When you hold your baby for the first time, you look at them as a bundle of hopes and dreams completely unformed. Oh the countless possibilities for this tiny soul. Then once the rush of having that baby is over and reality sinks in, you begin to understand. Yes, this baby has millions upon billions of possibilities, but this baby did come from me and those genes are either going to help fulfill his or her dreams or simply be a huge pain in the ass.
Here’s an enormous surprise. I’m not, in the slightest, nope, no service here, athletic. And oh how I wanted to be. I remember watching the other kids in school wearing their “fancy” clothes on game day and hear them talking about what time the said game was going to start and who the coach was probably going to put on the starting line up. I remember seeing them get in their uniforms.
Those damn uniforms. That above all else was the real reason I wanted to be involved in a sport. Those cheap polyester soccer uniforms with the stretched out numbers on the back. So old, so gross, but once worn, transformed you into something incredible, a member of a team.
I was an awkward kid, extremely skinny, permed hair and no fashion sense (another thing that never kicked in as I got older).
I was designed to stick out and not in the good way where they’re radiant beams shining around you and all the teachers turn and say in a 1930’s voice,
“That kid is going some place. Some day we’ll say we knew her when.” I’m pretty sure most of the teachers were thinking, if anything,
“What the hell is a kid sized lollipop doing walking around our school? And why is it covered with hair?”
The biggest feathers in my hat in middle school, the most retched time in any child’s existence? Being a member of the Junior High Prevention Program. Yup, that’s right, the drug prevention group. Want to know the real reason I wanted to be a member of that group? Sometimes JHP would visit local elementary schools and one of the members had to don a huge hippo costume of the JHP mascot “Hula”. The costume was stained. It smelled and it had a half functional squeaky fan built into the nose. I couldn’t wait to wear it.
Looking back it was clear that all of these proclivities were definite cries to be a part of the student theater community, but in seventh grade, theater wasn’t as cool as it is in high school. Is it cool in high school?
The cool kids were soccer kids. I wanted to be a soccer kid. I wanted to wear that uniform. I wanted to be part of a team in the worst way.
And as the old joke goes, I did become part of a team… in the worst way.
I tried out in seventh grade and got on the team… because everybody does and I got my uniform. It was a magical moment touching that silky nasty off white fabric. I was part of a team.
But here’s the thing… I was terrible. I was the worst player on the team. I quickly began to understand the term bench sitter, but you know what? I wasn’t sad about it. I got to sit on that bench with my blessed uniform on. That was all that mattered. I got very good at cutting oranges and arranging them. I got good at making very determined faces on the rare chance I did get to play and chasing after the ball, forgetting entirely that I was supposed to play a specific position.
Life went on great for a while like this. I would warm up with my team (MY TEAM!!!!) and then find my place on the bench to cut my glorious oranges and wear my glorious uniform.
Until one day…
We were at an away game. It was pouring rain. The field was a complete mud pit. My team was battered and, I think even bleeding. Everyone but me. Out of all the other players, my jersey sat on my shoulders completely free of mud, sweat or bodily fluids. My coach had no other choice but to put me on the starting line up as forward. I will remember his words forever.
“You’re on the line Sunshine.” The bench warmer smile faded from my face.
“You’re on the line.” I looked out across the field. He was sending me out to the front lines of France out there. There were people getting their heads blown off and I was supposed to join them.
“OK.” I ran out the field, or what was left of it and stood, having no clue what I was doing. The game started and I dogged the ball around the mud, determined face planted on, loving the feeling of the mud splashing over it. I was filling the position, that’s all I needed to do. Just fill the position until this half was done and then…
the ball was in front of me with no one else around me. I hear my coach behind me yelling,
“Kick it Meredith! Kick it!” Suddenly it all came rushing over me. This was my moment. I would earn my jersey. I would earn my place on this team. My determined face was planted, I grit my teeth and kicked the ball… right into the goal post. And that was the end.
Later on in the locker room, I heard two girls coming up the steps talking to each other.
“We would have been fine if Meredith wasn’t playing.” They didn’t know I could hear them. They saw me and instantly became quiet.
It’s when I started to realize. These aren’t my people.
One summer at soccer game in between my seventh grade and eighth grade years confirmed it. I got a ball to the face on the last day and cried all the way home holding my small participant trophy.
Soccer was never my thing. Later on, even though I tried, ice hockey was never my thing. Roller derby came close in my early twenties, but you know my thing has always been this. Writing.
And my people are out there. I’ve found them and are continuing to work to find them.
My kids have my genes. There’s nothing they can do about that.
And yes, sometimes those genes are going to work against them. But it’s all part of the process. Your genes don’t define you, they can help you and work against you but they don’t define you.
My kids may turn out to be athletic. Or they may not. The path to finding yourself is never as easy as simply being able to kick a soccer ball in a down pour of rain. I can’t wait to help them through their journey.
Because like it or not, Andy and I will always be their people.