There comes a time in all our lives when things begin to get consistently complicated. I always assumed that time hit around puberty and the introduction of unrequited love, but have since realized it emerges during a child’s first introduction to sports.
My son is now three years old, and in Atlanta that means Mr. Carter can play in more developed organized sporting activities. He did participate in soccer at age two, but that small league was only about learning how to run and kick a ball without falling, and no actual games were involved.
He began playing soccer again last month, but this time his more developed body can participate in some practice drills with a competition to follow. It was that first game against an opposing team that made him question all he had ever been taught before. It also forced his other mother, Katie Jo, and I to think on our feet so he could intellectually and emotionally make it through the game.
In toddler soccer practice, every child has a ball to work with. You learn how to ignore the instinct to use your hands to handle the ball, and how to effectively kick the ball so that it moves at some distance down the field. You also learn to understand that the goal is the, well, goal and you kick the ball into the one the coach and all the parents keep pointing to. I didn’t think to explain to him the concept of one ball during competition, and apparently neither did anyone else because that simple change in the structure of play was the catalyst of a very public protest in the middle of the field.
Mr. Carter did what he was told during the game and followed his fellow athletes down the field as the biggest kid on his team kept scoring goals. But then he got the ball and began to kick it at a steady pace, only to find another kid run in front of him and take it as his own. I could tell that frustrated my son, but the blood only began to simmer until it happened again and another goal was scored by someone else with his ball.
That’s when he stopped in the middle of the field as everyone else gathered around the winning goal and screamed, “That…is…not…very…nice!”
Sharing. All he has ever known is sharing. He gets constantly reminded of it in my home, Katie’s house, his grandmothers’ houses, with his aunt, uncles and cousins. His school makes sure he shares whatever comes into his possession. Yet on the soccer field, somehow all of a sudden, it is no longer OK to share, and he’s the one who is getting scolded for protesting this simple rule that until now had been cardinal law.
It’s funny how the things that confuse or hurt us the most, no matter what age you are, come back to a violation of that same concept … sharing. Sharing of love, of property or of peace. But we adapt, and soon Mr. Carter will too. However, I can’t help but think how nice it would be to stand still and simply scream my son’s words of protest, reminding everyone to stop for a minute and think about what game we’re playing and if we all understand the rules.