Long Saturday

Saturdays these days start with soccer at 9:30. Today, it was tough to get him out the door. K had surprised him the night before with a bunch of Star Wars toys from my childhood that Nana and Papa had saved. He complained about his busy schedule, about his inability to have any time “just to relax.” He just wanted to have some time to rest and play with his new toys. And it grew to a fuss-fit. So I gave him a simple option: “You don’t have to go play soccer today. We can spend the time packing up all these Star Wars toys and taking them back downstairs.”

Needless to say, he was very willing to go after that.

Soccer was fairly typical: after a twenty-minute practice session, the kids played a game. And the Boy played as he usually does, drifting around the periphery, watching, not quite sure whether he wants to engage with the other players. That’s a fairly accurate description of many of the players, to be sure, but for me, knowing him as a parent, it’s a natural outgrowth of his personality.

It’s not something I’m really interested in trying to change. It’s part of his personality. While I think a little more assertiveness might be beneficial later in life, it’s not something I’m terribly worried about for a five year old.

Besides, there were certainly enough assertive players out there today, enough that E’s team won 4-1 (though one goal wasn’t counted, I believe). Again, I don’t care whether his team wins or loses — and E even less so — but I find it ironic that, given all that, his team is so far undefeated.

When we got home, though, the real fun began.

And in the evening, a rarity. The Boy wanted to play instead of reading — nothing really new there. What was surprising was that the Girl wanted to play.

“I thought you hated Star Wars,” I asked.

“I do. But the toys are great.”

So the three of us played for a little while.

“Daddy, is this a good guy or a bad guy?” was a common question. We didn’t really worry about it. Han Solo battled Luke and the Empire collapsed on itself in a grand civil war.

Games

The Boy was determined not to play soccer today. “I’m scared!” was the refrain. He didn’t want to get dressed. He didn’t want to leave the house. He didn’t want to get in the car. He didn’t want to get out of the car. But once he was on the field, it was all fine.

His play was better than last week. He ran toward the ball in general, but he often just sort of ran around the edge of the hive of boys and girls kicking madly at the ball, known as four-year-olds’ soccer.

And at home, a bit of badminton.

Family Match

If the Boy plays Saturday like he was playing today, he’ll be something else. He was going after the ball no matter who had it, attacking toward the net, shooting — everything. We even worked on passing the ball to him for him to shoot even though that’s a guaranteed impossibility for his game Saturday.

But if I think back to the Girl playing soccer, I remember doing things like this and then discovering that none of it would really stick. “Perhaps more practice,” I’d say, and yet it wouldn’t stick. And so what if it doesn’t? He’s only four — that’s the cause of the “problem” and the reason it’s not important.

First Game

The Boy is not an overly aggressive little fellow. He likes to play by the rules. At preschool, he got upset last year when other children took off their shoes because it was against fire code. I suppose the teacher mentioned that, and he just remembered it. So the idea of stealing the ball, of going into the herd of four-year-olds that chase the soccer ball around the field and do much of anything — that’s not his style.

Much of the time he was in, the poor fellow was frustrated. He’d insisted on wearing an undershirt, and in the heat of the morning, it had become terribly uncomfortable. Then there was the fact that he didn’t quite even know what to do — I’ll take partial blame for that, as we really didn’t do much more this week than practice taking the ball from each other in an effort to overcome the inevitable timidness that all four-year-olds face when playing soccer.

The real heartbreak occurred when, in an effort to defend, after he’d gotten his fortitude up and was engaging with the other players, he accidentally defended the ball right into his team’s goal. I’ve mixed feelings about games with four year olds counting self-goals. On the one hand, it’s the game. Learn the game at a young age. On the other hand, it was my son. Naturally no one said anything, and I’m not even sure his own teammates realized what happened. And fortunately, a young man on E’s team was a real master (for four-year-olds) and scored two goals to make the first game end in a tie.

After the game, though, everyone was tuckered out. Well, almost everyone.

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Gold!

