Bad Soccer Mom

I belong to a private group on Facebook for libertarian ladies.  I joined the day it formed, and one of the first questions that came up for discussion was about motherhood: Who here is a mom?  Do you fit in with other moms?  How do you parent your kids differently?  I was completely and utterly unsurprised to find that all of the moms, without exception, generally did not fit the stereotypical mommy model, present company included. 

I have read a couple of different articles over the years asserting that libertarians, as a political group, tend to have above-average IQs.  Some of this may just be (probably is) conceit, but I honestly do believe that there is some truth to this notion.  Withholding commentary on myself, every libertarian I know, regardless of their personal brand of libertarianism, is smarter than average.  And you know, they are all also, without exception, a little bit weird or different. 

It’s no secret that most libertarians are men.  Ancaps in particular are overrepresented by the male sex.  That shouldn’t imply that there aren’t female AnCaps because there are, but they are certainly fewer and farther between than the men. 

If I had to base my opinion of AnCaps based strictly off of my groups which, frankly, is about all I can do, since I only know a couple in real life, I would have to say that most AnCaps are logical, somewhat predisposed to math and science, and don’t seem to have much of a problem forging their own path in life.  There is an air of not giving two fucks out in Ancapistan – a sentiment that I mostly share, by the way. 

I think this works out better for men, frankly.  Granted, geeky science guys tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to dating and such, but there is a niche for nerdy guys.  At points, they are even considered endearing in their social ineptitude.  I am not aware of any such niche for women in pop culture.  There may be one, but I doubt it’s considered endearing.   Awkward and unappealing, perhaps, but not endearing.

My oldest daughter played little league soccer this year.  I was never that active in sports.  I was always the fat kid, and it was a widely held belief that I would never be athletic in any way.  Even I didn’t believe it.  I dreamed of being a great hockey player, but I only played roller hockey for a couple of seasons, and I wasn’t very good.  I loved it, but it was clear that my dreams of glory had a big obstacle to overcome in a little thing called “reality.”  So for the reason that I started too late and didn’t get the weight off sooner, I decided to get my oldest started in sports before it was “too late.”

I wish I hadn’t.  For one thing, my daughter, despite being thinner than I ever was at her age, is about as athletic as her parents, which is to say not very.  The other kids ran circles around her, and she would get angry and pout every single game because she isn’t a fast runner and never got to kick the ball.  It would have been pitiful if I hadn’t been so annoyed that she was acting out instead of trying harder.  Suffice to say soccer is probably not going to be her sport. 

I learned the very first day that soccer moms are a real thing, and I am not now, nor will I ever be, one of them.  They arrived in their brand-new, spotlessly shiny SUVs – usually a Toyota 4Runner, Chevy Equinox (if they’re “poor”), or a GMC Yukon.  They slide out of the driver’s seat wearing North Face pullovers – the ones with the thumbholes in them – Lulu Lemon pants, vibrantly colored trainers, and a monogram bag.  Often their attractive, high-earner husbands are with them.  The monogram bag was a gift for their 7th anniversary, and the diamond earrings are the push present from the last baby. 

Enter Margaret.  I come rolling up in my blue Toyota van.  It has literally no options on it because the one that comes with a dial for the radio is the one that I could (barely) afford.  I haven’t washed it since last fall, there are several plastic McDonald’s cups under the front passenger seat because caffeine is the only thing keeping me alive some days.  I don’t know why there is a toddler travel cot and a roll of aluminum foil in the back of the van, but there is.  Two of the three kids are screaming, and my daughter does not have a perfect ponytail with ribbons and soccer buttons in her hair.  My bag is black like my soul, and my compression pants have a paint stain on them from last summer when I made the mistake of wearing them to do the door trim.  They no longer compress because I lost weight and didn’t have the inclination to buy new ones.  I never take my sunglasses off, even when it’s about to rain, and I stand off to the side, trying to control my two- and three-year-olds.  It is painfully obvious that there is no man in my life and hasn’t been for almost two years.  Given the way things are going, I will probably never touch a man again, let alone actually enjoy some brief adult interlude.

