I had never played soccer in my life.
I kicked a ball around with my daughter in the backyard a few times. In junior high, I played at recess a strange almagamation of soccer and football wherein you got to pick the ball up and run with it, and you could tackle the guy with the ball, but you had to kick the ball into the goal to score.
But the game that drives the rest of the world to riot and to stop working and watch the World Cup every four years was not in my repertoire. I can only name three soccer players total: Pele, Brandi Chastain, and David Beckham.
So the thought of my running around a field playing a vaguely organized game was, before Friday night, just short of laughable.
It’s funny how children change things.
The Girl wanted to go to Friday Soccer — the weekly event across the street at the schoolyard, where the neighborhood and a few parents play a pickup game. She had no interest in playing herself. One of her friends just usually attends, and they play on the playground.
Ordinarily, The Boy and I play Magic on Friday nights, but The Girlfriend is performing in Steel Magnolias right now, so she can’t be home to take care of The Girl. Naturally, it was proposed that The Boy play in the soccer game, since he’s an actual fan of the game.
“And what will I do?” I said, imagining myself sitting around with no one but my Kindle to keep me company.
“Could you play?” The Boy said suddenly.
His face was as bright as the desert sun at noon. There was more hope in his voice than can be found when the big lotto gets up over $100 million.
He used to play soccer with his dad. It was their thing. After his dad moved away, though, he all but quit playing. It made him too sad. He missed him too much, and soccer was the most painful reminder of what he lost.
When he asked me to step in and play with him, what could I say but yes?
So I put on my Cincinnati Bengals shorts and sweatshirt (I hear other people in the world call this sport football, so . . .), and we went to play soccer together.
It was not such a good game for me. I volunteered to play offense, because, knowing nothing about the game except how to score, I hadn’t the slightest idea how to play defense. But after less than five minutes, my 44-year-old lungs were not interested in chasing after the ball anymore, so I had to switch.
I soon discovered trying to stop someone who knows what they are doing with a soccer ball from going around you is harder than it looks. I got schooled by a 10-year-old girl. Twice.
After an hour, my legs were sore, my lungs were burning, I had a stitch in my side, and I discovered The Girl drank my water before running off to play with her friend.
But it wasn’t about me. It was about The Boy feeling whole in a way he hadn’t for years.
He likes playing Magic on Friday nights. He really likes it, in fact. And he likes going to superhero movies with me and attending theatre camps I teach. He likes having me in his life, learning about things that are important to me, and looking up to me.
But this was something of his that I shared instead of the other way around. This was a reminder of how life used to be and how good it felt. And it wasn’t sad. It was joyful. I made him happy.
I scored two goals in the game, but the third one — the one that gave me a hat-trick — came at the dinner table, when I said I would play in the first place.
That one was worth more points than Pele, Brandi Chastain, and David Beckham have scored combined.