Last night was soccer practice. The bleachers provide a sort of anonymous perspective from which to watch Sean interact with other children, almost like a two-way mirror. It ‘s fascinating and at the same time a little uncomfortable to see him off on his own, interacting with the world separate and apart from me.
As I sit in the stands, part of me is engaged in a conversation with my friend Jennifer, but another part of me is watching Sean negotiate a soccer ball and the complex social network of 4-year-olds.
I observe that he is a rule follower. He listens to the coach, but sometimes, because he is quiet, he is misunderstood or simply overlooked. He prefers to stand back, to observe, always taking the last spot in line. I do not judge these traits to be good or bad, beneficial or detrimental, they just are.
At one point in the game, I see him look up to the stands. He is searching for my face. He is not crying, but his face is twisted in a valiant effort to hold back tears. I did not see what happened. He starts walking quickly to the sidelines and then makes his way up the stands to where I am sitting.
When his eyes meet mine, the safety latch releases and tears roll down his face.
“What’s the matter?” I ask, “What happened?”
“Hoo, Hoo, Hooper (sob) Hooper (sob) Hooper bumped my HAY-UD!” (SOB)
I look at his head, to where he is pointing. There is a red spot. Where he has been furiously rubbing it.
“Well, I’m sure it was an accident. That kind of thing sometimes happens in sports,” I say. “I think you’re going to be okay.”
He works up a few more sobs and buries his face into my shirt. I can feel his wet breath and tears on my neck. At this moment I want to ask Hooper to bump into Sean again next week.
“You better get back out there or you’re going to miss all the fun,” I encourage.
He shakes his head and burrows deeper into me.
“What if I go with you? What if I sit on the sidelines, would you want to go then?”
“Okay,” he agrees. He grabs my hand and we walk to the field together.
After the game is over he runs over to the sidelines to show me the stamps the coach has put on his hands and his tummy.
“That’s fantastic! You are awesome!” I enthuse.
“Come here and give me a hug!”
I hold my arms out expectantly.
He steps back a half step and shakes his head no, ever so slightly. He looks around nervously.
He is embarrassed.
“Not now,” he says.
“Okay,” I say and I leave it at that.
Now it’s my turn to hold back tears. This day has come as I knew it would, I just didn’t think it would come so soon. And I certainly didn’t think it would come on the same day when I was wearing a blouse stained with his snot and tears.