October 1, 2008

Suburban Turmoil - Soccer widow


“Hello?”

My stepdaughter frowned into the phone as she heard the caller’s response. “Just a minute, please,” she muttered wearily, hitting the mute button. “It’s one of Dad’s girlfriends,” she told me flatly before heading to the den to hand Hubs the phone.

In a moment, I heard my husband’s booming voice. “You’ve got to be kidding me! A torn ACL? Aw, that’s the pits. You don’t have a lot of other sweeper options.” I sighed. It was indeed one of the girlfriends, as we call them around here, an assortment of high school soccer coaches who call my husband to exchange team gossip. Hubs would be glued to the phone for at least the next 30 minutes and dinner would have to wait. Just another day in the life of a soccer widow.

I’ve had several years now to get used to my soccer widow status, but it never really gets any easier. Tomorrow, I’ll be the one standing glassy-eyed at a cookout while some soccer dad harangues Hubs on which cleats are best for synthetic turf. Next Tuesday night, I’ll play the single mom, wrangling two small children in the bleachers by myself so that my husband can stand on the other side of the field and tell my stepdaughters and their teammates what to do.

Between my three girls, Hubs is coaching seven different teams. For us, soccer has become a year-round affair, and my house resembles one enormous locker room, muddy cleats perpetually tripping guests in the front hallway, smelly shin guards and socks littering the stairs, errant balls collecting dust under the dining room table, and everywhere, everywhere, team line-ups scrawled on scraps of paper.

I suppose my husband’s coaching obsession helps him dull the sting of midlife, and I realize his opiate of choice could be far worse. 

But soccer can also be a cruel mistress, and my patience is wearing thin. I cling now to small respites from the sport, like the romantic date night we scheduled last week. Starry-eyed over the prospect of a few soccer-free hours with my man, I looked as good that evening as a woman with 10 minutes to get ready could. We snuck away to a romantic, dimly-lit restaurant and stared meaningfully at each other over lobster tempura and a bottle of wine. After a long, lingering moment, both of us opened our mouths to speak.

“Go ahead,” Hubs laughed.

“No,” I said, blushing. “You first.” I couldn’t wait to hear what Hubs had to say. Would he tell me I was prettier than the day we married? Would he insist my eyes sparkled that night like never before? He leaned forward and spoke.

“I just hope the girls don’t get too confident about tomorrow night’s game,” he said. “I mean, River Fork isn’t the best team out there, but they could easily beat us. Don’t you think?”

I stared at him.

“Oh come on,” he insisted, oblivious. “You remember them from last year. River Fork.”

These are the times when I want nothing more than to take a butcher knife and slash every soccer ball in the house. 

You might wonder if you saw me how I maintain my outward calm, season in and season out. Well, I have a secret, one that has nothing to do with Xanax. Instead it resides in the delicate form of my 4-year-old daughter, Punky. Both my stepdaughters will be going to college soon and Hubs is now banking on our frail preschool flower to be the next Mia Hamm.

It doesn’t look promising.

She’s pranced around the soccer field for three seasons now, scoring no goals but inspiring countless rounds of “Ring Around the Rosey.” Then last month, she started dance class and the die was cast.

“I like soccer a little bit,” she announced afterward. “But ballerina school is my best day ever.

A sly smile spread across my face as I embraced my tiny dancer. The end of soccer was finally in sight. After all these long years, could victory really be mine? 

Don’t count on it.

Last Saturday, I let my 18-month-old son, Bruiser, run around on the field before Punky’s game. He toddled over to a soccer ball and deftly began kicking it across the grass. “No, Bruiser,” I chided, but my words did no good. Running up to the goal, he booted the ball in and raised his arms in celebration.

I looked at over at Hubs, hoping he hadn’t noticed. But he had. And he was grinning wildly.

“Forget it, Hubs,” I said, shaking my head. “No!” 

“Did you see that?” he asked. “He might be ready to join a team next fall!”

“NOOOOOOOOO!” 

Around me, the parents’ chatter abruptly stopped. They looked at me with pity, but they didn’t seem surprised.