I realize rather quickly that I am supposed to hob-knob with the rest of the parents, which is just… Well, it’s not my thing.  I can be downright charming when I have to be, but after a full day at work, throwing dinner on the table, and then wrangling the kids back into the van for this event, the last thing I generally feel like doing is trying to relate to strangers.  It’s not that I’m incapable of such a feat, but it does take effort, and since I generally don’t expect the payoff to be that great, I tend to be choosy about when I expend the effort.

I probably ended up being the worst soccer mom ever.  I noticed right away that there was a division of labor between the parents.  The fathers were the ones that tended to run practice.  They’d set up the cones, kick the balls, clap their hands in that loud yet oddly muted way that athletes have, and offer tips on technique.  The mothers would stand on the sidelines with water and words of encouragement for the kids coming off the field.  I found myself in the position of fitting into neither mold particularly well. 

As mentioned above, I’m not much of an athlete myself.  I can play soccer okay now, but I’m no Ronaldo.  I’m not particularly nurturing either, and I forgot water on at least two different occasions.  I was usually attempting to contain the two little ones too, and that’s more work than you might imagine.  They like to run away in opposite directions.  The littlest one goes right for the road, and I have to scoop her up and prevent her from being hit by a 4Runner.

Probably the main thing that separates me from the mothers most particularly is my attitude towards trying and winning.  Winning isn’t the most important thing to me.  It’s wonderful to be able to say that you’re the best, but I have long believed that learning how to lose – how to literally get knocked on your ass by the superior competitor or just life (who is the superior competitor in most cases, make no mistake) – is probably the most important lesson that a child can learn.  To say that I don’t take well to my daughter walking off the field pouting is an understatement.  I don’t care if she never so much as touches that ball, but I want her to keep after it.   I’m the parent that squatted next to the double stroller on the sidelines and told my kid that she was only a loser if she gave up.  There were no sweetly uttered words from this “soccer mom.”

I did one other thing that is decidedly against the new soccer mom code, and some people find it frankly appalling: I threw away my daughter’s participation certificate and medal.  Yeah, you read that right.  Her coach gave her a cute little pink bag with her stuff in it, and all the kids got their pictures taken with their stuff.  And I took it away.  I took it from her and threw it in the stinky trashcan out in the garage. 

I caught flak from my friends for it.  “Damn, dude.  I get it, but… Damn.” 

I then realized that when I said that I threw my kid’s medal away, I hadn’t adequately explained myself.  I let her have a moment with it, and then, when all of us were sitting together in the van in our driveway, changing into regular shoes and getting ready to go somewhere else, I sat down in the middle of the van and calmly explained to all three of them – even though I know the two-year-old obviously can’t understand this yet – that there is no point in keeping a participation medal.  Life, I told my daughter, is not going to give you a medal just for getting out of bed.  Life is not going to reward you for not winning.  Nobody is going to be amazed that you showed up for work.  That is the bare minimum.  That is what is expected. 

I went on to tell her that I was proud of her for getting out there and playing, even if she didn’t always feel like she did well.  I told her that I was proud of her for improving and for finding a new activity that she can use to stay fit and active.  I told her that I love her even though her team did not place, and that I was glad that she had fun (sometimes). 

Believe me, she was not happy at first.  There were a lot of tears.  She told me that she didn’t like me, that was I mean, and that I was a bad mother.  Contrary to popular soccer mom myth, I’m not made of stone.  I do have a heart, even if it is black and pumping some kind of bitter, tar-like ichor.  We had our talk, she screamed and cried, I took her medal, threw it away in the big can, and then I went inside to get her street shoes and throw her cleats in the shoe pile. 

