Pennies. Cones. Goalkeeper gloves and jerseys. First-aid kits, including hair ties for ponytails. A line-up. A game plan. The right shirt to match your team. If you coach more than one team, don’t ever call them the wrong name.
Don’t turn up on match day in the other team’s shirt.
And don’t ever get caught with your pants down. I’m head coach for two teams, an assistant for two more. I had a 9 a.m. game with Charlotte United in Huntersville. I coach Camdyn’s 7-9 team, too. Their game started at 10:15 in Midland.
So, the first-grader was less than pleased last night with my effort as a goalkeeper to stop her sister’s shot.
“It’s like you’re scared of it, dad!” she said with disdain and disbelief. (Star players sometimes have precious little tolerance for the everyman on the roster). No no no. I can make a remarkable save now and again.
But sometimes, the mind moves quicker than the feet.
And the hands. But usually not the tongue. That’s fodder for another story. “Dad’s not scared of ANYTHING,” I declare with a boom. “Not anything??” she asked, unbelieving. If you only knew, honey.
Know what scares me?
Not for me. But for you kids. I know it sounds silly, but every time we go to Charleston, or any town with a big bridge, I have a nightmare that night. You girls cross it by yourselves, hand in hand, while skies threaten storms, through angry, unrelenting traffic.
Probably with snipers lying in wait, resentful poisonous snakes and oakland raiders fans with weapons and bad attitudes just beyond my scope. Not to mention mean-spirited jellyfish and hungry sharks and really sharp pieces of glass waiting in the waters below.
I wonder in my sleep – where am I? Why am I not with you at a time like that?
I’ve touched on this one, but yeah. When you were toddlers, I’d walk around the little structure, all its steps and poles and slides, and walkways, just to see that you were safe.
It probably looked ridiculous from afar. Things only got worse as you got bigger, and moved to the bigger playgrounds. They seemed three, four stories tall, with no abundance of guard rails.
Watch Dad circle the structure like a clown firefighter waiting for you to fall. A shade or three beyond silly, I realize.
Marie is highly allergic. We check labels, ask restaurant owners about peanut oil, and survey any picnic spot for empty peanut shells or open containers of peanut butter.
When Marie was first diagnosed, I had nightmares. The common thread: She couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t help her.
Her own peace with the condition and her sisters’ hyper-vigilance about all things peanut have eased those fears and stopped the nightmares. But I’ll never rest easy.
4. Being late for games.
This annoys the kids. I feel the need to be on the playing grounds (they hate also when I use this term and not ‘soccer field’) an hour prior to game time, although I admit this happens about as often as I eat a salad before I eat pizza (the land of good intentions).
A coach should check the field for dangerous spots and be on hand to greet his mighty warriors, have cones lined up and balls pumped and goalkeeper shirt pressed and ready for battle.
Or, in my case, to have a snack, get the bench I want and wait for Jesus or Allah to give me a sign whether we’re going to win that day. But mostly to have a snack.
5. My pants falling down.
It’s quite a well-founded fear. I always tie my soccer-pants drawstrings extra tight on game day, after Grace, um, exposed her daddy between the third and fourth quarters on a fateful Saturday morning.
And just in case, I try to always wear my most appropriate/visually appealing drawers.
6. Disney Channel/Nickelodeon.
I fear shows that depict kids who smart off to dim-witted parents, choose to do whatever they want to get whatever they want, and usually with little to no consequence.
Of course, we had this too, in the day, with Silver Spoons and Diff’rent Strokes, but we came out all right, right?
I praise Opie for every “yes, pa!” on the Andy Griffith Show or Beaver Cleaver’s “yes sir!” on Leave It To Beaver. The damage of I-carly and the bratty wizards from Waverly Place has been done.
I have the eye rolls to prove it.
I’d categorize rhinos on the charge, women on the go in really tiny heels, and any form of space matter that crashes to earth in this department, too: Any threat to their bodies that I could at least cushion the blow with my own body.
