It's so hot the grass is brittle, little prickers stabbing my skin and making me itch. Sitting here on the ground like this, I am understanding so much.
I am understanding this culture of chairs. All the soccer moms have lawn chairs, and so do the soccer dads. But not just any old fold-up things. These chairs start out as long cylinders encased in canvas bags. Slip off the case and the chair falls out, all leggy and limp, but then suddenly, miraculously, it finds its own joints and opens into a sling seat. Some of the chairs have cup holders cradling sparkling spring water. I see one with an ottoman attachment, and another with a little umbrella that pops up to provide shade.
How cozy, I think, sitting here scratching my knees and swatting bugs. A week ago I scoffed at the people with the chairs, yakking on their cell phones. Now I look at them with a mixture of envy and longing, but still a pride that keeps me separate.
I will never come here with a chair! No, I will not. I will always sit on the grass. Because I am not one of them. I am not a soccer mom. I am a mom at her kid's soccer practice, but I am not one of them. The day I come here with a chair is the day I . . . cross over.
It's hard to say exactly why I'm putting up such a fight. Accepting any new identity requires a shedding process, I suppose, a disposing of assumptions and biases and everything else you have protecting you from the realization that, yeah, you're a cliche.
I am not. I am not a soccer mom. I am a woman sitting here on the grass.
"Heads up!" shouts someone from behind. We all turn. Here comes a ball from a neighboring field, dropping through the sticky summer air like a bomb. It lands with a thud at my feet. Well, then. Hello there. I pick up the ball, stand up, see a girl with gleaming braces waving at me. I consider placing the ball back on the ground and kicking it to her, in the spirit of things here, but I'm not a soccer player. My game is field hockey. ("Is?") I hurl the ball back at the girl. My aim is perfect. Wow. Go, me! I wonder if the people in the chairs notice this, see me for who I am. I am an athlete! I am not a soccer mom.
I haven't played a team sport since high school. Well, there may have been a scrimmage or two in college. Still, I can taste the oranges at half time, and I can feel my bright red face throbbing as the coach barks demands, and I can smell the locker room after both victory (Dial soap) and defeat (stinky socks), and I can see the dirt that falls from my hockey cleats in a clump that looks like Swiss cheese.
My mother came to watch me play in every game. It meant the world to me to see her there. Only much later would I learn that she always made sure to bring a book to those games; she would immerse herself in a novel or biography while I was out there winning for her. Fortunately, I was old enough to appreciate multitasking when I learned this, so I never held it against her.
But -- where did she sit? Now that I am entering my soccer mom stage (although I am not, mind you, a soccer mom), I am consumed with the question of where my mom sat. We didn't have bleachers around our hockey fields. And she was not a person to sit on prickly grass; back then she never went out in public in anything but a skirt and pantyhose and sensible pumps.
I can only conclude: She stood. Back then, nobody brought chairs. Why do these people need chairs? They can't stand or sit on the grass for the 45 minutes it takes for these kids to run through these drills? They really need . . . ottomans? More and more I'm coming to appreciate the moms of my mother's generation. Pumps, pantyhose, varicose veins. You stand and watch your kid. Okay, maybe you lean against your car. And maybe you need to bring a book. But you're tough. You endure. You sacrifice. Yes! This is why I choose to sit on the brittle, prickly grass with all the little gnats chomping at my ankles. I am a rugged, clean-living mom who knows how to sacrifice for her children.
My mother, hey, my grandmother, would be proud. Yay, me! I raise my bottle of sparkling spring water, imagine myself toasting the ancestors.
Then I check my Blackberry, which I think I heard buzzing a few minutes ago. Nope, no e-mail. Oh, well. Maybe I need to IM somebody? I can't think of anything I need to say. Oh, well. I should program some video games into this stupid thing.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.