Max must have heard the rumor that I was going to make him cut his own bagels. In an effort to foil my attempts to hold him to a higher standard, he has eaten toast for the past three days. No knife required, you see. PRE SLICED. Hah!
Now that it has been determined that instead of slicing his own bagel, he's just gonna opt for toast, I can focus on other parenting matters.
In the little rainbow school, they don't have sports teams. So one of the dads volunteered to lead a soccer practice. To coach, but mostly just to supervise while they play soccer once a week on the field next to the beach.
(Yes, I know, it's snowing in New England. I don't know why you live there EITHER.)
There are maybe a dozen kids that come out to play each week, just a few warm ups and an hour of scrimmaging. Just for fun, you see. They have only played an actual game against another group of kids once - and because there are no uniforms it was chaotic to say the very least. No one had any damn idea who was on what team. Max came stomping off the field no less than twice in a puddle of angry, indignant tears. I was mortified. We had several heart to hearts that day on the side of the field, later in the parking lot, and over the ensuing months at various times. We talked about teamwork, and playing the game for fun and to win - because realistically, both were important. With all of my bleeding-heart liberalism, I get it: no one plays a game to lose. And to be fair, he was ill-prepared for an actual game. His soccer experience was limited to kicking the ball around once a week for an hour with his buddies - he had no idea how to actually play. I mean, some of the kids practiced in Crocs.
A few were barefoot for God's sake.
Today it was announced that there was going to be another game. I secretly hoped that with the passing months, Max has gotten at least a basic grasp on the rules of the game. But frankly, I'll just be thrilled if he has gained the ability to get through an hour of competitive soccer without tears. And I use the term competitive VERY LOOSELY. The scoring during these scrimmages seems to be a little, uh, vague. Everyone sort of keeps track of how many points they scored, and then they tried to add them all up in the end to figure out what the final tally is, with multiple kids laying claim to each goal. I can only hope that they keep better track during an actual game. But the score never really mattered much to us - Max was not known for his scoring abilities on the soccer field.
Until today. Today Max climbed into the car jubilant - he himself had scored a goal! HIM! He did it!
Of course, it was not all sunshine and rainbows - this is my kid, after all. In retrospect, he had some regrets: "I should have passed the ball instead of going for the goal myself." he reflected, staring pensively out the car window. "Stupid!" he muttered to himself. "Stupid ballhog!"
I wonder where he got that from?
So I began to fret a bit. What if he lost his shit on the field, his frustration directed at someone else, or just at himself?
"BALLHOG!" he was still muttering under his breath. "They'll never let me play."
Hoo boy. This was going to be awesome.
When we got home I got a phone call from another mother. Apparently, our two boys will not be playing in the game because, out of 12 kids, the coach chose 9 to be on the team. Our kids were not chosen. They will be alternates, in case someone doesn't show up or gets hurt.
"They'll never let me play."
Oh. It was making more sense to me now.
I asked Max about it, and boy, was that a mistake. It was like I kicked a hornet's nest, right in my living room. Instead of crowing about his goal, excitement coming out of every pore, his eyes had lost their sparkle and the grin had faded. He was disappointed - mostly, it seemed, with himself for not sharing the goal with his teammates. He was convinced that he had cost himself a place on the team. But now, remembering, his face darkened even further.
The story tumbled out. Out of the 12 kids who showed up to practice today, only nine kids were going to play in the game. During practice the coach had the nine chosen for the team play against the three alternates. The alternates were embarrassed. Hurt. Confused. And angry.
Boy, was he angry.
Nine against three. No wonder he was so pissed.
I grasped at straws, tried to redirect, tried to keep it positive. Keep it light. It's a game, remember?
"But you still scored a goal? Nine players against three, and your team still scored? That is amazing!"
It's supposed to be fun, after all.
Right? Aren't games supposed to be fun? Did we really need alternates? Did kids really need to be singled out for exclusion on such a small team? When your team has 12 players, shouldn't everyone get a chance to shine?
No. Apparently not. And just for a moment, I understood those parents who advocate giving everyone who plays in the game a trophy. The ones who think that no one needs to lose. That everyone is a winner.
But just for a moment.
Because honestly, my kid didn't even mention not being chosen for the team when he got in the car after practice. And he didn't care who won. His eyes were bright and his smile was sunny when he was telling me about the scrimmage that day. He was so excited, so proud of his goal, that he wasn't even thinking about the game next week - not until I brought it up. The smile didn't fade until he started reflecting on the practice as a whole, when he began to worry that he might have made someone feel excluded.
He had forgetten that he, himself, had been feeling excluded at the beginning of practice - excluded by his coach no less. The person that was supposed to be teaching teamwork had instead shown that a team doesn't need everyone, to work.
Instead of focusing on that, that judgement being handed down in front of the whole team, Max was worried that someone missed out, or had their feelings hurt, because of his own actions.
Because he was so focused on scoring.
So focused on winning.
He was mad that he had forgotten that games were supposed to be about fun and teamwork.
"One of the kids Coach chose for the team won't even be here next week....so an alternate might actually get to play." he explained to me over dinner. "But I don't need to play." he continued, chewing on his pizza. "It doesn't matter as much to me as it did to the other kids. I'd happily give them the spot, and just sit on the bench. Really, I don't mind. As long as I can play at practice."
"Thank you." I said to myself, silently.
Whether he plays next week or not, I know that in his heart my kid is a good sport and a kind person - which is far more important than being good AT a sport, if you ask me. I mean, don't get me wrong - it's a great feeling to score a goal, or get chosen for the team, or win MVP. But isn't it possible that the MVP is not, necessarily, on the field?
There is value in being a good teammate, I think.
Whatever happens, I hope that nothing will dim the light that was shining in his eyes after playing this afternoon. Because in the end, it's a game, and he loves to play. And he loves his team.
Even if he's not allowed to play with them.
28 minutes ago