My kids have always enjoyed hearing bedtime stories about when I was a kid. I’ve now mined my childhood for events, both large and small, that will amuse them and help them get to sleep faster. Both are very noble goals, and part of what I consider to be my job as a parent.
Last night, the teenager wanted to hear a story, and I was able to warp back in time to a sunny day circa 1980. I don’t recall if it was 6th grade or 7th grade, but I’m certain it was one or the other. The date is less important than the concept, anyway.
The nuns who ran the school had decided that a soccer game between the two classes that made up the 6th or 7th grade was a good idea. I had never played organized soccer before, and I’m sure that most, if not all, of my classmates were in a similar situation. Soccer was not the sport of choice for school kids like me in those days, the way it is now. My kids each have several years worth of soccer under their belts, but the admission that I only played in one soccer game my entire life was something of a revelation to my daughter. The story had already accomplished something, before I even started telling it.
The thing I remembered about the game was the painter’s pants. There was a fad that year in school, where everyone wore Osh Kosh painter’s pants. Or at least, almost everyone did. I unfortunately was not able to tell my parents what all the kids were wearing, and expect that these items would be provided to me. I had a pair of white painter’s pants that I wore sometimes, but they weren’t Osh Kosh and so they didn’t seem to count. It’s not such a big deal thirty plus years after the fact, but back then it was a mark of embarrassment for me. And I’m sure that, in 2013, the items and the brands are different, but the concept remains the same. Either you wear what the crowd wears, or you feel bad that you don’t. It’s human nature in all its glory.
Anyway, I was wearing my not-quite Osh Kosh pants to school on the day of the soccer game. Nobody had given us any advance warning about the game, either. We showed up at school one day, to find that soccer goals had somehow appeared in the night. And changing into shorts, or even putting on shin guards or cleats to help play the game better, was simply not an option. Playing soccer–much less at school–was uncharted territory for all of us.
I remember playing in the game, and I’m trying very hard to remember if it was both boys and girls who played the game, or if it was boys only. I might put this on Facebook in order to crowdsource this memory, and see if anyone I went to grade school with remembers it better than I do. I hope that it was the boys and the girls playing on that day, but I suspect that in the very early 1980s, the prevailing mindset didn’t allow for co-rec soccer games.
The way I remember the game was that I scored a goal, but my class/team still lost. Maybe the score was 4-3, or 2-1, but it was a pretty evenly-matched affair. And I hope that it was fun for everyone, although it would have been better if my team had won. After all, “The burgers taste better when you win.”
But the way I scored my goal is where the story gets interesting. I recall seeing the ball just out of my reach (maybe it was an actual soccer ball, but I’m not clear on that), but still near enough that I could do something with it. I slid and kicked the ball in the same motion, and the ball somehow found its way into the net. I was happy to have helped my team, of course, but I had also learned–the hard way–about what a grass stain is, and how well it can show up on a pair of painter’s pants.
If I had been a different kind of kid, I would have been more celebratory in the wake of scoring a goal. I think of how professional players act when they score a goal, and how it usually becomes a mob scene around the scorer, if only for a brief instant. But I had a different reaction. My thought was “Oh no, look at these pants! Mom’s going to be so upset with me.” What should have been a happy moment turned into fear and despair, instead. It was my childhood writ large, now that I think about it.
But the story actually did have a happy ending. My knockoff painter’s pants were never worn again, because the stain on them was too deeply green to ever be removed from the fabric. And whatever I took to wearing instead of those pants didn’t cause me the same level of embarrassment that the painter’s pants did, so it turned out well enough in the end. And by writing this story–before it goes back into the darkest recesses of my memories again–I’m actually celebrating a more successful soccer career than I ever knew that I had. It seems that telling bedtime stories has a benefit for me, after all.