“Mommy is so proud of how well you did today, ” another soccer mom proclaimed loudly to her son as we packed up our gear from the sidelines. Earlier, I’d cringed as another parent had yelled at her daughter for wanting to sit in the grass and pick dandelions like most of the other kids were doing (of course, mine included). It was nice to hear that I wasn’t the only parent who was just happy my kid was outside, semi-participating, and entertaining herself in a variety of quirky ways that didn’t always involve the soccer ball, or well, even soccer.
We began walking toward the car, when my daughter slipped her tiny hand in mine and asked quietly, “Are you proud of me, Mommy?”
I paused, hesitated even. Each soccer game with her had been an experiment in figuring out just what elements she needed to get on the field. I recalled the thoughts I had during this game; Frustration when she opted to lay down on the sideline next to me, not listening to my requests to go back and play with her team. I’d almost resorted to bribery; a usual go to in the last few weeks. Ice cream if you go back on the field and kick the ball for Mommy?! (I’m not ashamed of myself. I am NOT ashamed. Okay. Maybe a little). I thought of the last game where I managed to capture her on camera playing in and around the net rather than chasing the ball. I wasn’t sure I wanted to say I was proud of her because she hadn’t met my expectations.
Then, I remembered when I was a little girl, trying my hardest to learn competitive soccer. I remembered how my mom would yell at me from the sidelines, and how humiliated I felt, because I really was, even when I was making mistakes, trying so hard. I remember how she would make fun of the errors I made during the game, afterward. Why didn’t I play like the star player? Why didn’t I go after the ball faster? Why did I make a weird face when I was concentrating? All I had ever wanted was to show my mother how good I had gotten, how the hours spent practicing in our tiny backyard, driving our neighbours insane, had made me a much better player. I wanted desperately for her to be proud of me. Instead, I was met with criticism and taunting.
Picking my daughter up, I looked her in the eyes and I said, “I am always proud of you. No matter what. You are an amazing person.”
In an instant I saw the impact that a mother can have on her child. My daughter’s eyes lit up, and she broke into a smile and wrapped her arms tightly around my neck. As she nuzzled her nose on my cheek, she whispered, “I love you, Mama.”
Sure, I’d love for them to be the kid racing down the field, scoring the goals, but that’s just not how it works. They just need to know that there is security in the support I give them; it’s unconditional, even on the days when they’d rather lie on the sidelines or pick dandelions. They deserve to know that I am proud of their hard work, and their triumphs, even their failures. In a world that is happy to nitpick imperfections, they need to know that there is at least one person who isn’t eager to jump all over them or point them out.
Even more importantly, she’s just a kid who is learning to play a team sport. Her childhood, and even her interest in this sport, won’t last for ever. She will, however, always be my child and I am proud of her. Always.