Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Soccer Mom Phenom

I’m new to this. The truth is I’ve managed to skillfully dodge the soccer mom bullet for a good few years. My kids did give soccer a shot back when they were 6 and 9, and bursting with Beckham-like potential. But after one season, the boys decided to trade in the Pele-path for more practical pursuits and set out to become Bruce Lee. I thought it was a wise decision. At least kung-fu might keep you from getting a swift butt-kickin’ on the playground. Now we are living on the left-coast and apparently soccer is mandatory. The logic goes like this. It gets the kids exercising. It gets them outside in the sunshine. It teaches them a versatile sport that requires nothing but a ball. It teaches them teamwork. Ok. I buy off on all that. Let’s assume it’s a good thing for the kids. I still hate soccer.

As I baked in the glaring sun yesterday on a field that hosted five simultaneous soccer games, I was quite the newbie. I was proud that I remembered to sunscreen my son and myself. I even had a bottle of water with me. Still, I was woefully unprepared. I didn’t have my folding chair, my visor, or my cooler overflowing with organic snacks. And worse than all that, I didn’t have a genuine interest in the game.

While other parents were screaming from the sidelines, my heart was aching for my 8 year old son, who clearly does not know how to play soccer (because of his neglectful parents no doubt.) He made it his job to stay as far from the ball as humanly possible. And as I watched him, I could feel his anxiety as if it were my own --remembering that horrible feeling of incompetence, not fitting in, being clueless and sticking out for it. He came off the field at half-time fighting back tears. “I don’t want to do this Mom,” he said. “The other kids are yelling at me and the coach is not nice. It’s just not fun.” I know, I said thinking, “I don’t want to do it either.” Of course, I didn’t say that. Instead, I handed him the bottled water and called in reinforcements –Dad.

Fortunately, Dad is a full-fledged graduate of sons who suffer soccer academy. In fact, he claims he could have qualified for a soccer scholarship had he not gotten completely burnt out on the sport. “Most soccer coaches suck,” he said. “But it’s just a game and he’ll get the hang of it. I’ll spend some time teaching him about the positions.” That brought me some relief as did the realization that we only have nine weeks left of soccer.

My distaste for soccer goes beyond my Jack Kerouac desire to be a creative rebel. It even goes beyond my hate for “shlepping” back and forth and back and forth. It’s rooted in a genuine global, socio-economic concern for our world . There actually are many reasons soccer sucks.

Kiddie soccer is big business and a financial burden. Leagues charge anywhere from $250 to $1000+ for an 11-week season. That doesn’t include equipment, uniforms, team sign, photos, snacks, etc. The better your kid is at soccer, the more you pay. If your son makes a competitive travel team, expect to shell out big bucks for hotel and travel expenses. To give you a sense of the depth of the investment, I have a friend who told me he was only able to afford to finally leave his wife, because his son took the season off from soccer!

Soccer speaks its own language. The first soccer glossary I found had over 300 entries from assist and banana kick to wingers and zone. I rather use my brain cells to master Spanish (at least then I might have a shot at getting the landscaper to haul out the dead branch in the backyard.)

Soccer is making us more dependent on Middle East oil. The sport requires relentless practice. For me, there are four practices a week plus two games. We have a soccer activity 5-6 days a week. Every practice and game requires a drive to a faraway field (younger siblings in tow.) Simply put, soccer guzzles gas.

Soccer is un-American.It just never caught on as a professional sport in the states. Maybe the rejection is rooted in Britain, which exported the game to its colonies some 150 years ago but any way you cut it, it’s never really caught on here.

We’re impeding soccer’s growth. The more soccer remains the sport of middle/upper-class suburbanites, the less likely it will become a part of popular culture. In order for a sport to gain popularity, it needs to appeal to all classes. Rich men’s folly, like lacrosse, will never make it big here. Think stickball and urban basketball courts. Perhaps I am hurting the sport by letting my kids play.

So, with Socratic sass, I think I’ve systematically proven there is no reason for me to be a Soccer Slave, I mean “Soccer Mom.” Are you with me or agin’ me?!

p.s. Bruce Lee would kick David Beckham’s pretty boy butt.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SPF 100 = Super Parent Factor

My 12 year old son Ethan was blessed with his mother’s peaches and cream coloring. And while this pale palette of milky white skin and crystalline blue eyes might offer a vampire advantage, it doesn’t defend very well against the constant California sunshine.

So, with horrible childhood memories of my own sunburns, I looked over the cherry red skin on Ethan’s chest, shoulders, and back and felt horrible pangs of empathy pain. This was the kind of burn that makes anyone who has experienced it shudder. It hurt him too much for me to waste time discussing why he didn’t reapply sunscreen. I was certain that the pain would be his teacher. So, I was his sympathetic fair-skinned mom and doctor. I pulled out everything in my bag of tricks.

