I went out for the track team when I was in high school. The first day, we “ran” three miles. (I could also put we in quotes.)The coach called out to those who looked promising, who looked the least likely to need her encouragement: that was not me. I limped by her as invisible as bacteria. How did those other kids do it? Take off and keep going as if the assignment was to run out the front door and retrieve the mail? The second day we did something called the thumbscrew or the rack or maybe just ladder sprints, a series of 200’s, 400’s, 800’s and then back down the gallows, I mean ladder. On the third day there was no resurrection, only me trying to get downstairs without bending my legs to turn in my warm up. I wanted to be part of that locker room, that team bus. I wanted to see what a uniform looked like up close, but that world I hobbled away from might as well have been one of the moons of Saturn.
It is always a surprise when my house is full at the end of the school day, when I walk in and am greeted, not by the cats who have been sunning themselves on the porch or by the dogs who have been racing around the yard desperate to get to Dennis in his garden, but by the sounds of the television or the smell of a freshly toasted bagel. Are other humans actually present? Well, for a few weeks between seasons, yes.
Justina’s youth soccer career ended first, two weeks ago when the cold rain and wind gusts of a Nor’easter cancelled her final game. Beatrice’s cross country team travelled to the divisionals Saturday morning and completed their season. Apphia’s soccer team lost in the tournament semi-finals. We washed uniforms and that was that. Another season with all its glory and its heartbreak in the books. I have the afternoons to myself now. I can post to Facebook! I can re-pot plants! I can cook vegetables! In other words, I’m incredibly, incurably bored.
Am I a soccer-slash-cross country mom? I drive a van. I’ve succumbed to heavily perfumed laundry soaps to battle the stench of athletic wear. I use Google calendar specifically to keep track of practices and games/meets. I bought an ankle length down coat to keep me warm on the sidelines despite the fact that it looks as if I’m appearing in public in a sleeping bag. I guess the answer is yes. But the reason goes back to my own athletic ignominy and my daughters’ impossible abilities, the absolutely dauntless way they navigate a world that was so inexplicable to me.
I had hoped that, through my involvement with a team, I would make friends. Belong to something. Regain the kind of confidence I exhibited playing games at recess in elementary school where I was competitive and not completely inept. In my next incarnation, perhaps. But in this life, I am relegated to the sidelines, to the stands, to baking cookies and frosting them blue and white so that my (embarrassed) daughters can distribute them to their teammates on the long bus rides home. And I’m happy to be there, astonished, really, that these are my girls.
They have taught me that soccer is not only a game of speed and finesse, but that people hit you really, really hard. And my girls? They hit back. Through their examples, I have witnessed that practice really does make you better at something, that retreating to the safety of your bathtub after two days is what quitters do. My daughters are not quitters. Games under the lights don’t scare them. State meets. Rain. The kind of heat that drives the birds from the sky. Competitors much bigger than they are.
Maybe other people are in this for some kind of vicarious glory or for the hope of a scholarship somewhere down the line. I see my own beauties, these powerful young women, as proof of evolution itself. The miracle is not in the trophy case or on the resume; it isn’t a name in the newspaper, or the attention of a college scout. It’s in the tenacity and pure muscle it takes them to get out there every day and push themselves in a way their own mother could not. They run, kick, jump, throw, ignore me on the sidelines, but I can’t take my eyes off them.