls. “Take the shot!” Taking pictures. “Good game.” Taken together these scenes construct a diorama of my parental history.
We come with blankets, coolers and infants in tow, chairs slung across our backs. We arrive straight from the office and from the trenches on the home front. Why do we do it? What draws us back season after season, year after year, child after child? Fresh air and sunshine. Good exercise for the kids. An opportunity to catch up on gossip and reinvigorate dormant friendships. Advance preparation for the varsity team.
We tell ourselves that sport teaches kids cooperation, drives their competitive instincts, and helps them to learn self-sacrifice (“there is no ‘I’ in team”). We surrender our afternoons and evenings to soccer, softball, lacrosse and hockey, and find time to sandwich in dance classes, music lessons and something for dinner. Schedules memorized, we scurry from one activity to the next. We do it for the kids. It’s our duty.
So this summer, as in summers past, I park my car amongst the minivans and SUVs, grab my gear, and stride through the gate in the chain link fence encircling our good intentions. I join my team, the community of responsible middle class parents, who strive to do right by their kids, to coach them well, and teach them the rules of the game.