Of course, when my daughter began playing soccer six years ago, I was right in the thick of things, chatting it up with the other moms. It was four years before my diagnosis, and Ashlynne had just started regular schooling, so I was very keen on being in the midst of it all. From the outset, though, three things set me apart:
1. For the first few years, I brought food for my daughter and her teammates to every game. Sometimes, another mother brought food, but I brought food every time. I mean, lunch at school started at 11:30 am, and the soccer games started at 3:30 pm, and those girls couldn’t play with their blood sugar running low, now could they? So I brought chips, or popcorn, or peanut butter and crackers, or graham crackers, or chocolate chip coookies, or whatever looked quick and delicious at the local market.
Once Ashlynne got older, I stopped, mainly because I wanted to give her space to be with her friends—and also because I figured out that the kids had brought food to school, and so the risk of their collapsing on the soccer field was minimal.
2. I tended to talk with Ashlynne and her teammates in a very down-to-earth way. For example, this fall, her team played a game that was just spectacular. The girls were passing to one another beautifully, and Ashlynne was making a series of fantastic saves in goal. After the game, I went over to Ashlynne and her best friend, and said, without any preface whatsoever, “Day-um! You guys were on fire today!”
Her friend looked at Ashlynne, smiled, and said, “I love your mom!”
Apparently, not all the soccer moms open up a conversation with “Day-um!”
3. Most of the other parents socialized during the game. Now, I tried socializing, too. I did. I sat in the bleachers with the other parents, and I did all right.
The problem was that most parents were so busy socializing that they missed what was going on in the game. They talked about anything and everything, and they rarely talked about soccer. My breakpoint came when one of the girls scored a goal, and her mother missed it completely. She stopped talking long enough to say, “Oh, did Lucy get a goal?” as though it were a distraction from why she had come. Then, she just picked up talking where she’d left off.
I just couldn’t understand why socializing took priority over watching the game, but I knew one thing for sure: I was there to watch my kid play soccer. So, I began spending each game on the sideline, camera in hand, taking photos and shouting encouragement to the team. When Ashlynne started playing goal, I’d stand on the sideline on her end of the field, snapping photos like crazy and shouting out support. I had a friend come to a game with me once, and she kept trying to talk to me through the entire game instead of watching it. I’m not sure how she missed that I’d invited her to watch my kid play soccer, but clearly, socializing was far more important than the action on the field.
Now, I will admit that it was a big relief to get away from the socializing, because it made the sensory experience of the game so much more enjoyable. But I know that my desire to have some peace and quiet to watch the game wasn’t just a sensory thing, because Bob did exactly what I did. He stood on the sideline, cheering the kids on, for exactly the same reasons. He was there to see the game, not to yack with other parents. At halftime, he’d go and schmooze with the other adults while I got some quiet time to myself, but other than that, we were both focused like proud parental laser beams on the game.
I’m very glad that I paid attention. It’s all gone so very quickly. It’s hard to believe that six years ago, Ashlynne ran from the ball, and that since then, she’s been named her team’s MVP, become a co-captain, and won this year’s Excellence in Soccer award at her school. I have a lot of good memories of watching her on the soccer field, and they’ll stay with me forever.
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s memoir is The Uncharted Path: My Journey with Late-Diagnosed Autism.
[image: via Flickr]