The thinnest kid on the field

If you don’t know Eli, you might think he’s smiling as he stands in front of the goal on this muggy fall morning. But his scrunched up eyebrows and damp eyes and head tilted down tell a different story. They tell me the boy wants to cry.

Lift your head up, Eli. Don’t give up.

I can’t do much from the sideline at the soccer game. I clap and encourage and break a little inside and watch as he hides the hurt. That’s all I can do.

Keep trying, Eli. Be strong.

It’s understandable why Eli feels low. Seconds before, the ball bounced off Eli’s shin and into the other team’s goal. That makes the score 2-0, and it’s almost certain that Eli and his teammates are headed towards another lopsided defeat. It’s been a rough season for this team, the only group of first graders in a league of second graders. They’ve yet to even score a goal.

“You’re playing well,” I tell Eli when he comes off for a rest. “You know you guys are doing great, right?” Eli nods and gulps water and doesn’t say anything.

As the game moves on, I lose track of the score. The other team makes more goals and Eli’s team doesn’t make any.

But Eli isn’t conceding. He’s running hard. He’s getting knocked down by the big boys on the other side and picking himself up and charging toward the ball.

And then, just like that, Eli cuts through two defenders along the far sideline, dribbles towards the goal, and hooks the ball cleanly into the net.

Our sideline erupts with cheers, Eli’s teammates give him high fives, and I hear a parent from the other team exclaim, “Oh my god. Did you see that kick?”

And the best part, for me anyway, is Eli, the thinnest kid on the field, jogging back on the grass, smiling as brightly as the sun.

I’ve written very little over the last few months. I could make excuses about long days at work and a toddler who wakes up at 6:00 AM and traffic and dishes in the sink, but truth is I could have made the time. I could have canceled cable and tossed the TV off the deck. I could’ve pounded Red Bull and typed strange stories all night.

I didn’t, though. I gave up.

Sometimes I forget that kids teach us as much as we teach them. But watching Eli on Saturday reminded me that I need to pick myself up and keep writing, even if the others are smarter and better, even if I’m looking down at the dirt.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing, right here, right now.

I’m blogging again.

And I’m trying to be as strong as that thinnest kid on the field.


2 Responses to “The thinnest kid on the field”

  1. 1 feedDunk October 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

    …and that my friend, that smile, that’s what makes it all worth it. Those are the moments we remember.

  2. 2 D S Gardner October 4, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for bringing back the blog. You always manage to bring a smile, a tear, and a knowing nod.

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