Mommy Vortex: When the Apple Falls (Really) Far from the Tree
The first time I took my son to soccer practice, he was four going on five and he seemed really into the idea of playing the sport. I had played on school and travel teams until college, and I wanted to share my love of the game with him. At the first practice, my son was shy and awkward, but he did his best. Yet I started to have this niggling feeling that soccer—sports in general, really—were not high on my son’s list of interests, nor did they cater to his talents. That maternal instinct grew into a loud, blaring scream from the universe as time went on.
At the first highly-anticipated soccer game, all dressed in his sports goggles, new uniform, and soccer cleats, my son blithely took the field . . . and proceeded to pick every dandelion and wild flower he could find rather than play the actual game. The coach tried to play him as much as possible to be fair, but having him in the game was like being a man down.
And kids can be mean. (So can other parents, by the way.) My heart sank, then just as quickly melted when my son bounded across the field at halftime, bearing a bouquet of wilted yet glorious wildflowers he had picked just for me. How could I be disappointed in this sweet, adorable boy?
I turned a deaf ear to screams from the universe to pull him from the sport. My husband and I continued to practice with my son. We encouraged him, and we took him to every practice and game. We were not quitters, and we didn’t want to instill that option in our son despite the whole situation growing more painful daily.
We stuck with soccer for three seasons before we finally gave up during a rainy Saturday game when my son actually walked off the field in the middle of a heated scrimmage to tell me he needed his jacket and umbrella because it had started to rain. The coach was screaming for him to return to the field. My son ignored him. “Mommy, you always tell me to wear my raincoat when it rains, right?” I sighed in submission. Then, ignoring the half-glares and half-smirks of the other parents, I bundled my son in his sweatshirt, waved goodbye to the coach, and never looked back.
Yes, I was disappointed . . . and even a little embarrassed. I wanted him to enjoy soccer in the same way I did. I wanted him to be good at it. I wanted us to connect over dribbling drills and goalie gloves. But it was not what he wanted, and the kid didn’t have the heart to tell me. Even at five years old, he wanted to please me. Yet I was the adult; I was the parent. And if I was being honest with myself, long before my son ran off the soccer field asking for rain gear, I knew this wasn’t the sport for him. It was hard to swallow the fact that my son wouldn’t enjoy the same sport as I did; it was even harder to acknowledge that my son probably wouldn’t enjoy contact sports at all.
Yes, I was being sexist. Boys are supposed to love and be good at sports, right? Just like girls are supposed to love pink? Well, not so much. I had to grow as a person and parent to both acknowledge and embrace the fact that my son was not like I had expected him to be, and moreover, that he would not do the things I had anticipated he would do, simply because he had been born a boy.
I’m continually learning as a parent that kids are individuals—not miniature versions of their parents, not automatons that society’s expectations create. Sure, they may have physical and emotional characteristics passed down from their family, but they are their own people. And many times, they are very different from us. Not imposing my will and my choices on my children is a daily struggle for me, but it is one I have to wholeheartedly grapple with, as my kids routinely surprise me with their individuality and self-awareness.
While I still sometimes wish my son liked (and yes, was good at) soccer, I simultaneously recognize how such a “problem” is silly and superficial. There is no real hardship here, no serious issue. In fact, learning to listen to my son’s likes and wants has been a blessing, because this process continually reveals to me who he is and who he is becoming. It has also taught me a lot about myself as a person, as I have learned to be less judgmental, less stereotypical, more accepting, and more open-minded in all aspects of my life. I have to thank my son for that.
So now, instead of heading to the soccer field to kick the ball around, my son takes me to the local Boy Scout camp to inspect bugs and tree leaves, to go fishing, and to hike the trails. Do I still like soccer better than collecting slugs? Yup. But I love my son more.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of a two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.