I can see my breath.
At least I think it's mine. All around me clouds of white mist -- a combining of exhalation and coffee-scented steam -- appear in thin puffs only to dissipate into the sky.
Honestly, I never thought I'd be here: Standing on a sideline, watching a child of mine (let alone two) in a too-long t-shirt and ill-fitting shin guards relentlessly following a pack of other similarly dressed children, all of them trying to kick a quilted ball.
The romantic in me might explain that the mere idea of raising children seemed itself like a distant hope … but the cynic in me would just beat the romantic over the head with rolled-up newspaper and yell: “Who are you trying to kid, Soccer Mom!?” They proceed to taunt me with the label.
Oh … “Soccer mom” … sounds so sardonic in my mind.
Would I need a mini-van now? Would I start yelling plays and words of dubious encouragement at the team? Would I berate the players and try to steal the coach's hat?
I try on the coat of encouragement first. I jump up and down, wave my arms and yell: “Good one,” as my daughter's teammate solidly kicks the ball. My husband leans in and whispers “It was offsides.”
“Perfect,” I think to myself. “Dubious Encouragement fits like a glove … I'm not going to even bother trying on any hats.”
Positive thinking. Positive thinking. Got to have positive thinking. …. This is going to be fun.
I shift from one foot to another as I try to watch both kids play in separate fields.
The waddle of children in The Champ's age group follow each other around like penguins, instinctually mimicking movements as they propel the ball from one goal to another. Their coaches are all smiles even as they try to herd the kids away from the nearby basketball court where the game has accidentally traveled. Their strategy is simplicity: “Run THAT way. Try to kick the ball.”
Ittybit's age group by contrast are each assigned positions, and, like jobs of yesteryear, each player stands in place, assembly-line style, waiting for the work to come their way. Ittybit's first occupation is “Maytag Repairman.” She stands inside a goal post, nothing much to do but wait. Soon she's rotated to another position and for it she fast-walks toward the ball.
I have no idea what's going on but I know she should be running.
I worry the lack of hustle is problematic and will affect her value to the team. Things are going to be different in the future, I think. But I stay quiet.
A mom standing next to me starts speaking in tongues to her daughter.
“Dribble to the defender. Cross in. Watch your center, watch your center! Go for clearance!”
I smile, thinking: Always go for clearance. But I resist the urge to tell her about the cleats we bought on sale at the sporting goods store.
No need to gloat.
The kids are having fun. They are out in the fresh air, learning about something that takes skill and teamwork wearing padded legs and pointy-bottomed shoes.
And then I realize what the game has to teach me I won't find in any rule books.
Neither of them are worried about winning or losing. They're not worried about the future even five minutes away. They're just playing in the moment. One all smiles and motion, the other all tongue-protruding concentration. It's just us. Here. Now. Together.
Soon enough the steam from my cup will stop rising, and this moment will be over.