Honesty is apparently not the best policy





Annie’s final soccer game is tomorrow. This is our family’s first foray into the world of soccer, and I’d been a bit ambivalent about being a Soccer Mom, but all in all, it’s been a really good experience.

annie soccer online
Photo brazenly stolen from my sister-in-law’s Facebook page.

Annie has loved everything about this season, from practices filled with being pirates and superheroes and princesses (the coaches came up with really fabulous games to get the girls interested in the drills) to having family come and watch during the games. Plus also, the snacks handed out after each Saturday game don’t hurt.

ech of 52 after annie's first game online
Post-game beer. We start ’em young around here.

Her coaches have been absolutely out of this world, handling squealing (I’d accidentally written “squalling” – which is also accurate) first graders with grace, humor, and endless patience. They were also clearly in tune with the personalities of giggling, distracted, hands-on six year-olds, because a few weeks into the season, we heard one of the coaches offer the following keep-it-real instructions: “Remember our One Rule? No picking up the other players off the ground!”

YES. This. Stop picking each other up. You do not need to profess your love for your teammate by ferrying her across the field. Please put her down.

Annie was similarly frank in her post-game interviews.

“You really think it was a good game?? I think maybe that they scored, like, ten more goals than we did.”
“Why didn’t I take off the jersey? Because I decided not to listen.”
“I like scoring, but I think I’m better at trying to stop the goals. It makes me REALLY REALLY mad when they try to score. Maybe I should work on that.”
“That other girl is SO GOOD. I think she could be in Abby Wambach’s family. I wish she were on my team. And I also kind of wish she’d just stop playing.”
“Whenever they ask for other players to come in, I want to do it every time because I just love playing so much! Except for the days when I’m tired. Or in a bad mood. Then I don’t want to play at all.”

It’s really a shame that this candidness disappears in the world of professional sports. Sure, from time to time, you’ll find a player or a coach who really tells it like it is, but by and large, they seem so scripted when they speak, it’s as though they’ve been rehearsing their soundbites in the locker rooms before the games. (Then again, maybe they have. And it’s also probably preferable to butt-grabbing.)

As I got ready this morning, Nick had the bedroom TV tuned to the hockey network, and I was again reminded of how utterly outrageous sports interviewing is. The interviews on game day are where the level of absurdity is taken to new heights, with the reporters asking the most asinine questions possible – questions that are practically rhetorical – and forcing the players to give the least-informative, most watered-down answers imaginable.

As a pitcher, tell me what went through your mind when that ball went over the wall and he scored that home run.
Sometimes, that happens. You just gotta pitch the game. I made a mistake, and he made me pay for it.

What do you need to do during the second half to turn this game around?
We have to play harder, stop their offense, and up our defense.

Here we are, with you coming this close to being the victors, if only you guys had been able to make that field goal. We really thought you had it! What happened?
We played hard and went at it to the end, and I guess it just went wide. They’re a great team with a great coach, and we nearly had ’em.

You’re up three goals to one. How do you think you can pull out the win in the third period?
We need to just keep at it and stop them from scoring, and I think we’ll have it.

You looked a little sloppy in the final minutes of the game. How did you feel when you missed that three-pointer?
You know, man, I was disappointed, but sometimes you make the shots and sometimes you miss. I just thank the Lord every day for the opportunity to play, and I figure next time that one’s mine.

It looks like they really outplayed you today. Did you expect that going in?
We knew that they were strong, and they’ve played really well on the road. But we’ve got a great group of guys here who give it their all each and every game, so we’re going to move forward and not let this stop us.

Really?? Is this the best you can come up with? Your entire job is to interview people, to extract answers, to give insight, and these are the questions you’re asking? The mid- and post-game interviews are more obtuse than political speeches. They could easily give presidential debates a run for their money.

Just once, I’d love to see the players give some first-grade soccer-style answers. Sure, the television censors would get paid overtime, but it would be worth it for sheer entertainment value.

As a pitcher, tell me what went through your mind when that ball went over the wall and he scored that home run.
I was like, awwww shit. That is not good. Just had to hang it out there over the plate like a douchebag, and he smashed the hell out of it. Between me an’ you, I think he’s been doin’ a little Lance Armstrong, but don’t quote me on that.

