In something like 2 hours, if all goes according to plan, I will be standing on a soccer field in the East Bay watching my niece play soccer. She’s 7, almost 8.
Any of you who have ever been to a children’s soccer game with participants this age know what I am about to experience. Hive soccer. A swarm of players, running in the general vicinity of a ball, kicking it now and then. Very endearing.
My son played soccer, from about this age all the way through high school. You might think I’ve seen a lot of games. Not really. But I did see a lot of my son playing soccer.
I loved going to the games, despite my son’s request that I remain silent on the field, despite my inability to comply with that request. But I never really watched a game, per se. I watched my son. I kept my eyes on him, every moment he spent on the field. His numbers, I think, were 7 and 10. Maybe 11. But any failure to remember is from failing neurons rather than lack of attention. Nothing mattered but how my son played, how he felt in the playing.
And I could have cared less, in terms of my own satisfaction, about having a good soccer player for a child. He was good enough to start in high school, to be on the team. Not the star. I didn’t care. I wasn’t getting any parent thrills from all this, not the thrills I got from his early talking, his origami obsession, or the many other signs of his intelligence. I just loved to see him in action.
He was a skinny guy. I still remember how his bony shoulders looked in his maroon school uniform. The way he put his head down to run. The time it took him to get going, when he ran. His capacity to anticipate the ball. His general reluctance to throw his body at a play, just in case it might matter. I could see who he was, when he played, cerebral, focused, slightly hesitant, brain working. Every now and then, angered. And to a parent, that’s like sugar, to see one’s child in action.
His hair was often too long.
For big games my superstition was that if I never took my eyes off him he’d play well. He was happy when he played well, and I have always felt that someone as considerate as he deserves happiness. It’s hard to keep your eyes on one kid, running up and down the field. He played center mid. They run, a lot, up and down.
I imagine that I will be able to let my niece leave my sight. That today I might actually watch a game. If she says no cheering, I’ll probably be able to comply. Aunts are good like that.
I remember, when my son’s high school team played for the league championship, my sister and brother-in-law and niece came to the game. The field was cut into an East Bay hillside, above a freeway. We were so high up that a hawk circled off the created cliff behind the chain link fence, across from our bleachers. I kept thinking, inappropriately, of Prometheus. Lucky the hawk was not interested in our livers.
My son’s team won. We have the school paper photo, still, of him jogging down the field as the game finished. Two other boys are in the picture but I really pay no attention to them. That’s what their mothers are for. All the boys shaved their coach’s head. Apparently he had promised. One doesn’t always understand what one sees, but one watches closely anyway.
My son turns 21 this week. Happy birthday darling boy. Much love from Mom. You could forget a lot, you know, and I’d still remember. I do reserve my maternal right to remember incorrectly. After all, I wasn’t seeing the whole picture.