Archive for March, 2010

That’s me, the jerk screaming at the kid’s soccer game

It’s last Saturday, and Eli is practicing with his new soccer team on a warm day. His coach, an agreeable enough guy, is standing on the field silently watching the kids, some of whom are kicking soccer balls, some of whom are hanging out with their parents, one of whom is sitting on the field next to the goal doing nothing.

This is practice, but I’m not sure that they’re actually practicing. I mean, the coach isn’t leading drills. He isn’t organizing games. In fact, I’m not entirely sure he’s even speaking to the boys and girls. He’s just standing there, enjoying the pleasant March morning, looking on vacantly like he’s stoned clean out of his noodle.

As I watch practice or whatever this is, I become increasingly agitated.

Pacing, I ask Sally, “What, exactly, is he doing?” I point a finger towards the coach who is immobile, a glazed expression on his face, his mind someplace far away.

My wife shrugs. “Not a whole lot.”

Exactly. Not a whole lot. I pace and mutter to myself and pace and 20 minutes pass and the kids don’t do much of anything.

And that’s practice.

Immediately after practice, the game, the first one of the season, begins.

A few seconds into the game, one of the kids kicks the ball way out-of-bounds, but rather than stopping the action to retrieve the ball, the coaches, who serve as officials in kindergarten soccer, look on as the ball zooms through a family picnicking on a blanket. The kids blast through the middle of the picnic, the ball still live, the game still careening along.

“Why aren’t they stopping the game?” I ask Sally.

“What?,” she replies, distracted by Slade, who keeps finding crunched up Goldfish crackers in the dirt and eating them. “Oh. Beats me.”  

I run my hand through my hair.

I pace.

A boy on Eli’s team boots the ball into the middle of another field, where other teams are playing, and the games collide, four teams on one field. I yell for Eli’s team to kick the ball back towards our field, and I pace, and our coach remains silent, and veins pop out of my neck. I wouldn’t be surprised if my left eye is starting to twitch now.

And that’s the first quarter.

At the start of the next quarter, the coach’s own son rips the soccer ball away from Emily—a small and smiling teammate—and tells her, “It’s mine!” The coach watches his boy wordlessly.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I mutter.

“Huh?” Sally says, pulling Goldfish, earth, and yellow grass out of Slade’s smiling mouth.

A few minutes later, the same brat yanks the ball away from another girl and again his dad, the coach, does nothing, and again I, the dumbfounded spectator, walk and rub my hands together and mumble to myself.

And that’s the second quarter.

After halftime, the coach asks if I’ll take over for a few minutes while he consoles his son, who is red and screaming about something and swinging at anyone who gets close. Gladly, I tell him, and jog onto the field.

Being out there with the kids comes easy, and as I’m running and encouraging and coaching, I’m no longer angry or dismayed or appalled. I’m relieved, actually, and I’m having fun.

I must miss coaching. That sinks in as we drive home after the game.

It also dawns on me that I’m becoming tidy and rulesy as I age. I want the weeds pulled and the bed made and the damn soccer ball to stay in bounds.

And then I realize something else.

“You know those pathetic dads who swear at the coach and punch the umpire and get banned for life from their children’s T-ball games,” I tell Sally.  

She nods.

“That’s me. That’s what I’m becoming.”

She smiles, pats me on the shoulder, and doesn’t say a word.  This is her way of telling me she loves me anyway.

The girl with the umbrella in her drink

The kids are home with my parents, and Sally and I are driving to a movie, just the two of us. Cruising by grocery stores and fast food restaurants, Sally tells me about the fresh apples and bananas at Eli’s school cafeteria. She’s impressed that a public school would offer up so many healthy choices.

Up ahead, I see men holding signs close to the road. The signs say, “Abortion stops a beating heart” and “This is an abortion clinic,” and as we go past the men, Sally, who is still talking about the cafeteria fruit, rolls down the passenger window and yells, “You people are wrong! You’re wrong, wrong!”

She rolls the window up and continues on about bananas nonchalantly, like this all everyday stuff: Going to a flick. Chatting about the lunch at the kid’s kindergarten. Assaulting the hyper religious.

A few days later, on the way to dinner and another movie, my parents at home with the kids again, Sally wearing a skirt with her hair curled this time, we pass the same clinic. Sally rolls down the window once more, but this time she doesn’t berate the dudes with the signs.

“You didn’t heckle them today,” I comment.

“No,” Sally replies, “but I stuck my arm out and flipped them off.”

“You did what?”

“I gave them the finger. You know, the bird.”

“I see. And what did they do?”

“They just kind of stared.”

“You’re not going to convince them,” I remind her, acting grounded and smart. “You get that, right? The more you mess with them, the more they’ll believe they’re right.”

“I know,” she tells me. “But it makes me feel better.”

And then she adds, “Next time, I’m throwing water balloons.”

When she says that, I notice something, a shift in her tone perhaps, a flicker inside maybe, and for an instant, I don’t see the grown woman who sews Clifford The Big Red Dog costumes and buys fabric softener at Costco.

I see the girl at the bar, almost twenty years ago, sipping a Blue Hawaiian with an umbrella in it.

“Let’s go to Mexico,” that girl almost 20 years ago says, swirling her blue drink with the tiny umbrella.

“Tonight?” I reply. “But it’s Tuesday.”

The girl smiles. “I’m pretty sure Mexico is open on Tuesday.”

And I know I won’t say no. I know we’ll buy a map at a gas station, this girl and I, and we’ll drive deep into the night, all the way to the border.

And then the past slides away, and I’m back to now, to date night with my wife, the two of us puttering along in the station wagon. I glance at Sally—this mother, this wife, this teacher, this girl with the umbrella in her drink—and I’m struck by how much I still like just driving around with her. And then I notice she’s gazing out the window, smiling broadly.

Christ.

She’s smiling. I know what that means. My wife is scheming about something, and whatever it is, it almost certainly means trouble.