I grew up playing soccer. My dad is Irish, so it was pretty much either that or rugby, which didn’t sound like a real thing. So when Finn was old enough (he is almost 9 now, this was a few years ago), he played soccer, too.
Listen, let’s just admit that having kids is sort of the weirdest thing ever. You take this tiny part of two different people and you create these little humans. And since those kids share your DNA, they are literally made in your image. Which means there should be at least some kind of indication as to what to expect when they arrive.
But nope. They just come out and start doing their own thing. Maybe they’ve got your eyebrows – that’s it.
So you keep them alive when they’re babies and you figure that’s the hard part but again – nope. The hard part is pretty much everything else. For me, over the last years, the hard part has been watching my son play soccer.
I live in a town where sports seems to be king. Is that everywhere in America now? Because that’s not really our family. Sports are supposed to be fun. Right? Just….fun.
And then Finn is out there on the soccer field and he gets beat by somebody. And you are there on the sideline and you wonder why oh why did you ever let him play soccer? Were you out of your mind? Do you hate your child, Conor? Is that it? Do you want him to experience only darkness and suffering and pain in this world? Because that’s the kind of father Darth Vader was.
And all you want to do when your son gets beat is to stop time and run onto the field and hug your son and have the day done with and pretend soccer never existed.
But wait – your son isn’t giving up. He’s running to catch the other kid who beat him, his hair slicked with sweat in this kiln of a summer’s day and everything in you wants him to get there, and then he DOES and he manages to knock the ball away and you cheer like your lungs have been inflated the size of the Hindenburg.
The first time Finn played his first actual soccer game – like, sixty seconds into the game – Liz, seeing our undersized Finn on the field battling a much bigger kid, turns to me and says “I don’t think I can watch this.” She wasn’t saying it in a funny, cute way. She was completely serious. And I said “No, it’s great! He’s having fun!” But what I was thinking was “I don’t think I can watch this either but Liz said it first and now I gotta be the strong one.”
But we made it. We were strong for our son.
Finn’s team was trounced in his last game of that year because, of course, they were playing against another first grade team that had some alien on it. (Sorry. I shouldn’t say that. Your kid just happens to be amazing at soccer because he was injected with magic soccer juice as a baby. He’s not an alien.) Finn came off the field looking pretty down. I asked if he didn’t want to play anymore.
He looked up, surprised. “I’m not sad because we lost. I’m sad because that was the last game.”
And I’m like “Oh. That’s cool.” But inside I felt a tsunami of gratitude that my son’s heart was okay. That I hadn’t messed him up.
And maybe that’s it: Maybe our kids aren’t really ours to mess up.
It was hard to watch Finn on the field. It was hard to watch him out there all alone.
But he wasn’t alone. Because Finn isn’t made in my image – he’s made in God’s image. That’s who is with my son out there – a God who loves my boy even more than I do. And Jesus doesn’t get nervous watching Finn play soccer. Jesus is lounging in canvas chair on the sideline, eating cheddar popcorn and loving watching his son run.
We bring our kids into the world and we quickly let them go. And ultimately we are not the ones providing for them because provision comes from somewhere else. They’ll want things. They won’t get them. And usually they’ll be okay.
Which brings me to…..
The Top Five Things I Wanted as a Kid that I Never Got:
1. To Change my Name to Tim.
I don’t know if you’re named Tim, but if you are, never forget how good you have it. You know how many people in America had the first name Conor back in the late seventies and eighties? Me. That’s how many. This is what I got all the time: “Conor… like Jimmy Connors?” Or “Is that your first name or your last name?” It was like being named Lebowitz.
2. To have a Twin Brother.
What did I need with a twin brother? Even now I can’t really imagine. Somebody that would understand me? Or just like a Voltron-like fighting force in case I came across a bobcat?
3. To be a Marine Biologist.
In sixth grade we filled out this questionnaire to see what job we might want to do and I tried to rig it so that every question would bring me closer to Marine Biologist. I checked boxes for science and animals and experiments. All lies. I would literally say aloud to my bathroom mirror, “Hi, I’m Conor Grennan, I’m a marine biologist…” but monologue ended there because I realized I didn’t really know what a marine biologist did. (Ocean stuff?)
4. To be from Italy.
In the early 80’s in Poughkeepsie NY, people didn’t seem to know that Ireland was a thing. My father is Irish, we spent summers there, we lived there when I was young. But when our second grade teacher went around and asked our family heritage and I said Ireland the other kids just kind of blinked at me. One kid asked me if I meant “Italy.” My teacher confirmed that Ireland was, in fact, a country. Two kids later, Paige Gartner told everyone she was from Italy and everyone cheered, because pizza.
5. To have my Best Friend be a Dog.
You know in movies when the kid’s best friend is a dog? And he takes it for long walks and they skip stones together and the kid talks to the dog and the dog woofs at the right moments? I wanted that. Our elderly neighbor brought home a dog named McDougal and I asked her if I could take the dog for a walk and she said sure and the dog immediately yanks the leash out of my hand and runs, and my neighbor is waving her cane and screaming “McDougal!!” and I spent the afternoon chasing that stupid dog.
Kids are pretty resilient. It’s the parents that need the help. But maybe there’s good news there, too. Because we’re made in somebody’s image as well. And maybe we aren’t alone, either.