“The Olympics are always something of a marker in my life, as I’m sure they are for everyone.” Thus I began yesterday, aware of a potential little twist: “Tomorrow,” I thought, “the Olympics might become the marker in K’s cousin’s life.”

I first heard about K’s cousin, Kamil, as a ski jumper one day in the early 2000s when K and I were in Zakopane and she mentioned offhandedly that her uncle was probably there too, coming to take Kamil to ski jump practice. He was just a teen, and I found it terribly impressive, remembering how utterly terrifyingly steep the jump and hill under it seemed when I’d gone to a ski jump competition at the same slope some years before.

“He’s been jumping on the big hill since he was about twelve,” K clarified. At twelve, I thought it was impressive that I dared to ride my skateboard down a slightly steep street. I was utterly impressed.

But in a sense, it was a natural progression for Kamil. He started jumping in his backyard at age give when he cobbled together his own ramp. K and I were there during the spring of 2004 when it was under a blanket of crocus blossoms.

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Just months later, he attended our wedding. By then, he was an up-and-coming national ski jumper. It was clear to everyone he was going to be competing on the international level shortly, but that day, he stole the show by reaching down and casually swiping the garter just from the grasp of my best friend, J, who literally dove for it.

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August 14, 2004 (Photo: Marcin Pierog)

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August 14, 2004 (Photo: Marcin Pierog)

During our family visit in 2010, we’d hoped to see Kamil. By then, he’d had some limited success on the world circuit, proving correct the initial speculation about his potential. We sat in his family’s living room, his father, an audiophile extraordinaire, putting on record after record for us as we downed cup after cup of tea. Babcia reminisced about how Kamil used to jump off this old table, the chair that used to be in that corner.

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Since then, he’s gone from being a new-comer on the international scene to the reigning world champion and current World Cup points, entering today’s ski jumping competition in Sochi as an odds-on favorite.

When he won, though, the excitement that rippled through the country and through our house as well.

Congratulations, Kamil!

Figures

The Olympics are always something of a marker in my life, as I’m sure they are for everyone. The regularity of it and the significance of it provide systematic path through one’s life. What was I doing then? Where were those Olympics, and where was I?

Watching figure skating this evening, I found myself reminiscing about the figure skating of old, when compulsory figures were just that.

I think the removal of the compulsory figures makes the sport seem all flash. Granted, all the jumps and twirls demand incredible precision, but they’re nothing compared to the compulsory figures. But in the want-it-now, can’t-wait-or-concentrate age, we just don’t have the time, patience, or concentration for it.

Receiving End

You’re supposed to pull unreservedly for your home team. It’s a form of loyalty, perhaps. But sometimes, it’s just hard. Sometimes, you’re glad for every single point the opposition scores. When a game starts with an enormous lead, and all the breaks seem to be going to the home team, and the visitors just seem completely outclassed, it only seems the sensible thing to pull for the visitors.

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When the coach pulls out the starters (mostly eighth graders) and allows players from lower grades to play and the lead only grows, the game becomes almost painful to watch, especially when the visitors make so many unforced errors, to mix sports terminology. The frustration on their faces, the despondency on the bench. It hurts just to watch.

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Or does it? As the point difference climbs, the visiting team seems to be more heroic. They don’t give up. They don’t slow their pace. They continue fighting even though it’s clear to everyone in the gymnasium that they’re outgunned.

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When I was a coach, my one season as a volleyball coach, we faced game after game like this. I admired the girls for going out every time and giving it their best, and I told them as much. “What you did requires more character than the other team exhibited by winning,” I said. For middle schoolers, though, character isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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As I walked out of the gym tonight with most of the final quarter remaining, I glanced back up at the scoreboard and saw how dismal things had become. Part of me wanted to stick around and tell the visitors what courage they’d shown; part of me thought that might be taken as some sort of gloating. In the end, I left hoping their coach had the sense to say those words.

Saturday Soccer

It’s been a tough soccer season, the mirror image of last year’s spectacular season. We’ve had some tough losses this year, and the only win thus far came last week, when L was home with a bad cough.

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This week, she’s back, playing all positions: goalie, defender, mid-fielder, forward.

