Nobody told me about this. Nobody warned me that sometimes parenting could feel like you’d yanked your heart out of your chest, tied it to your arm, and let the world whack it with an axe. Nobody took me aside and said “hey, sometimes, you’ll be sitting on the sidelines, watching them play soccer (or baseball, or even piano), and the intense feelings it will evoke in you will make you want to run away and never watch a soccer game again.” (Okay, so maybe they told me and I didn’t really hear them.)
It catches you by surprise, that intensity of feelings. Every failure they make dredges up your own childhood failings. Every time the rather agressive coach hollers at them because they’re not playing their position or they’re not aggressive enough, you feel it deep in your hidden child-heart. And when the coach sends them into goal, and you know with every fibre of your being, that they are not ready to play goal – not ready to get in front of the ball with any type of bravado on their first game – you sit on the edge of your seat praying the ball will stay on the other side of the field. Then the ball goes in – the star player on the other team kicks it past your daughter – and the failure of your child becomes your own failure. Every mistake you’ve ever made becomes compounded in that one moment and you feel like somehow your own mistakes are manifesting themselves onto your child.
Suddenly, you’re back in the ball diamond at Arden Park, you’re in the outfield, you’ve missed the ball, and the opposing team scores a home run. The mean girl in centre field yells at you for missing the ball, and you’re sure you’re the worst failure on the team. You go home crying at the end of the game, and your mom says you don’t have to go back for the next game, but because you’re more stubborn than that, you’re determined not to let the mean girl win. You go back, and you try again, even though you know you’ll never be the star player on the team and you know there will be more mean girls to point out your failures.
And then, thirty years later, when you think you’ve almost grown out of those moments of self-doubt, it all comes back to you like a tsunami wave. You watch them – your children – with such intense love and connection that you feel their hurt almost more deeply than if it had been you standing in that goal, watching the ball fly by. You feel it and you want to fight the tears for them. You want to take the shame you’re sure they’re carrying – shame that they’ve let their teammates down.
I dreaded the car ride home tonight – dreaded her tears and self-doubt, dreaded her proclamation that she would never play soccer again, dreaded the feable attempts I knew I’d have to make to comfort her. But then, she bounded off the field, smiled a half-smile, and said simply “I thought I’d try goal, but I don’t really like it. I don’t think I’ll play goal next time.” That was the end. No tears, no intensity. She’s a trooper, my strong, beautiful, normally intense Nikki.
It’s probably a good thing nobody told me about this. I might have baled out before it began, and then I would have missed the moments of redemption and triumph, when you see their incredible character and strength shine through even their moments of failure, and you know they’ll be alright. Better than alright. You know they’ll be incredible.