What do you need to do during the second half to turn this game around?
Basically, we have to stop sucking. If everyone here would just get their damn heads in the game and out of whatever the hell is going on off the field – I don’t care if you just had a baby or you’re thinking about those Roma gypsy kids or what – maybe we’d stand a chance. We need to PASS and we need to SCORE and we need a tight end whose fingers can actually hold onto the ball. 

Here we are, with you coming this close to being the victors, if only you guys had been able to make that field goal. We really thought you had it! What happened?
What happened? We lost. We missed. He tried to kick a field goal and he failed. What do you mean ‘what happened‘? What do you think happened? Were you watching when the ball didn’t go through the posts? Did you see how we didn’t score? That’s what happened.

You’re up three goals to one. How do you think you can pull out the win in the third period?
Well, it’s really pretty simple. Since the high scorer is the winner in hockey, if we continue to have more goals than they do, we’ll win. Obviously, what we’re doing so far is working, ’cause as you just said, we’re up by two goals. I think we can pull out the win by not letting them score more goals than we do. You writing this down?

You looked a little sloppy in the final minutes of the game. How did you feel when you missed that three-pointer?
How do you think I felt? Betrayed. Bewildered.
No, man. I felt like crap. You’re damn right I was sloppy. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, you know, and I’ve been running on Red Bull and Five Hour Energy all day, and I thought maybe the adrenaline would keep me in it till the end, but I crashed – I mean, like, DOG TIRED, man – and as soon as that ball went into the air, I knew. I am totally taking an Ambien tonight.

It looks like they really outplayed you today. Did you expect that going in?
Hell yes we expected it. They’ve dominated everyone they’ve encountered; I actually had a nightmare about them, a for-real nightmare where they were dressed like zombies and we’d all forgotten our pants and my third-grade gym teacher was there… Anyway, they’re 8-1 and we were 2-6 coming into today. We suck this year. I could really use a beer.

I understand that the players probably have it written in their contracts not to say stuff like this, but man, I wish we could hear it straight. Or, in the absence of that, I wish that the reporters would stop asking questions to which there are no good answers. What are they going to do to win? They’re going to try really hard. How do they feel after a loss? Like crap. THIS IS NOT COMPLICATED.

I guess if I want honesty, I’ll have to rely on Annie’s post-game reflections. So long as she can remember the One Rule and leave everyone on the ground, I’m sure her final game of the season will be a good one.

10.01 evening soccerEvening practices meant rainbow skies.
And plenty of time for gossiping with the other loner moms soccer moms. 

Trial by fire (and water and cleats)

Growing up, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call an athlete. In fact, I’d bet that “athlete” and I were never even in the same room together, much less the same sentence (although my dad always said I had the best practice swing of anyone on my 5th grade softball team). While Nick has many amazing qualities, being a stellar athlete doesn’t really rank among them. And so it has come as quite a shock to us that both Ella and Annie are not only interested in sports, but actually have some skillz (yeah, I added the z. All the cool kids are doing it).

Prior to this year, the girls had been involved in after-school activities that took up relatively little space: a thirty-minute swim lesson here, an hour-long gymnastics or art class there. We knew it was only a matter of time before we joined the ranks of parents carting their offspring to and from numerous extra-curricular activities, banging around town like minivan pinballs, but we didn’t anticipate that we’d be thrown head-first into the mayhem as swiftly as we have this year.

Ella has long loved to swim – she’s just always been a mermaid girl – and decided that she wanted to try out for the swim team. When she made it, she informed us that she’d only attend one or two of the five (weeknight) practices that are held each week, and we thought that seemed reasonable. Once she began chatting with one of her best friends (who is also on the team), however, she allowed that perhaps she’d like to swim three nights a week — maybe Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with meets on Saturday afternoons? That’s a lot, but we can handle it. Suit up, kiddo. Let’s do this.

swimming first time
Her first practice, they swam at least 25 laps (I lost count after that). Not lengths, but laps.
I would have drowned.

Annie is a bit too young for the swim team, and when asked what activity she’d like to try this year, she mentioned art and swimming. As it happened, both occurred on the same days at the exact same time (what were the odds?), so we presented her with a choice… And she chose soccer.

9.17 first soccer practice
At her first practice, turning around and being goofy (who, Annie?) to Ella and me (reading, natch, Harry Potter).

Yes. A child of mine, who grew in my womb and is 50% me, chose a sport over an artistic endeavor. No one is more astonished than I.

