A small brass trophy sits on our kitchen counter. It has already assumed its position among the other clutter that accumulates in a well lived-in kitchen, camouflaging itself against the backdrop of everyday life life.
It is my son’s first trophy, given to him and every other member of the kindergarten soccer league at the season’s final game last Saturday. It is, by no means, a trophy of accomplishment, however. It is a trophy of mere survival.
There were times when I didn’t think any of us would see the soccer season come to an end without suffering some lasting physical or emotional scars, but we all made it. We survived. With minimal scarring, I hope.
Throughout the past couple of years, my son has had a love-hate relationship with soccer. He loves soccer when he is goofing off with his friends, running relay races, or practicing fun drills. He hates soccer when he is expected to follow the game’s rules, compete for passes, and fight for goals. Yet despite his lackluster interest in soccer, each year he asks me to sign him up again. And, like a fool, I do.
Shortly after the commencement of this season, however, his love-hate relationship with soccer quickly turned into something much less complex – a relationship of pure hatred.
For eight weeks, we argued with him to put on his cleats and shin guards. For eight weeks, we hustled ourselves out of the house shortly after the sun had risen on Saturday morning to watch him half-heartedly lollygag and meander around the field. For eight weeks, we painstakingly endured the chilly autumn mornings. For eight weeks, my son struggled to keep up with the rest of his teammates, my husband (a soccer lover) stood by confused at the lack of enthusiasm, and I shifted between annoyance and helpless sorrow, knowing that my son was disinterested and unskilled.
Every week, he begged to quit. And every week, we insisted that he must finish the season. Not because we cared whether he was the next Pelé or David Beckham, but because he had asked to sign up and, in doing so, he had committed himself to finishing the season. He owed it to his coaches and teammates to finish the season, we explained.
And we all counted down the number of games until the season reached its conclusion.
After eight long weeks, we made it. We finished the season. We survived. And, dare I say, the last game wasn’t absolutely miserable. In fact, Jack might have actually kicked the ball a few times and his shenanigans were kept to a minimum.
But as much as I am proud of my son for following through with his commitment, I long for the day when a trophy is earned not for mere survival, but for his accomplishments, his passion, and his enthusiasm.
Maybe my son will learn to enjoy soccer in a few years. Or maybe not. Maybe he will be inspired by basketball or swimming or gymnastics or baseball. Or maybe not.
Maybe he will play the piano or sing in the choir or be in a rock band. Maybe he will be class president or captain of the debate club. Or maybe not.
Maybe his love of animals will lead him to scuba diving or wildlife research. Maybe he will be a zookeeper, a veterinarian, or a conservationist. Or maybe not.
Maybe he will be a mathematician, a scientist, or a doctor. Maybe he will be a lawyer, a banker, a teacher. Or maybe not.
The possibilities are endless. Childhood is one big experiment. Try a little of this, test a little of that in the hopes of finding one’s interests, skills, and passions. By discovering what doesn’t work, one can learn about what does work.
I hope with all my heart that this soccer season was more than just a test of fortitude and commitment. I hope that in the process of learning his dislikes, my son is pushed one step forward to discovering his life’s loves. That his passions and desires will be fueled not by the choices of his friends and peers, nor by the expectations of his family or society, but that they will be fueled by an inner fire of authenticity and an unquenchable appetite to pursue his dream.
Whatever that may be.