We were headed to play the team that had caused us so much trouble the first game of the season. "Yeah, we're better now," Ethan said, brimming with confidence.
"You're right," I replied. "Just remember -- they probably are, too."
Eight weeks later, we were back on Field 4. Most of the kids on Ethan's soccer team, Portugal, were bundled up like little Michelin men (game time temp: 39 degrees). USA was waiting for us. Undefeated USA, I might add.
We were ready.
We were ready for their cheerleaders, their blonde phenom little girls, their Olympic-intensity coaches, and their mammoth American flag. We even had a flag of our own. Yes, one of the parents has Portugese relatives and had asked to borrow the flag they had flying outside their home.
|A little bit of "friendly" competitive banter before the game|
Walking across the field splashed with feeble November sunshine, I wondered exactly when I'd morphed from a nonchalant parent to one secretly hungry for blood.
I really, really wanted Portugal to beat USA.
You have to understand: I'm not a competitive person. I don't like to turn things into contests; I sometimes let other people win because I feel bad for them. Heck, I don't even like watching sports when my team is winning really massively on the road. I feel sorry for the local fans. (Well, except Yankees fans).
So what was THIS? Maybe it was the good-natured ribbing that had been going on between the USA coach and a parent on our team (apparently they know each other and work together). Maybe it was because USA in their undefeated, confident glory reminded me of too many Yankess vs. Red Sox match-ups. Maybe I really, really didn't feel like ending the season with Ethan lying on the field, embroiled in the Mother of all Meltdowns because they'd lost.
I needed to bite my lips. I didn't want to be one of THOSE parents. I didn't want to be a cliché. So I clapped and encouraged and told Ethan we would still get munchkins from Dunkin Donuts if he lost -- just as long as he kept himself under control.
As soon as they started playing it was apparent that both teams were very evenly matched. And as I'd said to Ethan earlier (I wasn't completely just spouting platitudes), Portugal's scrappy bunch of kids were much, much improved than when they'd started eight weeks earlier. It was sweet to see even the littlest ones get a few attempts at actually kicking the ball.
We scored first, and things were going swimmingly until Ethan "The Wall" (he's Mr. Defense) let a ball go past him and USA scored. Trouble.
He sunk into the goal, sobbing. We yelled from the sidelines, encouraging.
Then Portugal found some momentum and scored three goals. Only USA started to come back. They scored twice. Then they were heading down the field to score again and tie it. There had to be only 30 seconds in the game. My heart was pounding as if we were watching the Red Sox one strike away from winning their first World Series in 86 years. All I could see in my mind was the mammoth disaster that would ensue if USA tied the game in the last few seconds.
Time ran out.
Portugal handed USA their first and only loss of the season. We parents erupted. Someone ran out on the field with the Portugal flag. USA looked stunned. Ethan was grinning ear to ear.
We lined up the kids and took photos. We said our good jobs and thank yous and goodbyes, we passed USA holding a closing ceremony complete with trophies, and of course, we went to Dunkin Donuts.
"I gave USA their first lose," Ethan kept saying.
"It's loss, buddy, and not just you, the whole team," Dan and I kept answering back.
Looking back at the game (and the entire soccer season), it'd be fair to say that this was not the experience that taught Ethan how to deal gracefully with losing. They won their last six games, and Ethan was having enough trouble keeping it together when the other team would score individual goals, never mind win the game. Down the road, he's going to need to work on this.
But years ago I was not sure if Ethan would ever play an organized sport with typical kids. I just couldn't envision it. Yet here we were. And he'd loved the experience, most importantly.
If I had to sum up my favorite moment of the soccer season, it would have to be in this last game, when USA scored their first goal and Ethan began to fall apart. The other parents on the team know his story. I felt I had to explain why he got so...intense at times. And honestly, I didn't want people to think he was just a brat who hasn't been taught self-control.
When Ethan put his head down and started to cry, every parent on the sidelines started cheering him on, clapping and shouting words of encouragement. Someone started up a chant and others joined in: "E-than! E-than! E-than!"
For a moment, he gave us all a shy smile, acknowledging the attention. Then it all became too much. He turned his head away and put out his arm to us in a "talk to the hand" kind of way. And we laughed, not unkindly, because we knew he wasn't being rude. The moment had just become too overwhelming, in a good way.
That was the best part of the season. The compassion and understanding. The patience from his coaches. The chatting with other parents.
And yeah, the winning. I'd have to say the winning.