I went to my room to get something that I needed for our afternoon out, and I stopped in my bathroom and leaned against the counter for a minute.  My eyes watered momentarily, although you wouldn’t have been able to see anything but your own reflection in my aviators.  I leaned forward towards the mirror and asked myself, “Did you do the right thing?”  Is it the right thing to do to break your child’s heart?”  I slid my fingers up under my shades and wiped my eyes, and then I went on about my business. 

My daughter spent the next two hours telling me that she was mad at me and that I was a bad mom.  That’s hard for any parent to hear because most of us are struggling, anyway.  There is no manual.  Well, there are “manuals,” but they’re mostly full of crap, and nobody knows what they’re doing, really.  I kept my eyes on the road and kept driving.  Sometimes you just can’t engage. 

When we got home and the kids were hopping out of “the big, blue banana,” I stopped my daughter and gave her a big hug.  I kissed her face and said, “I love you, and I am proud of you.  Someday, you’ll understand why I did what I did.”  She hugged and kissed me back and said she loved me too, and by the end of the day, she had forgotten all about the missing medal.

In the moment, when my daughter was upset and I felt awful about breaking her little heart, I questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing.  What’s the harm in a little medal?  It gives them something to remember the experience, right?  Wrong.  That’s what pictures and a functional memory are for.

The self-esteem movement really got going when I was probably fifth or sixth grade, and it was full-steam ahead by the time I was in high school.  Everyone gets a medal, and everyone is special as long as they try, etc.  I honestly never gave it much thought until I got older, and I realized that I hadn’t been told that I suck in a long time.  To all of the people that think it’s okay to tell everyone that they’re special, I say, “You’re delusional.”

It does not help people to tell them that they’re winners when they didn’t even place.  I don’t think my daughter’s team won a single game.  We were literally the worst in the age group.  I don’t think the kids cared at all.  Half of the time, we didn’t even know what the score was.  Some people think that there’s no harm in giving a four-year-old a medal for showing up.  I argue that you should start as you mean to finish, and that means that you don’t give out medals for participating.  Don’t set the expectation of something for nothing.  Set the expectation that success will be rewarded or that participation is, in and of itself, a reward. 

In the end, I think my daughter and I both got something out of soccer, but it wasn’t quite what I expected.  She is probably never going to be the best player, and we might not even do it in the fall.  She does actually like it, though.  We ran around the backyard last night, kicking the ball around, which she does actually enjoy, and she has improved. 

I stand firm in my belief that I did the right thing.  It was hard in the moment – it is never easy to upset your child, even if it is for all the right reasons – but sometimes you have to sacrifice the present for the future.  (I believe it’s called first vs. second order preferences.)  She will understand someday.  She might decide that she doesn’t agree with the decisions that I made, but if she becomes a person that contributes and successfully supports herself with no expectation of reward just for existing, then I will have done my job.

Sometimes you have to think of parenthood as a war.  It is a war against external influences – against the Kardashian world of sleazy morals, against the statism you and your children will encounter in almost every aspect of daily life and most especially in school (if they attend public school), against the self-esteemers, and against yourself.  It is so damn tempting to take the easy way and just let those externalities become the ones that win the daily skirmishes, but if you let go of all those little skirmishes in the bush, you’re going to lose the war.   Remember, the American militiamen sent the redcoats packing on the road back to Boston, and it was because they took them out one man, one bullet at a time.  It wasn’t because they faced the beast head-on.  In fact, during the one open confrontation, I am pretty confident that the results swung strongly the other direction.

You will not succeed in creating solid individuals if you don’t commit to winning the skirmish, and sometimes shooting from the front isn’t the way to go.  You have to fight the battle on your own terms because I can pretty much guarantee that if you fight it on theirs, you won’t be nearly as successful.  It’s hard.  Believe me, I learned that lesson fast.  But if you’re up for the challenge, both you and your children will be better people for facing it together.   Good luck, parents!  I’m rooting for you!