As luck would have it, soccer takes place on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings, which fit in nicely with Ella’s swim schedule. In case you haven’t been playing along, I’ll help you out: swimming and soccer take place Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. But no! After only one swim practice, Ella declared that she would really like to swim on Thursdays, too… So… Mmm hmm. We have something on the schedule every single weekday evening, plus all day on Saturdays.

Again, I know this is hardly unusual. I always understood, on a theoretical level, that the older your kids get, the busier you become. (Which would explain why friends with older kids would have more difficulty attending a Moms Night Out gathering than friends with toddlers, something that always baffled me when the girls were younger… But you’ve got grade-schoolers! There are no diapers to change! They sleep through the night! They can clear their own plates! Surely you have more time on your hands now! I know. Kick me. I deserve it.)

It’s just that we’d thought we’d get to dip a toe in – gradually ease further down, you know, as we got used to things – not that we’d be pushed off the dock with our clothes still on. Because that’s kind of how I feel right now: disoriented, shocked, and wondering if I actually remembered underwear this morning.

It so happens that both soccer and swimming are from 6:00 – 7:00, which is perfect, because no one ever dines at that time. At the parent information meeting, Ella’s swim coach sagely warned us not to feed our kiddos too much before practice, or else they’d see their meals again in the pool – so she eats her dinner when she gets home around 7:30 (except on Thursdays, because practice is a half-hour later, and 8 p.m. is just too late for dinner, so on Thursdays she eats at 5:00. Got that so far?).

Annie, on the other hand, would be ravenous if she didn’t eat before soccer… Which means that dinner for the girls is at 5:15 on Tuesdays, while Nick and I scarf lukewarm leftovers down while standing up before the girls head to bed. Some nights, we eat together when Ella gets home. Some nights, Annie eats at home with one of us while Ella swims. Some nights, Annie eats at the pool and Ella – and we – eat later.


On top of that, I teach piano three afternoons a week – once from home and twice not at home – which means that our babysitter is here to shepherd the girls through homework and snack and make-sure-Ella-eats-at-5:00-on-Thursday-or-else-she’ll-vomit-in-the-pool before Ella’s friend’s parents pick her up for swimming (we carpool, because two nights a week is enough, thank you very much).

9.30 homework prep
I’ve taken to leaving at least five piles of notes when I head off to piano. Everything is more fun when it’s on a dry erase board.

Never before have I had to be so organized, and while it’s a bit torturous and more than a bit exhausting, I think it’s actually been a good thing. At this rate, I’m pretty sure I could end the government shutdown by tomorrow afternoon. Just give me a dry erase board and I will have us up and running again.

This could all be just complete insanity if the girls weren’t thriving and loving it so. Ella is learning about stuff I didn’t even know existed – flip turns and two-hand-touches (so you don’t get disqualified) and no breathing in the yellow zone (have you ever noticed how Olympic swimmers just power through at the end of each lane? No? Neither had I). She’s even decided she wants to be Missy Franklin for Halloween.

9.18 swimmer girl
No more cute tankinis and wild hair; it’s all performance suits and swim caps and goggles that “pop” when you put them on. I’ll posit again: When did she get so old??

Annie comes home from school every day asking if it’s Tuesday, because she cannot wait to get back out on the field. Turns out, she’s a got a fierce competitive streak (Annie? Never…) and rocks at defense, and she even scored a few goals last weekend, too – but more than that, she just thinks it’s a blast.

9.21 annie soccer
Pouring, but not one complaint. You’re sure this is my child???

As a result of all of this extra activity and later-than-usual bedtimes (which happens when you’d normally hit the hay at 8:15 but you don’t eat dinner until 7:45), both girls have been just bushed. Prior to this school year, I could have counted on one hand the number of times Ella had slept past 7:30 (yes, I mean that literally; girl cannot sleep in to save her soul). Since this mania began, I have had to awaken her a few minutes before 8:00 so that she makes it to school on time. Of course.

This past Friday, Ella didn’t swim, and we all enjoyed a leisurely night of pizza and television (Cake Boss, duh). After putting the girls to bed at a reasonable hour, Nick and I rejoiced that finally, on Saturday, everyone would be able to sleep in as late as necessary (well, as much as one can when soccer begins at 10:00).

Which meant, naturally, that both girls were not only wide awake but singing through their walls to one another at 7:15.
Of course.