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 222012

My week­ends are free again but they are spent motor­ing kids to and fro between orga­nized sport­ing events that are only as orga­nized as 46 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 34 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


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 []