The roar of the crowd

The roar of the crowd

On a recent perfect fall Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of watching a group of 7 and 8 year old girls engrossed in a rousing soccer game. They were as focused as any coach could want them to be; for this was “travel soccer” in a northeast suburban town. Those chosen for these two teams are among the most focused for their age, surpassing the kids selected for intramural town teams. Anyone who wants to play has a chance; but only the most talented young athletes and those who would not be distracted by the array of cheering parents and grandparents or by the seductively perfect fall day were elected to play travel soccer.

My granddaughter’s team had been undefeated so far and it was late in the season. They were winning again, as she had apologetically predicted they would. She had been politely apologetic because her hometown team was playing my hometown team. It was difficult for her to believe my frank assertion that I would break ranks and root for her rather than the town that sends my quarterly tax bills. Such sensitivity is in part predictable for a 7 year old, a girl earnest about doing the right thing. (Remember, she’s the one who recently shared her dismay for still liking doll play -- confessing that at her age, she wasn’t "supposed to"). Probably more than ever before or ever again, 7 and 8 year old girls seek to do "the right thing."

I am no longer bound by those middle childhood “rules,” so in the second half of the game, when our girl’s team was winning by a more than comfortable margin, my attention drifted toward a younger child in the crowd. I’d say he was about 2½ or 3, and no doubt his sister was a player. The rules and goals of the game would have to elude him at his age. I imagined what he saw was a lot of running by girls and shouting by adults, including his dad, whose attention was on the playing field. The little guy didn’t complain, but in swinging on his dad’s legs and circling around Daddy, he was making a modest plea for attention.

That all changed, though, when, while playing ring-around-the-rosy with Daddy’s legs, he plopped down in a pile of colorful leaves. Then his focus was as complete as the soccer players’. He was in the world of those remarkable leaves, admiring their color, their texture, their ability to float when thrown in the air. One leaf in particular warranted even closer inspection. He felt the veins, ran his finger along them, smiled with satisfaction and continued his immersion in examining that wonder -- a reddish maple leaf, with specs of green and yellow. He traced his fingers along its crispness. No longer bored or restless, he was focused enough to qualify for any travel team.

But only he and I knew that; and he didn’t know about me. It was a good day for a toddler who had found the pleasure of focusing without the impetus of cheering crowds or medals. I hope that such pristine pleasures remain with all 5 of my grandchildren, even those engaged on public playing fields. They deserve life's quiet joys, as well as cheering crowds.

December 4, 2007

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