Just Do It

By Anna Mitchael

Get lost in the graham cracker

I find comfort that in these current times — times in which you can’t toss a rock without hitting somebody droning on about the way things are changing every minute and technology this and “I found an app that will change your life” that — there are still things which remain unchanged.

Men’s socks are one. Our cars can locate the cheapest gas in a 60-mile radius and direct us there via the path of least traffic resistance, but if a package of six black socks are opened and positioned in a sock drawer, by the time those six pairs of black socks are worn and go through the laundry, one sock will still go missing. Where is this sock? No one knows. And I mean no one. Not the man’s significant other. Not his momma. Not even his car.

Another thing that is unchangeable? Toddler soccer.

In 1987, my younger brother played in a toddler soccer league. Because 1987 was a time before things were changing every minute, I did not have a smartphone to stare at for the duration of the game. Instead I entertained myself by watching roughly one half of the players chase butterflies instead of the soccer ball.

I had filed this experience away, somewhere between “I can’t believe my parents made me do that” and visual reminders that bad shoulder pads can happen to perfectly nice people. So when I discovered a 3-year-old soccer league my son was eligible for, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. As I was signing him up, I actually remember thinking, “This will be such a valuable experience.” Right before I wondered if I should go ahead and invest in some overpriced soccer shoes.

Luckily, I stuck with his standard sneakers that light up like red Christmas lights every time he takes a step because, as it turns out, being able to buy toddler-sized soccer cleats from an app on your phone and then have them delivered to your doorstep in 24 hours doesn’t make them any more useful than they were in 1987, when moms had to load up their kids to drive to a store where they could choose from whatever shoes were available, even if the available sizes stunted all remaining toe growth for their formative years.

Soccer cleats work for players who need traction and speed, and after careful study of a season’s worth of games, I can assert with authority that neither of those traits come into play during toddler soccer.

The games go like this: All the parents line up folding chairs on the sidelines, and four kids from each team go out on the field with the coach. If you are as good at math as I am, you will note this makes eight kids on the field at a time. This is the desired outcome, but not usually the actual result because one player usually breaks away for a self-appointed water/graham cracker break. Those kids are my favorites, as I also happen to enjoy drinking water and eating graham crackers instead of performing strenuous physical activity.

Of the seven to eight kids on the field, one kid will know what’s up. That kid will take control of the ball and run toward the goal, which is the signal for the parents from his or her team to cheer. This cheering is loud and extra eager because this is a league of 3-year-olds. These parents do not yet have years of shuffling kids around to practices and games. They are not yet worn down by the one parent who always seems to be standing at the sideline, shouting directions to his child. They still see athletes like LeBron James doing million-dollar endorsements and think, “Well, maybe.”

The child may or may not make the goal. This may have something to do with whether or not he or she ate Wheaties that morning, but more likely it is because he or she has just realized the adults on the sidelines are cheering and screaming. Unless the child has recently attended a revival weekend or has ever been with Mom or Dad at the office when someone brought free donuts, he or she will not know what to make of adults acting jubilant. Frazzled, he or she will likely make a wild kick, and (this is a truth about toddler soccer and adult life) sometimes wild kicks end well and other times they don’t.

Take that scenario, multiply it by 30 minutes, and you have yourself a game.

Aren’t you glad you didn’t get expensive soccer shoes for this? I sure am. Just think of all the replacement black socks I can buy with the money I saved. And when I get so wrapped up in jubilance that I lose track of my son on the field, I can easily spot him by the red lights flashing in the grass. Usually, he is running with the main pack, but sometimes he is off with the smaller group of butterfly chasers.

And what I had forgotten in the quarter century since last attending a toddler soccer game is that the kids who choose the butterflies get as much out of the game as those who run for the goals. No matter what the tiger moms say, expectations don’t belong on the shoulders of a miniature soccer jersey — those are all ours, the sole property of parents on the sidelines.

Remember the “somebody” we were tossing rocks at in the beginning of this story? Go ahead and ask him if he remembers the last time he let himself get lost in hot pursuit of a colorful insect or a really good graham cracker. I bet he’ll answer you with a dumb look. You know why? Because no matter how hard developers try, they never will be able to make an app for that.