All of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by dozens of onlookers. If you’re a stand-up comedian or a street musician, finding yourself surrounded by an audience unexpectedly can be a great thing. For pretty much everyone else though, it’s almost never good.
“Buddy, I’m really not supposed to be here,” I said, trying to retreat back to the safety of the sidelines.
“Don’t leave,” said my four-year-old son, Zack, grabbing onto my shorts. In front of us, fifty children ran around in circles, each chasing their own soccer balls. Ten adults wearing COACH jerseys ran among them like cowboys riding through a sea of cattle, corralling the herd while respecting its destructive potential.
Zack’s shiny new soccer ball sat next to his feet, right where I’d dropped it.
“Give it a kick, buddy! You know how to do it,” I said, nudging him toward the herd.
“Nooooooo,” he lowed, grabbing tighter onto my shorts.
“Please don’t pull down my pants,” I said. Whenever my sons get clingy in public, they tend to direct their clinginess toward my gym shorts, testing the elastic waistband’s ability to protect whatever shreds of dignity I may still possess.
Zack had been excited for the start of soccer season for many weeks, right up until the moment it started.
I looked over at my wife, Kara, and our other son, Evan, who had just set up their folding chairs on the sidelines. I shrugged at them, and they gave me a thumbs-up, leaving me to wonder what exactly they thought was going well.
“Okay, let’s go,” I said, kicking his ball and chasing after it, dragging Zack into the chaos. After a few minutes of that, Zack still showed no interest, but I felt like my dribbling was really coming along.
“Okay, now everybody clap your hands!” the head coach yelled.
I clapped in rhythm with the coach while Zack stared at me. Then he stepped closer, accidentally stomping on my foot with his cleats, laying bare my strategic blunder of wearing sandals to this event, at which I had fully intended to be a spectator. Zack only weighs forty pounds, but he had somehow become a rhino in soccer spikes.
“OWWW! Aw, dude, wow, you can’t do that to Daddy,” I said.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to,” he said, while everyone around us clapped in relative unison.
As I surveyed the edges of the field, though, I saw no fewer than ten other little players sobbing and hanging onto their parents’ various appendages. Zack wasn’t exactly out there bending it like Beckham, but at least he wasn’t making a scene.
When you’re dealing with four-year-olds, organized sports are something of an oxymoron. We knew that Zack was perhaps too young, and that soccer might not stick, but we had to let him give it a try, even though giving your children opportunities to discover their talents, interests, and abilities makes it difficult to give your Netflix backlog the attention it deserves.
After thirty minutes of drills, the coaches broke the kids into small teams to play scrimmages, so that everyone could practice the skills they’d just learned. For Zack, presumably, that meant thirty more minutes of pantsing me and stomping divots into my feet.
Partway through the scrimmage, Kara took over to let Zack stomp on her feet for a while. Having no better luck, she escorted Zack off the field fifteen minutes before the game was scheduled to end.
“Hey, buddy, we’ll give it a try again next week, right?” I said.
“Nope, I’m not doing that anymore,” he replied.
And that’s how you fit an entire soccer season into forty-five minutes.
You can get your kicks with Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.