Sunday, September 09, 2012

Gabriel's Match

In August, Gabriel began peewee soccer.  Our four year old certainly likes to run and feels rather spiffy wearing his shin guards.  He is in a group of 4-6 year olds, girls and boys, and although he sometimes grumbles about going to practice, once he's there he enjoys himself.

As their first game approached, an actual refereed match, the uniforms appeared.  Gabriel chose his number and very proudly displayed his bright green jersey emblazoned with the number 7.

On Saturday, the first game arrived.  And so did rain.  In fact, it was a blustery and cold day, the first of its kind all season, with rain overnight and the early morning, followed by a drizzle at the appointed time the 4-6 year olds were to face off on the field.

Among Gabriel's feline traits is a strong aversion to being cold and wet.  One of these may be tolerable, but the two together are simply unacceptable.  He wanted nothing to do with anything outside the house.  The spiffy shin guards and the heroic number 7 jersey gave him no encouragement.  His shorts -- the smallest size available -- would not hug his slender hips, requiring a special knot in the drawstring.  He stalked to the car in high dudgeon, and his grim demeanor was only lightened by us playing his favorite mambo CD as we drove across Deming to the soccer field near the fairgrounds.

The teeny soccer players wore sweatshirts or coats underneath their team jerseys, green and grey, and Gabriel wore his distinctive striped jacket and hood beneath his team regalia.  The referee lined them up, greens facing grey with a ball between them, and Gabriel stood with his arms straight down by his sides, hood inclined downward, his somber gaze on the ground, muscles tense against the cold wet sting of the air.  The referee blew his whistle and someone kicked the ball and the match was on as parents cheered and clapped from the sidelines, celebrating their children's athletic prowess.

Gabriel did not move from his spot.  Arms down, eyes down, utterly still.

We cheered and jumped and stomped and whistled and sang and chanted Gabriel's name.  He looked up and across the field at us with an incredulous expression on his face.  Are you kidding?  that face said.  I am cold.  I am wet.  What on earth are we doing outside?  

As the soccer match raged around him, the ball sometimes passing right by him, I was reminded of Ferdinand, the bull who was off smelling flowers while the other bulls practiced bullfighting.  It's not really a fair analogy: the spirit of the game was not so competitive -- they weren't keeping score.  The six year olds were the seasoned pros, dribbling and landing the goals.  No one got on Gabriel's case about his participation.  And he felt no pressure whatsoever, standing passively, straight and still as a goalpost, fortifying himself against the cold, stoic, trusting with all his four year old heart that eventually, surely, the foolish grownups in his life would come to their senses and everyone would go inside.

So he waited and the ball rolled and flew past him and children swarmed around him, through him, under and over him, and his blue eyes scanned the ground and the horizon and occasionally appraised us for any signs that we were getting the car keys ready.  Then his eyes would return to the ground.  Not yet.

Truth be told, by game's end, he touched that ball and graciously helped his team a bit.  A kick here and there, a trot or two when there seemed to be excitement in one corner of the field, but certainly nothing, definitely and assuredly nothing that hazarded any risk of falling onto the wet, muddy ground -- he had noted this risk, and wasn't about to beckon such a mishap.  If being cold and wet was unacceptable, being cold and wet while also having muddy hands pretty much constituted doomsday.

And eventually, the moment did arrive when everyone on the soccer fields -- the entire youth soccer league and parents and coaches and referees dancing about in shorts (shorts!)  -- finally came around to Gabriel's point of view.  Car keys jingled and the smallest children were grappled and everyone made for their cars and trucks to do what Gabriel knew we should have done an hour ago: go inside!

Maybe there would even be hot chocolate. 


Kelly said...

I enjoyed this descriptive entry! They're so cute playing at this age -all bunched up around the ball with little legs kicking and the occasional child standing to the side (like Gabriel). My kids never played, but my granddaughter loves it.

As they get older, the banter from the sidelines (parents/grandparents) becomes more aggressive. I understand competitiveness, but it gets downright vicious and unsportsmanlike at times.

Algernon said...

Ah yes. I've been warned that Deming is no exception to that. I noticed that some of the parents are already very invested in their children's competitive success.

At some point, I'll probably write a bit about my short-lived career in competitive sports. In middle school, I surprised everyone who knew me by suddenly trying out for the basketball team -- and surprised them even more when I won a spot on the team. Truth is, I just liked basketball and thought it would be fun. And for a while I had a terrific time playing the game. For my teammates, however, and the parents and the coach, it was much more than that and the fierce competitiveness detracted from my enjoyment. And so I stopped playing, except on the playground.

Mandy_Fish said...

I'm on Team Gabriel.