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The irony of that statement is that she often played all those positions at the same time — all the kids do. A sort of herd soccer. They’re beginning to learn about positional play, but they get excited, each and every one of them, and soon, there’s a little herd of green and blue jerseys, all attacking the ball.

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Today, there is such hope: we are up one-nil for the first quarter. The green team equalizes, in a sense: one of our players shoots into his own goal trying to clear the ball. Soon, though, we’re up three one.

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And then comes the barrage of little number five on the green team: a little blond girl shorter and faster than everyone else on the field, with phenomenal ball control. She shoots one, two, three goals within five minutes.

So we lose, five three. Well, four three. One doesn’t count. But of course it does. But of course, it doesn’t.

September Day

It occurred to me that I never posted Saturday’s pictures.

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There’s a story behind them — we can all see that. But I can only piece together bits of the morning side of things because I stayed at home with the Boy while K went with L for Saturday morning soccer.

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Another tough loss, I hear when they come home. Not like last year’s start, which included four goals in the first two games.

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No, this year they’re on the other end of it, getting whipped. And that’s good. In fact, I think as an educational experience, getting your tail kicked is more instructive than winning. Many more lessons to learn: humility, sportsmanship, graciousness.

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Hang on — those are the exact same things you can learn from winning. Perhaps it’s just the sting that matters: we all have to get used to it sooner or later. I’d rather it be sooner for my children.

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Sunday at the Ballpark

K saw her first baseball game this weekend. It’s amazing how many rules one doesn’t really think about until trying to explain the game to someone who knows only the goal of hitting a white ball with a wooden bat. Fly balls and tagging up? Still just a little confusing for her, I think. The guys trying to entertain the crowd, though — easy-peasy lemon squeezy…

Old Ball Game

I never really played baseball as a kid. Due to various other commitments, Little League in all its guises was always out. Except for softball for the men, the church league in which I often participated didn’t really offer ball/stick sports.

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Riding a bike — I did a lot of that. I lost a lot of skin in various wrecks and came to accept the fact that strawberries are always in season. The Girl, bless her heart, has not yet come to accept the fact that skinned knees are a part of the bike riding experience. The dreaded turn at the park notwithstanding, there really have been few occasions for the Girl to get bloodied up. In a sense, I’m thankful for that. Still, a bit pain, some skin left on the pavement — what doesn’t kill us and all that.

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The Boy gets a hefty dose of pain on a daily basis, with slips and bonks, miscalculated head motions, blind ignorance. It all comes with the job of being a normal ten-month-old. His pain is a little more difficult to deal with as a parent: we can’t simply explain, “Rub it out — it will make you stronger. Just tough it out.” In fact, we might not even always be sure what is causing the pain.

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Pain and baseball (finally) don’t often together either. Unless you count frustration — the steep learning curve that’s necessary for even simple catch. Though I biked more than I baseballed, I always enjoyed a game with kids of the neighborhood. Some of them played real ball — and were good — and I often felt a bit out of the loop. If we were picking teams, I was almost always selected last, for I was as ignorant of the concept of a strike zone, swinging at most anything, as I still am about the infield fly rule. But I enjoyed playing catch with Dad, and I enjoyed play baseball well into the late darkness of a summer night, with both teams taking occasional timeouts to catch new fireflies to smear the ball with florescence.

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Now I’m on the other end of things, the teacher, not quite sure if I can really teach something I don’t know how to do well myself. I can at least teach the Girl to throw overhanded, to snatch a ground ball, and to pound her fist into her pink and purple “Girlz Rule” mitt.

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And we can share the evolving joy of a game of catch after dinner.

First Loss

It had to happen. And perhaps it was good that it did: L’s team lost their first match today, 8-2. With a point difference like that, it was a stinging first loss. Things just weren’t going as they usually do.

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“That team was the best team we played,” L explained. Three young men in yellow managed consistently to stop red team’s offensive charges while also proving themselves to be exceptional ball handlers when on the attack.

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“There were some boys on that team that were really good,” L explained later in the day. It gave her, I hope, a view of what’s possible.