The blessing/curse of working from home is that I am the front line of picking up sick kids, taking them to dental appointments, etc.
These duties include attending to the whims of my wife who signed our three-year-old Wolf up for a once-weekly soccer practice with the most minimal of notification. I grudgingly assented, despite the fact that our son has never seen a soccer ball and it meant a 30-minute drive.
We were the first to arrive, so I began working with him a little bit, with whatever residual knowledge I had from city-league soccer a lifetime ago.
“Use the side of your foot; no hands; okay, now you are outside of the line, so you can use your hands to throw it in; over the head like this.”
The other children began to arrive, and it was clear as "Coach Helen" greeted them by name that most had attended before and all were older than him.
So, Wolf was at a slight disadvantage.
Coach started off the lesson with a lesson on having penguin feet.
Coach: “We don’t want to hit the ball with the front of our feet, we want to use the side of our feet, so we stand like a penguin.”
Me: "Look Wolf, it’s just like Mary Poppins. Can you do the penguin dance?”
As expected, he was overwhelmed at the mass of strange kids converging on a makeshift soccer field about 100 feet wide with child-sized goals. Though our two-person scrimmaging had been going well, suddenly he is off to the side looking furtively in my direction and on the verge of tears.
“Daddy, I don’t want to play soccer.”
“Good Wolf, it’s important to be able to express yourself. But you are staying on that field until practice is done.”
A minute later he starts walking off the field. I pick him up, give him a big hug, and physically carry him to the middle of the field where the kids are.
This repeated itself.
“Daddy, I want to go back to school.”
“I understand Wolf. We will go back soon. For now, why don’t you listen to Coach Helen?”
This went on for most of practice. His other excuses involved being cold (It was 65 and sunny). His stomach hurt. He wanted to go to the swings at the play area about 100 yards away. Each time, I acknowledged him and insisted on staying for the duration. When it was appropriate, I would join him on the field and encourage him, at one point, literally picking him up by the arm pits and swinging him back and forth to kick the ball into the goal.
I took some satisfaction in the fact that one of the repeat kids was just as bad. “Gina” at age 4 would throw a tantrum each time she kicked the ball into the goal, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was the point of the game, and she merely needed to walk around behind the goal to retrieve her ball.
At one point, Wolf just walked away toward the play area and I let him go.
“Okay Wolf, you come back when you want, I’m going to stay here and play soccer.”
I know my kid, and I knew that he would get bored going down the slide by himself fairly quickly. Within 3 minutes, he came trudging back, ignoring me, and going out on the field to participate in the last few drills without further argument.
As we got in the car, he told me how much he hated it.
About a mile down the road, he said he liked soccer.
Five miles later, he asked if we could go back and play soccer again.
Then he yelled at me.
"We always never get to play soccer!"
That night, instead of sticking to our routine of playing catch with a tennis ball, he insisted,
“Daddy don’t throw it with your hands. Throw it with your feet, like a penguin.”
He proceeded to gently nudge the ball my way and we played “catch” with our feet before doing the penguin dance and falling in a heap, laughing.
A common saying is that you dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Accepting that as truth, you parent for the adult you want, not the child you have.
By standing out there on that field and enduring Wolf’s constant griping about how much he disliked something he’d never actually tried, I was teaching him something. When things are tough and uncomfortable, stick it out and make something of it. Society makes it easy to bail out in life but quitting at the first sign of difficulty is not good enough for me; it’s not going to be good enough for my boys.