At Play in the Soccer Fields of Elkin


6 Oct 2012: 5pm est
Elkin, NC

It is early Saturday (5:30am) morning and the fog can be described as Oregonianly-coastal thick or—as I am learning around here—opaquely smokey and Appalachian: mountain fog so thick that it wipes clean the world. Even in the pre-dawn dark, the fog is white and displaces the night so entirely that it’s like looking at a negative image of the nighttime, everything white except for objects, now composed of just shadows, existing disconnected from everything, just floating by you. I am slowly, very slowly jogging1 with the dog because I am trying to lose weight and you have to start somewhere. The dog is out a few feet ahead of me but appears suspended mid-fog.

We enter the city park and start slogging on the track. The dog weaves from side to side on the track, head down, smelling out the track’s passages. The dog enjoys these early outings while I constantly reign in and play out the leash in order to give wide berth to the oncoming runners who have been up much earlier than us, wearing their runner’s face with its hard inward gaze.

We finally circle the kiddie-soccer field, barely discernable from the rest of dark park except for the soccer goals, where later it will be bright and noisy and some what packed with adults and kids and the voices of mostly, adult men exhorting their kids to look at the ball or to get in there, to get into the scrum that kiddie soccer tends to devolve into and instead of interlocking heads and arms, they interlock legs and feet and if it lasts for more than a few seconds then at least two players will topple and then be lightly trampled by the rest of both teams still trying to get at the ball.

The kids on the team are without exception all good kids; they will try to do their best at whatever you are asking/telling/yelling them to, even if they have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. They will nod and then run as instructed, faithfully charging the Maginot line. However, it is getting clearer from week to week that the kids are getting it and once in a while (maybe once a game) you will see a pass from one player to another, premeditated and then executed that ends up being a goal. It is also exceedingly clear that when you mix 4–6 year olds on the same team, the five and older set will bounce the four-year olds off each other, scattering them like a remorseless pool shark breaking a racked set. Even the difference between a four and five-year old is like watching Bambi playing rugby with adult elephants.

It also shows just how fast these kids are growing and learning not just season to season but week to week: the inconsolable four-year old who can not understand why she can not score a goal will in the next season be the appointed tank that goes through the other team with a mindful intensity of the best pros. Scarlett2 right now is that four-year old and she does in fact mind every bit when she gets knocked down or pushed over, and has attempted to stomp off the field in protest, yet the other girl on our team (who is five) probably generated accusations of being a ringer after she scored off a goal kick, that is she kicked the ball from one end of the field to the other and scored; audible gasps of surprise were heard from the sidelines of stunned parents and onlookers.

  1. slogging is what i am doing []
  2. Mac right now is not playing. He has a cold and has been explaining the germ theory of disease to the other kids so that they know he is not playing because he doesn’t want the kids to get germs off the soccer ball if he should kick it. []

updates on soccer and fishing

6:18pm april 22, 2012

My weekends are free again but they are spent motoring kids to and fro between organized sporting events that are only as organized as 4-6 years kids will allow. There is the almost military-like prep time before matches, putting on the uniforms, strapping on shin guards that look like they are meant to stop projectiles, pulling on long, thickly luxuriant socks and finally the cleats, lacing them, pulling the them tight but evenly and finishing up with a double knot to prevent that crucial slippage that prevents an errant shoe flying and wacking some unsuspecting parent.

The game itself usually devolves quickly, depending on how much the kids have been exposed to american football, into maybe two to three kids still actively chasing the ball, the rest wandering the field, spinning circles, picking grass, chasing butterflies or if they are younger than most of the players then usually they have already left the field in tears not yet prepared for the awesome—awesome in the way tornadoes are awesome to behold—field of kid sports. The emotional threshold will vary from parent to parent, but we all have some investment in our kids and project these Saturday morning proceeding far into the future and ponder whether that one kid who is shoving a bit too much will be managing hedge funds or serving prison-time or probably both, and that one kid who is always behind the pack and not completely aware that he is actually in the middle of soccer game and who instead will be looking at that passing butterfly or be bending over looking at grass that has been trampled by the tiny hordes and you might worry about this kid in particular but then you see him holding out something: a four-leaf clover, and you decide he will be the next Steve Jobs or a fantastic, high-stakes poker player, either of whom will place you in early retirement on some beach in Tahiti and you will paint Gauguin-esque pictures wondering just what you were mis-thinking all those many years ago.

