Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mother Mother

This past Mother’s Day it poured a hard, steady cartoon rain.

I spent the morning checking my email and doing my own version of a rain dance to the revolving tunes on my Pandora Frank Turner station in the hopes that Miller’s soccer game would be cancelled. While I love watching that kid play her heart out, driving an hour to trudge through ankle deep puddles and stand in bitter rain for a few hours on this particular Sunday afternoon wasn’t at the top of my wish list. It did, however, seem an appropriate offering on this singular day we celebrate mothers because it exemplified what we do each and every day of the year. We find missing game shorts and we thumb field addresses into Waze so we can hopefully avoid the police while attempting to make up the travel time lost while running back to pick up the orange slices and bug spray left at home on the counter. We lug bagged chairs and large Dunks coffees to the sideline to cheer our kids on. Rain or shine. This is especially true of soccer moms (the sideline vs. Bandcamp version.) Unlike those of us that also have kids happily leaving rained-out baseball diamonds, soccer goes on in spite of difficult weather. I've actually watched Miller play fall soccer in the middle of snow squalls. As many of the players have happily informed me on more than one occasion, "soccer players are not wimps." 

This was one day I thought we might actually get out of this game due to the weather. The temps were unusually cold and the field conditions were no doubt poor at best. This was clearly ankle turning and muscle pulling weather; however, the host team refused to cancel. This meant we would either have to play in the muddy marshes or refuse to play and forfeit the game and suffer our first “loss” of the season. That really wasn’t an option for this committed group of girls. So off we drove and out we all trudged with blankets, hats, and unfortunate umbrellas that blew sideways and did little to stop the rain.

The girls were soaked before they even started, cleats all spongy and socks squishing. It was a difficult, miserable couple of hours for most of our team, who lacked the ability to stop on the usual dime and who struggled to gain the traction and speed they were accustomed to get the job done. In spite of the challenges and stone frowns understandably chiseled on most faces, our girls won. Miller even poked in a goal to help the cause. The girls did a pretty impressive job of making the other coach pay dearly for not cancelling a game that really shouldn’t have been played for the safety and well-being of knocking knees and aggressive ankles.

On the way home, Miller peeled off the soaking layers. Shin guards, cleats that smelled of a drive by the Waste Management facility, and her knee-high socks, which she rolled down to her tiny little toes, all raw and purple and obviously aching.  While I am certain that every other girl was feeling some similar misery, I know for certain it was a bit different for Miller. She was born with distal digital hypoplasia, which the docs describe as a "vascular-mediated abnormality." It's quite unusual, seen more often in third world countries—with a similar result as people suffering intense frostbite to their extremities. Long story short, as this sweet baby was still baking, a decrease or hyper perfusion (doc speak, not mine) and hemorrhage disrupted the normal development of her toes. Both big toe bones have unfinished growth at the tip and the three typical toe bones and joints you would find in the following four toes on both feet are fused together as one, so she can’t bend them at all to grab toe traction like a typical athlete would. Because of this, her feet develop hot spots, cracks, and calluses that cause regular, serious pain—excruciating if stubbed.

And this kid chose to play soccer.

Most don’t know this about Miller. She naturally prefers to not to call any attention to it and I can so relate. As someone who was wired with social anxiety and plenty of self-shame as a kid, I hated the feeling of any attention on myself, even with all of my toenails present and in tact. I often have to hide the emotional overwhelm as I watch her enter pool parties and beach outings barefoot with beautiful, unaware confidence. She fiercely wears flip flops and has, thus far, found out what we all hope to be true: that the people that matter most in our lives won’t notice or mention or really care about our toes or any of the other perceived flaws we carry.  Her quiet bravery reminds me of how incredibly strong her soul is. It’s as though she was both physically and emotionally custom-built to handle this. And while nothing can replace the ache in my heart that shows up every time she jams her tiny toes and experiences horrifying pain, I always, eventually, land somewhere between deep reverence and incredible awe of her ability to take this challenge on.

What’s most inspiring is that she’s never once used it as an excuse to host her own pity party (and this kid loves herself a social gathering.) Instead, she’s worked incredibly hard, and with the help of her coaches (only one of whom likely knows the extent of Miller's challenges), has figured out how to properly fire a ball on goal with the best of them--her left foot particularly devastating to opponents. She pounds the basketball court and soccer fields with the intoxicating drive and aggression I somehow still recognize from my own days spent on the field hockey grass long ago. Because there are no obvious impairments as she gallops around like a gazelle and wards off opponent’s elbows (while tossing a few of her own), very few likely know the devastating pride and swallowing of emotion that quietly takes place on the sidelines every game I get to witness this kid in action—especially on that very raw and rainy Mother’s Day.

Yes, life is sometimes rough and challenging and disappointing. Some days, some weeks, and hell yes--some years, we hurt more than others. To this point, I know things may change for Miller, including her current stoic outlook about all this.We will return to the doctor in August to see how she's feeling and if she wants to consider minor surgery to adjust her tendons to alleviate some of the tightness in flexation. For now, she says no--especially if it's going to impact her ability to play fall soccer.

Life's playing field will never, ever be level for everyone. Like this amazing kid, who gives me constant reason to celebrate being a mother on *nearly* every day of the year, may we all figure out a way to rise above the associated pain and challenges we face on the field. And in those challenging times, may we somehow, eventually, find our way to grace and deep gratitude for the strength, resiliency, and the levity that allows us to stay in the game.