A natural airbag/safety barrier/chew toy for any oncoming threat.
Kids their age are tender to meteorites and tasty to angry dogs and pachyderms.
8. My girls, dating.
9. My girls, blogging. Someday.
OK, so I just acquired this one, while I wrote this post. I thought about their stories about me being mad or mischievous out there in the blogosphere without an opportunity to edit or correct or cover my assets.
To hear, “wow, did you see what you kid blogged about today??” Getting a forward with a note of sympathy, or a look from a co-worker that tells me she knows more than she should, and isn’t glad about it.
I’m all about Girl Power, y’all. I’m the hairiest feminist in Piedmont North Carolina, unofficially. That I’ve championed the cause with three girls of my own is not surprising.
But what if I’d had a boy?
His name would have been Tyson. Or Kyle. Or Hudson. He’d have carried on the name, but what else? What expectation? The first and every time he stomped around like a dinosaur in the super market, or snagged a pinch of bacon bits with his bare hands in the buffet line, or made unfortunate noises at the dinner table, he’d be labeled – well, stamped – as unmistakably, hysterically, pathetically Eli Junior.
This is just the way it would have gone. We inherit things, we men. Me? There’s a skill set and a range of expectation and a persona that I established somewhere along the same timeline as, um, I began KINDERGARTEN, that has been as easy to shake as onion breath. Not fair, but true.
There’s a lot of pressure in raising a boy, I gather. From reading. TV. Observation.
Grace can play with Matchbox cars. Marie can tug her Red Sox cap on tightly, and swing for the fences. Elise can rear back and fire a perfect spiral, right on the money.
But if Tyson or Kyle should dress up a Barbie or craft with mom or wear anything pink …
It’s a double-standard, I know. And if I’d had three boys – or even two, or even one – perhaps I wouldn’t have these comments on my columns, lauding my attitude and approach as a father.
How would I handle it?
Would I be that dad/coach who chastises his son when he lets Elise rip a shot past him into the goal? Would I be the father who shakes his head when Marie again fakes his boy out with a little shake-and-bake? Would I be gracious and acknowledge a parity among sexes, teach my boy that he should feel no shame in losing to a girl, that he should give her his best and see how it plays out?
What began as a cute display became more tenuous with every score. You see, that was usually someone’s son getting schooled. Another man’s boy getting burned. A nephew. A grandson.
So the chants began.
Get IN FRONT of her!” moms and dads bellowed.
SHE’S JUST A GIRL!”
I’m usually stellar at muting the parents’ side of the field. But I heard it. I saw boys grit their teeth and take aim. I saw her jersey tugged, her feet taken out from under her. I wondered what I should do.
Then, she got up. She giggled at halftime, asking me, “did you hear that lady, daddy?”, as she covered her mouth in embarrassment. The boys on her team stuck up for her.
Then, the tide turned.
Maybe they saw the enthusiasm, the spirit, the refusal to consider gender when she played. That she just cared about the color of the shirts.
Those moms began to see themselves in those ribbons in her hair, in that expressive face that would scowl at an opponent, then smile at him if she missed a shot.
“C’mon Grace!” I began to hear, even from opposing moms. “Don’t take that from him!”
I like to think that if it were my boy takin’ the schooling from a kid like Grace … I’d show a little grace, too.
1. I don’t know if it’s just my vibe or a gift from above, but I have this tendency to get food when I really want it but don’t ask for it. It just appears. I’d rather have this gift than, say, X-ray vision.
2. The longest I’ve ever lost one of my kids was probably a minute, but it felt like an hour. It was probably more like 27 seconds, but she was just 3. I found her as she stood among the crowd at a tech and toy show in Tallahassee, all smiles at everyone as she tried not to look nervous.
3. I always assume I’ll have enough sugar in the kitchen, gas in the tank, or spirit in the soul to do whatever I want to do in the moment. When I don’t have enough, it’s as big a shock to me as anyone. (Reminder: Sometimes the soul doesn’t have a low-fuel light).
