Today is the first day of soccer season. For us, soccer has become associated with feelings of guilt and occasional mortification. Let me explain…
Last year our oldest, Grace, started soccer. We joined a league that is designed for children with disabilities that we learned about through our family resource center. Since a lot of the kids playing were friends of ours from the center, and since Hope will eventually play in this league – we figured it would be a good place for Grace to start. We aren’t competitive anyway, and the thought of joining one of those leagues where parents scream and yell and punch the refs just doesn’t appeal to us. The league accepted Grace as they do other siblings, it helps to increase the number of teams so that the kids so have to play the same teams over and over again.
There were some immediate problems though, because Grace was a total pill, pouting and throwing tantrums, not participating, sitting in the middle of the field defiantly. We wanted to reprimand her of course, but since most people would understandably assume she had a disability we were afraid that we’d be seen as “those horrible people yelling at their special needs child.” In the end, it didn’t really matter, the whole thing was just chaos — turns out that under age 6, it really doesn’t matter what your genetic situation is, there is no such thing as “organized” sports.
The guilt came in differently. At one of the early “jamborees” (where the kids just free play so the coaches can gauge everyone’s skills), the local university girls’ soccer team came to play with the kids. Grace is extremely social and as such latched onto every girl that came within 18-inches of her. By the end of the day, every member of the team knew her name. We decided to take Grace to one of their soccer games, so she could get an idea of what soccer should look like. At the end of the game, you are allowed on the field and Grace made a mad dash to where the team was cooling down. They remembered her, and we could hear her arrival heralded much like the bar used to to welcome “Norm!” to Cheers.
At this point we began to feel a little uncomfortable. “Oh no. They think she has a disability. Should we say something?”
We didn’t, because we are big chickens.
It got worse. At the beginning of the games, when they announce the starting lineups, the girls bring out a small, signed soccer ball and throw it into the stands. Pretty soon we noticed them scanning the stands, looking for Grace. We had to form a human shield to protect her from the soccer balls fired in her direction. We got two balls last season.
“What do we do?” we’d ask each other. We do have a child with a disability, but this isn’t her.
It gets worse. After the last game of the season we were on the field and Grace was schmoozing with the team as usual. We noticed one of the players talking to her mother, telling her about Grace and how she knows her. We can’t hear precisely what she is saying but we can see her gesturing towards her and the mother looking closely at Grace. All of the sudden the mother cocks her head sideways, squints her face and says, incredulously, “Really?!?!!”
Oh god. We are horrible, terrible people.
So, today was the first soccer jamboree and the team was there again. The returning players remembered Grace, as did the coach — who was also Grace’s first big crush (I forgot to mention that).
As it turns out, only one of us is a big chicken, because Tammy “outed” Grace towards the end of the day and explained that Hope is actually the one with the disability and that she’ll play next year. It didn’t seem to phase anyone too badly, Grace got an invite to the upcoming soccer clinic and Hope got a little extra attention too even though she’s still on the sidelines.
Mainly we’re just happy that we can go to the soccer games without debilitating shame this year.