Know what’s hard? Besides trigonometry and keeping your socks on while you sleep.
Try watching your kid play goalkeeper.
It’s tough when they’re 6. Butterflies and airplanes distract them when the ball bounces past. When they’re full grown and playing full-grown kids who’ve learned about aggression on the soccer pitch and from reality TV and Twitter, it’s tough x 10.
My kid, the goalkeeper, throws her body around like a sack of yesterday’s laundry.
It’s a wicked combination of pride and horror for a dad. It’s like a perfect steak and cheese sub on a gorgeous spring day, but with a nest of hornets and a swift kick to the privates.
Elise describes herself on social media as a “midfielder trapped in a goalkeeper’s jersey.” A year ago, when no one else would stand in goal, she grumpily agreed to train for the job. She’s tall and strong and just naive enough to be a team player.
Or team player enough to be naïve.
Her work is art and brutality all bound up with athletic tape, mud and blood.
If an opponent enters the 18-yard box undefended, Elise is like the salmon vs. the eagle in that nature film. She’s 5-foot-5, protecting a goal 8 yards wide and 8 feet high. It’s dive, clutch, eat for the eagle.
Only unless it’s not. Sometimes, the salmon rises out of the water and bitch-slaps the eagle first.
Not that I’m calling opponents bitchy. Much.
When that opponent enters the 18-yard box undefended, Elise flings herself lengthwise into the path of the ball, the girl’s feet, her own defenders, stray freight trains, charging rhinoceroses, and whatever else dares occupy the path.
Elise cradles the ball on her stomach on the slide and lets go and lets God. It’s human bowling with pins in ponytails and shin guards.
These Evel Knievel saves rouse her teammates and bring the parents to their feet.
They also piss off the girls who believed they were on their way to easy pickins.
Elise has 55 saves in five games. Incredible, really, but you don’t always want a ton of saves. Her teammates really bust ass to keep her clean back there. 55 saves takes a toll.
You’re stealing souls back there, sacrificing your ribs and ability to walk the next day to turn back a team’s attack.
Elise has had F-bombs tossed at her in close range. Girls have kicked and smacked and stomped on her.
She spends the car ride home with me after games counting and identifying wounds.
When parents stop her after practice to express appreciation, she smiles looks them in the eye.
But what about dad?
I’m proud too. There’s also a hopeless feeling. Dad knows when his girl is hurt. He just does. He sees the attack build from the other side, hears the words dumb teenage boys in the stands use to suggest hurting her next time.
Dad knows when his girl takes longer than usual to get up off the ground. When she bends at the waist, tucks her chin to her chest, breathes deeply.
Then looks for dad on the sideline.
I stand with arms crossed. I don’t want to interfere. I don’t want to yell out for her, although maybe doing so would remind those around her that she’s someone’s little girl.
Only she’s not little.
She’s strong and brave and even with blood and bruises, she’ll slide out again.
Friday, she took a beating in an 8-1 loss. She had 14 saves to go with post-game motrin and an ice pack that couldn’t cover everything. And a measure of respect from a seemingly blood thirsty opponent.
After Elise slid out on a shot and send bodies flying, she took longer to get up. As Elise rose to a knee, she said she felt someone tugging on her arm.
No. 5, from the other team, helping her up.
“You okay?” she asked. “I think so,” Elise said. She always says that.
And the game was back on.
It’s hard to watch your kid play goalkeeper. It also must be hell to play against one like her.
And not stop to give some props.