4. I’d love to buy a cheeseburger for everyone who has commented on my blog.
5. Because the Colorado Rockies have a pitcher who 9 nine years older than me, it doesn’t matter that I’m nearly twice as old as any of the rookies on the team. The old guy’s presence alone means I’m still young.
6. My sister and I used to camp with my dad so high in the Rockies that you couldn’t get a radio station. We thought we were on another planet.
7. I was supposed to play baritone saxophone in a studio band. At least, that’s what I thought in junior high.
8. My first celebrity crush was Judy Jetson. I’ve since moved on. My first human crush was Ms. Tisdale, the teacher’s assistant in kindergarten. I’ve since moved on.
9. My coolest scar is on my elbow. Well, really my only even good one. The cool story is that I got it after I was hit with a pool cue. Sounds tough, huh? The details – that I was 12, had just gotten out of the swimming pool and it was by a 10-year-old girl named Angie, because I called her “Angelina” – make it less Steven Segal and more like the kid from Wonder Years.
10. I once carried Stephen King’s bags when I worked in a hotel. We talked baseball. He’s a good tipper. He had tons of sh*t in the back of his car, including a wooden bird cage. I didn’t ask. He carries about eight identical ink pens in the front pocket of his jeans. He also totes these bags of steno pads with hand-written stuff in them. I so wanted to steal one.
11. I feel like a bowl of Frosted Flakes is a good way to end a day. Don’t judge. It’s not hard liquor or animal testing.
12. I’m from Colorado, but don’t ski. I’m Hispanic, but don’t speak very good Spanish. I live in the South, but don’t drink sweet tea.
13. When I hear the song “Follow you, follow me” by Genesis, it’s like a special message from my dad, and it’s always incredibly timed. I’ll write about it someday.
14. I once dropped a quarter at McDonald’s and it landed inside a young girl’s shoe. She didn’t know where it came from. She picked it out and showed her mom. “Where did that come from?” Mom asked. The girl just shrugged. The mom seemed a little ticked. I said nothing. Hopefully, she’ll think it was the tooth fairy gone rogue.
15. My one and only athletic highlight was scoring a two-point conversion on my junior varsity football team in seventh grade. It was a simple off-tackle run. I even acted like I’d been there before – in the end zone – even though, I hadn’t. Or would ever return again.
16. I know that parents hate it, but the kids and I love it when it rains during our games.
17. I always wondered why there were no Mexican kids on Charlie Brown.
18. I once fell in a hole while jogging. Pitched forward after stepping in mid-calf-high mud and landed with a thud. This, just two blocks from the place the pedal of my bike snapped off just before I turned onto a busy road. It’s like Jesus doesn’t want me to exercise outside.
19. I can’t swim. I’ve almost drown, twice, but I still love to go swimming with the kids. I try to limit my time in the deep end, though. That’d be a lousy way to make the news.
20. The coolest names we’ve had for my soccer teams have been Mysteries and Snow Monsters. My kids made those up.
21. When I was a kid, I swore my Fred Flintstone piggy bank and the Darth Vader toy on my desk had conversations. More like pleasantries and small-talk. I didn’t think they had much in common though.
22. I could have been an NFL quarterback. It was the height and athleticism and talent I had a problem with.
23. I don’t yell a lot on the sideline and this bothers some parents. The kids know what to do. My vocalization is encouragement for a kid lagging behind or reminders of where they should be, stuff like that. I’ve also been nearly-tossed from a game only once.
24. Math is, by far, my worst subject. UNC Charlotte, my alma mater, didn’t even offer the math I qualified for, so I took a course at CPCC. I did pass it. Thing is, I can calculate slugging percentage and third-down conversions and batting averages on the fly when I need to. Luckily, there’s no trigonometry in soccer.
25. I joke around to such an extensive level with that sometimes when I’m really telling the truth, my girls won’t believe me. For hours.