First line of defense: Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and white vinegar --a trick I learned from a wise Mexican waiter one painful summer when I fried the tops of my ears to a nacho crisp. The waiter tucked vinegar soaked cotton balls behind my ears and while I smelled like a salad, I could feel the heat being drawn away. Ethan felt it too. Mexican magic. But the affect didn’t last long. When he still complained of pain on day two, I brought out the big gun -- fresh aloe vera, which I scraped directly from an aloe vera plant.

Getting the aloe vera plant leaves, which house a well respected healing and moisturizing agent, entailed driving 25 minutes to the pediatrician’s office. Mind you, I didn’t actually see the pediatrician, but I did steal two huge aloe leaves from the plants that line his parking lot. People looked me sideways, and the kids were concerned I was breaking a law somewhere. But, I whipped out my knife with the confident entitlement of a ranger who knows the power of healing herbs and a patient who has invested enough co-pays to earn two aloe leaves. Heck, I’m a brazen east-coaster who believes it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. And more than that, I am a mother whose son was in pain. So, with two precious leaves in tow, I headed home where I peeled the leaves, smashed the pulp and spread the gelatinous magical healing liquid across Ethan’s skin. He felt better and slept on day two.

Day three is where things went out of control. Ethan was still a glowing orb and he decided to smash another aloe leaf himself and spread it across his chest. A few minutes later he seemed to have some sudden allergic reaction. His chest was itching horribly and because of the urn he could not scratch it. This wasn’t annoying itch, this was tortuous, won’t let up itch. The kind of itch that causes you to draw blood. So, I practically threw him in the shower and lathered him up with a moisturizing wash. I told him he could use the tips of his fingers to ease the itchiness and let the water ease his discomfort. It didn’t. The itching seemed to get worse. Ethan was now crying in the shower. I gave him a dose of ibuprofen, an ice pack, and left him for a moment to call his dad, who happens to be a doctor. His dad advised me to give him a dose of Benadryl and wait a bit. The waiting was torture. Ethan was now inconsolable as the itchiness seemed to get worse and worse with each minute.

“Help me Mom,” he cried. “Please, make it stop!”

Nothing we did seemed to help. And as he rubbed his infernally itchy chest, it reddened with Dante’s inferno like pain. Scratching raw sunburn is never a good thing. After consulting again with Dad, I decided to take Ethan to the Emergency Room. It was after 5pm, the pediatrician’s office was closed and I had nothing left in my bag of tricks. So, I packed up the siblings and headed off to the ER.

If you’ve ever brought your car to the mechanic to finally have that troublesome clunking fixed, you know where this story is going. Deciding to go to the ER is never easy. ERs are filled with long lines, sick people, irritable/jaded/overworked staff and germs. They are a great place to get sick and not one of my favorite places to bring my three kids.

We got into the ER and as the triage nurse questioned Ethan, I realized he wasn’t crying any more. In fact, his eyes didn’t even look red. When she asked him to rate his pain on a scale of 1 to 10, he said about a 3. The nurse looked at me curiously.

“He was dying just 15 minutes ago,” I said.

Ethan was taken back and seen by the ER doctor who asked the same series of questions and gave me the same curious look. Now I was feeling defensive. I’m not a novice here. I am an experience mother of three. I don’t overreact as a rule. It takes a lot to get me shaken and even more to get me to the ER.

“He was hysterical in the shower,” I added.

The doctor didn’t even look back at me.

Do you think I came here because I wanted to? Do you think I enjoy having to keep my other two kids from using your cot as a skateboard? Do you think I wanted to shell out a $50 co-pay?!

All these thoughts raced through my head as I said calmly, “I’m not a histrionic mom.”

He stopped for a moment and looked at me as if to say “This is what I went to medical school for?” But he actually didn’t say anything, which was worse. He just asked the nurse to get Ethan another Benadryl and then explained to me very slowly like that reactions to things you put on your skin are never life-threatening. Ethan could not have gone into anaphylactic shock. If I had waited 15 more minutes, the Benedryl would have taken effect. Then Dr.Smartie Pants left. I felt like a total fool. And I was almost angry at Ethan for feeling better!

As I sat in the car ready to drive my three healthy monsters home, I texted a close friend who said, “Your son is ok and that is a happy ending. Don’t care what anyone else thinks. You are a great Mom.” I read that a few times and then thought to myself taking it to heart would protect me --almost as much as the SPF 100 sunscreen I would be buying Ethan would protect him from future burns.