My older daughter plays modified soccer for her city school team. This is her second year and the team has never won. Last year they went the whole season scoring only one goal. One goal. And while team sports are about more than just winning and losing, when all a team does is lose, the lessons are pretty difficult. Turns out that in my case, the losses were harder on me than on my daughter who, while not thrilled with all the losing, was happy to be playing on a team.
This year has been different but the same. They haven’t won, but they tied one team on an away game far north of here. The bus ride home from that tie was a rowdy and happy affair with singing, laughing, and maybe even a little dancing in the seats. They have scored goals this year in over half of the games and that too has been cause for celebration especially for fathers like me standing on the sidelines whispering, “just one win, please” to whatever soccer gods might be listening.
Yesterday the gods answered. On a cold day in our lumpy home field in a city park, my daughter’s team scored three goals to the other teams nil and for the first time the team celebrated a victory. Not one of those girls had experienced a win in that uniform, playing on that team, and standing on the opposite sideline I watched them celebrate almost out of control. Players ran across the field to tell their parents that they had one, as if we hadn’t noticed. They ran back to get pictures taken. They hugged and laughed, but mostly they ran back and forth like the children that they are.
All the while I stood on the sideline feeling...what? I think it was relief. I thought that it would be exuberance, pure giddy thrill, but it wasn’t. I was calm. I stood apart from my parents because my mother talks her way through moments such as these and I needed to be silent. Even now, writing about the moment, I feel myself leaning more toward crying than laughing. I’m smiling, but my eyes are watered over.
I played my games as a child. I lost and I won. Mostly, I tried to learn who I was and what I was supposed to be. It seemed to come easily to the other players on the teams but it eluded me and eludes me still. Yesterday, I watched my daughter walk across the wet, muddy field, her knapsack over one shoulder, a muddy sweatshirt and her binder in the other hand. Her walk is bouncy and a bit like a puppy that hasn’t grown into what it will be. I know that walk and can recognize it from across the city. That’s my girl, I thought. And I looked into her face and she had that small smile she saves for the moments when she doesn’t have to show anyone anything, when she is alone in her world. She walked across the field, having won a game and maybe knowing just this much more about herself. She walked across the lumpy, muddy pitch toward me.
If there’s anything more momentous than that in this world, I can’t imagine what it is. My girl won a soccer game yesterday and then she came home with us. This is a good world. It feels awfully good to me.