I am the mom of seven children. Five of my children are ages thirty-five, thirty-four, thirty-two, thirty-one, and twenty-six. Two of my children are eight and ten. The two younger ones are the biological children of one of my two daughters. She deals with bipolar disorder and was simply not able to care for two boisterous boys. We adopted them when they were three months old and two years old, but my daughter sees them all the time. It is a good solution for everyone.
Obviously my husband and I love children. Of course, some things are different now than they were when we were raising our older five! I think people might be surprised to hear many of the changes are positive. My favorite example is the soccer culture. I became a soccer mom for the first time last summer. The soccer mom phenomenon was barely starting in the 1970s, so our kids had other activities. The boys played little league baseball. All five of the children played an instrument in the band from fourth grade right through high school. And they belonged to Cub Scouts or Girl Scouts, plus weekly attendance at CCD (Catholic Sunday School). As I heard more and more about people running off to soccer games, I wondered what the big deal could be about playing soccer. Well, now I know.
My town has about 30,000 people living here. Our town’s soccer league has 690 children registered for the fall season, which started August 16th this year. That is about the same number of kids as the total attending one of our four elementary schools. Add in parents, siblings, grandparents, coaches, referees, concession helpers and groundskeepers and we number well over 1500 people. We meet at the soccer fields en masse every Saturday until mid-October.
There are seven levels of soccer players. The levels are determined by age. We have U-6, U-8, U-10, U-12, U-14, and U-16. The children start in an instruction group when they are four or five and have a half hour practice followed by a half hour game. They always are on the small field from 11:00 a.m. to noon. This is one of my favorite places to hang out. Little people are dressed in bright colored team tee shirts that usually come down past their knees, with black nylon soccer shorts. Shin guards tucked into black soccer socks meet the bottom of the shorts and there is an amazing array of stylish soccer shoes. The children dance and run onto the field sometimes cartwheeling up to the net. Each child practices with his own ball—a cherished belonging of every child who plays. The coach tries to teach them soccer skills, always a true test of grown-up patience and understanding, as the boys examine bugs and the girls look for animal shapes in the clouds. “No hands!” is probably what these coaches say in their sleep.
It might seem impossible to actually fall head first over a totally still soccer ball, or attempt to “trap” or stop the ball, and instead end up rolling along with your belly riding on top, but it happens time and again. Parents try to stifle grins and giggles, but the little people laugh the loudest. They help one another tackle unruly soccer balls. They stop to chat and make new friends. When there are geese on the field, which is often, one or two children inevitably try to run up and pet them, no matter how many times the birds have flown away right before the kids can reach them. The girls fuss with the pretty ribbons in their hair. The boys wave to the “crowd,” so obviously proud of new found skills.
When these little ones actually play a game, it is a given somebody on the team will put the ball in the wrong goal. They run as fast as their little legs will carry them from one end of the field to the other. All the while, parents and coaches are trying to tell them, “Wrong way! Wrong way! Turn around!” Of course, they are too involved with the prize to hear anybody around them. It is only when they kick in the goal and the other team cheers they realize the mistake. It is a sad time for a new player, but kids from both teams quickly surround the wrong-way-runner with hugs and pats on the back. And it is easily forgotten, especially as the team dribbling the ball to the other goal has to fetch a shoe one of the team members has lost attempting a kick. After the game everybody is rewarded with a freeze pop at the concession stand.
The next age group are the six- and seven-year-old children. These are the U-8 group in official soccer terms. They practice one night a week and play a fifty minute game either Saturday morning or afternoon. The field is bigger than the one for the littlest kids, but two sizes smaller than a regular soccer field. Coed first and second graders still kick off their shoes. They don’t usually get mixed up about which goal is their own. They do, however, often take the whole length of the field to dribble the ball trying to trap it, turn around and head in the right direction. Often all five members of the same team gather around the ball trying to kick it away from the opposition goal. At this age, the coach could save her voice by recording the message, “You’re all on the same team. It doesn’t matter who kicks it, split up.” But, each team member wants to be the one to kick it. Time and again the whirlwind of same colored shirts and shorts twirl along the edge of the field with the soccer ball lost somewhere in the midst of ten kicking feet.
This year my eight-year-old son has joined the U-10 group of soccer players. These kids know the rules. They have practiced the skills. They seldom, if ever, lose a shoe while kicking the ball. They never head the wrong way for a goal. They even use a goalie starting with this age group. It is fun to watch in a whole new way. Soccer coaches, at least in my town, never yell at a player or argue with a referee. Parents never say mean things to their own children or anyone else’s children. We have a respect for the game and for the players and it extends beyond the boundaries of the soccer field. Now we might actually know the score at the end of a game, but we don’t keep track of wins and losses. If everyone plays and learns good sportsmanship, who won the most games just doesn’t matter to us … or to the kids.
My oldest child is in the U-12 group. The girls and boys play on separate teams once they reach eight years old. I only see the girls, still with pretty hair ribbons and pink and silver soccer shoes, as they walk by headed for another field. Both boys and girls still wear tee shirts four or five times too large and soccer socks so long they cover the kneecaps. They still gather around a friend on either team who needs a pat on the back or a word of encouragement. At the end of each game, every player still gets a freeze pop at the concession stand. Most of the kids have played in past years with someone on every other team in their age group. They have earned one another’s respect. Friendships started on the soccer field have spilled over to school and other social functions. Next year the eleven-year-olds in this group will be out of elementary school and into middle school. When they return again next August, I will be glad these friendships will also continue into the next six years of their lives.
On the sidelines of each of the eight soccer fields, families gather to watch. We learn the names and numbers of the kids on the other team. We cheer each goal, each save, each kick. It doesn’t matter which team makes the goal. These are all our children and we are proud of every one of them. We make friends and talk about our littler kids or our parents, our jobs, town news. We exchange phone numbers, share goodies, and hold one another’s babies. There is a very diverse population in my town, and at soccer games I learn what it is like in Mexico, Africa, Haiti, Guatemala, Moscow, Lithuania. I hear story after story of why a family chose to leave their home country and come to America. No two stories are the same until the ending. Each family is happy they followed the dream of a better life. Sometimes someone apologizes for their “poor” English speaking skills. I always brush off those kind of apologies. After all, English is the only language I know. And besides, we are family, we are all soccer Moms and soccer Dads. I love being a soccer mom!