Get Off the Sidelines!

Up at 6:30 in the morning. Well, up may be a relative term. I wasn't down. Monosyllabic and reluctantly mobile.

I was awake because I had to move my children's soccer uniform from the washing machine into the dryer. You see, it was the first soccer game of the year. I scrambled eggs, burned some toast, grunted upstairs, woke the kids, poured juice, led the prayer, and moderated an argument about whether the 7 year old boy was clanking his fork against his plate specifically to annoy his older sister or just because he likes clanging things.

"I'm sure that annoying you is just an added benefit," I assured her.

"Dad, is that sarcasm?" asked the five year old who asks that question about six times a day.

The 12 year old rolled her eyes and assured her it is most definitely sarcasm because nobody in the world clangs their fork like... She thought about continuing her sentence but she saw my "you don't want to continue that sentence" stare and she stopped. If this were afternoon she might've received only a mild clearing of the throat but at seven a.m. I tend to go right to the stares of promised doom. I'm a much better parent in the afternoon.

The dryer beeped and I grabbed the uniforms out quickly because the little ones don't like their uniforms extra crispy. One time my seven year old put on a shirt that was still a little hot from the dryer and he stopped, dropped, and rolled across the living room floor while blowing on his sleeves. So I pulled their uniforms out to cool down to avoid theatrics. The five year old girl and the boy raced in from the kitchen having successfully thrown about 70 percent of their breakfast near their mouth and another 25 percent on the floor. I still don't know where the other five percent goes.

They're a little excitable. They were born with internal hippety-hops.

Now for you and I, putting on a shirt doesn't seem like the uphill part of the day but the five year old and seven year old started wrestling their uniforms and from what I could see, the shirts had the upper hand. The two became lost inside their shirts. This is mainly because they couldn't stop giggling and running into each other. I've long given up any hope of academic scholarships to college for those two. It's my job to reach into the arm and head holes and pull out waving arms and giggling heads. My wife brushes hair and does pony tails and braids.

Everyone's running around because we've got soccer games, softball practice, and the ten year old swears that she remembers a girl on her team saying at the last practice that her volleyball team had practice today even though it's not on the schedule in our email.

As I'm pulling the five year old into her shirt I'm explaining to the ten year old that there's no way I'm calling other families at 7:30 a.m. on the say-so of a ten year old I don't even know. I tell her that if she gets the call sheet of families that we were provided I'll call one of them at 10 a.m.

"What if practice is at 9?" she asked.

"Then we miss the practice that actually isn't a practice because I actually have the list of practices in my email and you have the word of a ten year old girl named...what's her name?

"Uhm. I don't know," she said with a straight face. "She joined the team late. I know she has kinda' red hair."

"That helps," I said.

"Is that sarcasm?" asked the five year old from somewhere inside her shirt.

"I'm afraid so," my wife said as I pulled my little girl's left arm up through her right sleeve.

About ten minutes later we're all set to go and the boy announces he's missing a shoe. One cleat. The left one if you want to be particular. You know, of all things to miss, a shoe always mystifies me a bit. Did he take one off, limp around for a while before deciding to take off the other one? Missing one shoe doesn't seem like it should happen ever, never mind often. Which it does.

He asks to go check in the van and I say why on Earth would it be in the van. Check your room, I told him. As he's heading towards the stairs it hits me. "Wait," I bellow. "Are you asking to check the van because you secretly know that it's in the van but are afraid to tell me that you took one shoe off in the van?"

"No," he answers. "I think it's in the van because I killed a bug outside that was on the fort and I didn't want to put the cleat back on because it was gross and I didn't want to leave it outside so I put it in the van. But I'm not sure if that was yesterday or a few days ago."


He nodded.

"OK," I announced. "Everyone in the van." Sure enough the cleat was right on the driver's seat. I didn't see evidence of bug guts so I assume that the bug was only grazed by the cleat and was somewhere under my seat plotting revenge. Perfect.

We got to the sidelines and it was a bit muddy and just blazing hot so I was still a little cranky. Hey, it was still morning. Thankfully we've done this for a few years so my wife had those little folding chair thingies at the ready. She's great for stuff like that. Now, this helps her mostly but doesn't really work out so well for me usually because the kids just ask to sit on my lap. And I never say no to that because I know that someday they won't want to. And as my ten year old sits on my lap she asks me every thirty seconds if it's ten o'clock yet so I can call the parents of a sorta' red haired girl about imaginary volleyball practice.

I'm sitting there feeling a little beleaguered, cranky, tired, and just...bleh as four and five year olds ran near a ball, gave every apparent indication they were about to kick it, and then fell down for no apparent reason.The only exciting thing that happens is actually the falling down because they're in such a tight little clump that the threat of trampling is scarily high. It's like a little Altamont with freckles, cleats, and pony tails.

But then I looked around for a moment. And it was like God's forehand to the back of my head. Looking through the crook in my ten year old's arm and over the seven year old's head that I saw the beauty of it all. Parents, uncles, grandparents, guardians and friends stood around in mud on the sideline because children wanted them there. They engaged in small talk of good cheer with each other, mostly bemoaning the hour and sipping coffee. They asked each other to point out their child on the field and they conjured some compliment to share like "she's fast" or "he doesn't fall as much as he used to last year."

I watched them cheer for their children but check themselves to not cheer too loudly that they embarrass their children or make them feel inadequate. They want to make sure their children know they're loved even if they can't actually seem to be able to put their foot on the ball but they also want to express that they really really want them to be able to put their foot on the ball. It's kinda' tricky but parenting is that way. And sometimes they don't balance it right but I think most of us try. And there's something beautiful in that. I think we tend to focus on the ones who get it wrong. But there's plenty out there who do it right.

And each and every day, all over fields across America parents line the sidelines of blowouts and shutouts, practices and scrimmages, caring for scraped knees and sore feelings, and they bring snacks for the entire team on the day the list tells us to. (Last year I lost the list so I drove around with snacks in my trunk for three months.) Sidelines are an amazing testimony to how much parents love their children.

The fact that all the children on the field had both shoes on is a testimony to the families that searched for them harder than hillbillies for Sasquatch.(We can't be the only ones, right?)

It's kind of a cliche that people always tell you to get off the sidelines. I've said it myself. But now I'm here to defend them. Sidelines are where the love is.

And that is not sarcasm.

Oh and by the way, the ten year old did have volleyball practice. The little red haired girl was right.