About a year after I got married, someone asked me if I learned to cook soon after the wedding. I nearly spat out my drink. I got married a little later in life and I wouldn’t have struggled with the zipper on my wedding dress if I only learned to cook after I said my vows. Yet there’s often an assumption that young single people don’t know how to cook.
There are also many assumptions about parents.
One in particular surprised me. Some people think that moms (especially ones who stay at home or work from home) have no other interests outside of keeping their offspring relatively clean, healthy, active and out of trouble.
I lived almost four decades without children. That’s a long time to cultivate hobbies and figure out who you are in the grand scheme of things. And yet I still find people are occasionally surprised that I actually have, dare I say it — a life, outside of my child. For instance, whenever I tell someone I’m busy on a certain evening of the week because of soccer, they automatically assume that my child plays. Um. No. My child barely shows any interest in kicking a ball, so the last thing I’m going to do is actually pay for him to play.
MAMA plays soccer.
I guess that officially makes me a soccer mom, even though I don’t drive a mini-van and the only place I’m shuttling my child to on sports days is the babysitter’s house.
I didn’t always play soccer though. In 1984, like many little girls in America, I wanted to be the next Mary Lou Retton. Somehow my parents scraped together the money to pay for gymnastic lessons for me (don’t ask me how), the required gear for practicing and the gas money to get me there.
When I landed head first off a full-size balance beam, I’m sure my mother had her first silent heart attack. To her relief, I quit when puberty hit and my ample bosom appeared overnight. No gymnast in the ’80s had my blossoming body type and it was time to move on to a different extracurricular activity — preferably one that didn’t require a skin tight leotard.
I joined a myriad of other sports teams after that, including, but not limited to field hockey, volleyball, basketball, cross country, track and field and even a short (somewhat laughable) stint in cheerleading. My soccer, or football* days as it were, appropriately started overseas in my early 20s. When I moved to England, a good friend there told me I needed to choose an English Premiere League team to support. I chose Chelsea. I liked the name. This friend also made it clear that I needed to support them for life, so 20 plus years later, I’m still a fan. (I do waiver on occasion. The Sailor is a staunch Liverpool supporter so when our respective teams meet on the pitch, I keep my Chelsea cheers to myself.)
I still had never really played soccer outside of gym class though. My high school didn’t have a girl’s team and in college, I didn’t make the final cut. Spurred on by following my new favorite team, I finagled my way into playing with the ‘blokes’ from my church on a weekly basis. Most of them weren’t impressed at first, but they amused me and even occasionally passed me the ball.
By the time I worked onboard a ship in Africa, I played soccer regularly on the dock with a bunch of locals and fellow shipmates. The Sailor was one of the latter. My favorite part of the day was racing out to play ball right after dinner. Seeing him might have had something to do with it, but I genuinely enjoyed playing the game, too. So it was no surprise that I joined a soccer league in Chattanooga.
Yet it’s surprising to some, because I’m doing something for me, not for my child.
It’s always a little odd to me that conversations with others (particularly moms) tend to revolve around our kids — where they go to school and what they’re into. I’ve discovered that we don’t often discuss non kid-related topics. I find this particularly perplexing because I had so long in life without kids. What do people think I did for 39 years?
I get that being a mom is all consuming. We push aside the things we love to do because we want to give our child(ren) the best in life. Sometimes though we need to be a little selfish for our own sanity. Sometimes I need more than a pedicure for self-care. Sometimes at the end of the day, I need to boot a soccer ball as hard as I possibly can. Watching my four-year-old play doesn’t give me quite the same endorphin rush.
Don’t get me wrong — I do think all kids should get involved in sports at some point. I don’t know that I would have survived the horrors of high school without my cross country teammates. And I would have gained far more than the Freshman 15 at college had I not been racing over hurdles daily. Sports gave me confidence, helped me stay fit, and reminded me that my body could do almost anything if I worked hard enough.
These days though, it seems like if you haven’t enrolled your kid in the right school or put them into a sport by the time they’re toddlers, they might be doomed for life. Could I have become the next Mary Lou Retton if my parents had enrolled me into gymnastics before I could walk? Maybe, but probably not. And while the Sailor and I both had sporting achievements in our youth, I don’t think we conceived the next David Beckham. (I did have high hopes. I even bought a pair of cleats several sizes too big on sale, thinking that he’d eventually play.)
For now, he burns off his energy at playgrounds and in the backyard. We use a five gallon bucket as a basketball hoop and a rubber ball that we wallop against the house while we teach him the finer points of dodge ball. He plays baseball with a paper towel tube and a bunch of balloons.
Someday he might find his feet and want to kick a ball into a goal — and if he shows more than a passing interest, I might consider finding him a team to play on. Maybe it’ll even happen before he outgrows those soccer shoes. The minute it interferes with my league schedule though, it’s game over. After all, this soccer mom has her own life.
* The rest of the world refers to soccer as football, as they should. It’s a game played with FEET.