Testimony of a reluctant “soccer mom”

My five-year-old recently joined a local youth soccer league. Two practices a week and a game every weekend. He loves soccer and is really proud of his “league” membership. His idol is Messi and whenever I play soccer with him, he would practice “Messi-style shooting techniques,” which we’ve watched together many times on Youtube, on me.

I just received his league schedule for the coming Fall, and for the next three months, on Saturdays, his team, the Lions, would play Little Warriors, Luck Charms, Golden Tigers, Thunder, Bandits, Red Dragons……. As I was going through the list, I was acutely aware that I’d officially joined, despite my hesitancy, the army of “soccer moms,” a term that used to puzzle or even amuse me before I had children of my own, and a population that seems to have become a voting demographic for some politicians such as Bill Clinton. (Sarah Palin’s “hockey moms” is essentially the same thing.)

Considering that my 8-year-old daughter has three to four gymnastics practices every week (she’s doing competitive and once said to me, “Mom, you cannot deny my passion!” when I was trying to talk her out of it), my time for writing or, really, anything else, will dwindle even further.

Growing up playing mud and sand on a state-run farm in China, having spent most of my after-school time roaming around till dark with my friends, fishing, climbing trees, picking wild fruit…I’m a complete stranger to such youth sports league stuff and all the so-called structured playing.

Last week, I read Alice Munro’s short story, “The Love of A Good Woman.” My childhood is like that of the three wandering boys, with little parental guidance.

Last Wednesday, the day after we returned from China, my son had his first league practice. While he was having fun with his new friends on the green, I started a conversation with the mom who volunteered to be our group’s liaison. When I mentioned how intense the youth league’s schedule was, she smiled good-naturedly. “Well, it gets worse,” she said. As it turned out, she and her husband were both devoted “soccer parents” and “hockey parents,” their two boys aged 5 and 10. They’d been traveling for their older son’s frequent tournaments, some in Los Angeles, and other places far away from the bay area.

My kids are both athletic, but I have no desire for them to go professional. I want them to have fun, and hope sports can help with their physical strength and social skills. It amazes me how serious American parents are when it comes to sports for their kids.

But it seems too late for me to retreat now. My daughter is also starting horseback riding, on top of gymnastics, as she “looooooves horses,” and my son, other than soccer, wants to do wrestling (he’s done plenty of practice with me) and maybe kung fu, too.

So I have no option but add miles steadily to my forever messy mini-van, yet another embodiment of busy parenthood.

(Featured image: local people’s houses, Longji, Guangxi Provinces.)