Or as happened to me today, I learned that although Mac doesn’t understand the intent of soccer, he can cast a fishing line shockingly well. Within minutes, he seemed to achieve a fisherman’s Zen, and so we spent an hour under an overcast day sitting on a dock off the Yadkin river, before we decided that his Cars™ toy-fishing reel would no longer suffice and called it a day.

the son’s dad

Marching 14th, 2011 9:24pm

I suppose like any other kiddie-sports league, watching what appears to be vast tracts of psychological damage and trauma, roots of neuroses and seeds of lifelong behavioral disorders being ruthlessly ground into the tykes is going to generate a certain amount of apprehension in any parent who actually cares about their kid.

Watching the look of heart-felt failure on the face of a dad as their little 3-4 yr old breaks out crying because some kid just kicked the ball from them, leaving them rolling in the dust, unable to score a goal yet again, is withering to a father’s psyche. I know this because I was exactly that dad last year1 when Mac had his first season of organized-sports practice.2 Watching the complex and uncontrollable maelstrom of emotions—anger, confusion, outrage, angst and despair—arise out of the little bodies of these boys is heart-wrenching and terrifying, but I sense also especially self-immolating to the americana dad.3 We’ve all been through these incredibly strong/damaging emotions and we want to protect our kids from it, yet we are told sports teach children how to function in a competitive society; it’s a given sports are healthy and good and develop model citizens, encouraging both team-sacrifice and the taste for the pursuit for excellence that quadrennially culminate as the Olympics.

I think the worst part is watching the confusion on the boy’s face as their supposed team-mate, the one they have been practicing with for last 45 minutes is placed on the opposing-side for scrimmage and what was all practice and teamwork and fun is now very much a 15-minute encapsulation of The Lord of the Flies: the soccer ball, the conch. Then he, the lost one, will stop running and stand there alone, crying in the body-wracking way little kids will cry, innocence lost and all that cal. The fathers will run up, at first smiling and calmly cajoling, while the inevitably large set of relatives watch from the sidelines having shown up to see little junior play, and so the cajoling will quickly turn into quiet pleading and eventually outright ordering or so help me… Soon frustration sets in as the little boy continues to stand in the middle of field shamelessly crying, while the rest of the kids run back and forth, completely ignoring the poor kid, no more an object in their awareness than a tuft of grass to be stepped on, while dad is bent over, arms outstretched on either side of the boy, gesticulating wildly, trying to push the boy toward the field of play without actually touching him. Any sort of physical contact now would be an admission of complete and absolute failure. Inevitably, you will see—it will happen to every dad out there at one point4—you will see failure washing over the dad’s face like the tears washing their son’s.

The mom’s get this. I’m not sure what all they know as they patiently calm their son that dad has made inconsolable. I do not know all that Jenn or the rest of the moms’ know but at least I know they already know that these are their little boys and not men, not ready for the testosterone-fueled competitiveness that is prevalent for much of man’s life. Scarlett of course, has been blowing any and every belief or myth or general sense of knowledge about girls, especially little girls, not only out of the water but vaporizing pre-conceptions a priori. Scarlett at this stage in the game, could literally run circles around the boys on the field, leaving them choking on her dust.5

BUT…

This year, it turns out that your kid actually does OK.6 No jags of crying that lock them up. This year it’s not you out there but another dad going through the same feelings of failed fatherhood, but now you know that being able feel this already disproves7 the fear. You want to go up to them and say my son did exactly same thing and that almost exactly one year ago8 on this same spot, I felt exactly what you are feeling right now, thinking it’s only your kid who stands apart from everyone else, tears streaming, overwhelmed with terror that roots them the ground, unable to think, act or walk, let alone kick a ball in any meaningful manner. You want to pat them on the back and say, “It’s OK. we’ve all been through exactly what you feeling and it will get better. And you’ll learn not to take the entire clan to watch little johnny play and score the winning goal. Next time it will be just you and him, one on one and it will be a whole lot better.”

  1. And to some extent this year. []
  2. we are in our 2nd year now. []
  3. those toss-the-football and play-catch myths are themselves demonstrated to be myths when I drive around the neighborhood and see what the other dads are doing with their kids. []
  4. each every kid having their own unique breaking point []
  5. And it’s a very wet soccer field. []
  6. Mac up until very recently had been doing a very subtle parody of Charlie Sheen. Mac has only one speed: SLOW! even when he has the ball and everyone is begging him to run, nay walk just a bit faster, he obstinately plods along. He has great ball-handling skills but molasses passes him. So this year, he actually has started running! This is a much bigger accomplishment to see than I can describe on paper. []
  7. I hope []
  8. Jenn reminds its only been 6 months []