Monday, July 28, 2008


For the first time ever, I played a complete soccer game in my over-30 league - 80 minutes nonstop in the blazing heat. There were a number of no-shows on our team, and we ended up playing a man down with no subs, so all of us had to stick out the whole game. We ended up winning 4-1 against a fellow over-30 team that was similarly understaffed (they had 12 players show up, so they only had one sub for the whole game). Our recent string of games against the over-18 teams had helped condition us to play hard at a disadvantage, and we came out on top... with substantial effort.

Late last season we had a similar game, where I arrived right as the game started, the 11th on our team to show up, leaving us a full complement of field players, but no substitutes. I played for 75 minutes, sitting out 5 minutes late in the game to recover and hydrate, and playing my last 5 - 10 minutes basically standing still and hoping the opposing team didn't make it down to me, ending up with a splitting headache and coming close to calling in sick at work the next day. As I recall, we lost that game.

This time I fared much better, as did our final score. First, I'm about 13 pounds lighter than I was then. Second, I've had another year of conditioning to keep my wind up. I closed the game with a few demoralizing clears (I'm a fullback) right as our opponents were making their final charge to catch up from their 3-1 deficit. We scored a fourth goal late in the game, which sealed the outcome. After that, they never made it inside the penalty box.

My problem now is staving off injury. This morning I have a sore thigh, and possible tendonitis in my right ankle. I felt the thigh midway through yesterday's game, and have been feeling my ankle since last week's game, where we played on a field as hard as stone. Fortunately, I'll have a full month to heal, as next week is the family reunion, and then we have two weeks off for a tournament on our fields, and then the fourth week our team has a bye, since there are an odd number of teams in the league. By our August 31 game, I should be all healed up, and hopefully the fields will be in better condition.

So, yeah, the family reunion is this weekend. It started back in the 1970s when my Grandmother organized a get-together in the town she grew up in (Mechanicsburg, Virginia) with her 11 siblings and their families. We meet on the first Sunday in August, and have missed only one year since we started, and the number of family members who show up has grown to approximately 200. Since the numbers have grown so much, my grandfather's side of the family has split off to their own smaller reunion that meets the Saturday before at a different location. It draws a few people who don't usually make it to the big one, and a few like me who go to both, numbering around 30 attendees so far.

This will be the first year I get to show off Liberty and, hopefully, Scout, down there. I'm looking forward to it, but Liberty is showing a little anxiety about it. "Come meet 200 of my family." It's understandable. When she sees that the main questions she'll be asked are "Who are you with?" and "Have you tried the pie?" then I think she'll be OK.

After the reunion, Stacey will be going from Virginia to North Carolina to stay a couple weeks with her Grandma and Great-Grandma, where she'll get to play with babies and be doted on, coming back to be with me shortly before her birthday party. We're going to go back to Summit Vision, this time to do the high-ropes course/zipline. I'm hoping a lot of kids show for that, as it seems like a good time. Stacey didn't have her best social year ever, having the culture shock that is middle school, but I'm hoping the girls who usually show and have a good time will still be up for it.

Last in the news, Stacey's soccer season will be starting soon, and I'm the coach! I took a class to get a coach's license, learned some drills, bought some cones, and checked the little "I'd like to coach" box on the form I signed Stacey up with. I'm excited about it, but a little anxious. I'm hoping I'm going to be healthy enough to participate in drill demonstrations and sprints, and hoping also that I'll be understandable and likable. I'm also hoping my philosophies of "play with your feet, not your hands" and "if you knock 'em down, help 'em up" won't be vilified by the parents.

From my time on the sidelines with other parents, I've seen people preach both sides of aggression and sportsmanship - from no blood no foul, to kids should be kids. Me, I'm more Shoalin: Avoid rather than check, check rather than hurt. I think it's OK for kids to make contact with each other on the field, and blocking with your body is easily interpreted by players as strategic rather than confrontational. Not so with pushing; the more arm you use in maintaining possession/position, the more likely you'll be seen as trying to start a fight. Soccer is fun, and fighting is not fun... so play with your feet, not your hands. That's an easy sell. The other is a little harder.

If you knock 'em down, help 'em up. Maybe I'd be ok with a player going ahead and taking a couple dribble steps and a shot on goal after bumping into someone and knocking them down. After all, it would take that long for the person who fell to take stock of their own situation and determine if they were hurt or could keep playing. Otherwise, I'd like to encourage my girls to sacrifice perceived positional advantage for sportsmanship. If you knock someone down, you are responsible for their injury. The ref should stop play, but if he doesn't, you should pass the ball away, and then help the girl you knocked down back to her feet. If she can get back up and keep playing, she will remember that act of kindness and it will have an effect on her. Yes, I'd like to win games, but not at the expense of being uninterested in the other team's well-being, or worse, a bully. 5 seconds: Pass the ball, help her up, get back in the game. It won't change the score, I guarantee.

On the other hand, being a martyr isn't my bag, so if I get a lot of flak for that, I'll have a challenging problem on my hands. Time will tell how that will play out.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bike Riding

One of the few good memories I have of interacting with my (now deceased) stepfather was learning how to ride a bike. We lived in Manteo, North Carolina, well before it turned into the resort town/vacation spot it is now, before anyone ever heard of the Outer Banks or put OBX stickers on the backs of their cars to complement their now plebeian and undistinguished Ron Jon window stickers. Back then the town was poor, and many locals, including my stepfather, were fishermen. (And many of the fishermen and their dirt poor families whiled away the time listening to Southern rock and getting stoned, but that's another story.)

For my 6th birthday, I got a bike for a present, a little kid's BMX (redline squareback, I believe). My stepfather, who generally took little interest in me, patiently taught me to ride it, giving me balance support and encouragement, and running alongside me. As I got familiar with it, I was able to pick up speed, and the gyroscopic (centrifugal? centripetal?) force of the wheels was a better stabilizer than my stepfather, so he began to let go, and I was riding fine... until I noticed he had let go.

Noticing that I was on my own was the source of my first few falls. I wasn't prepared for the psychological stress of it. Doing something this dangerous and complicated myself? Preposterous! I barked alarmed complaints out of fear and anxiety, demanding to know why he let go, as I wobbled, overcorrected, and fell. But soon my confidence and experience outweighed my fears, and I managed to regain my balance after I wobbled, and eventually to ride smoothly, as all kids do. By the next week, I was riding with the neighborhood boys around the 1/4 mile dirt circle behind our trailer park, and by the end of the summer I was a daredevil, the youngest in the group of kids I hung with, but jumping over our makeshift cinder block/plywood ramp with as much gusto as the rest of them. In the end, I was the first brave enough to jump the ramp when it was set ridiculously too steep, landing hard but not crashing, inspiring my peers to overcome their fear of getting hurt by replacing it with a greater fear of looking chicken. The little kid did it, why can't you? Bok bok baaawk!

Switching gears -- and if you can manage abstract thought, you'll see where I'm going before I write the punchline -- my first marriage was a complete trainwreck. I've managed for years to not speak ill of my ex-wife in this blog, and I don't intend to now, but the fact is our marriage was a travesty. I felt unvalued and unloved, and looked on other men with suspicion. I developed frown lines, acid reflux, slowly became fat, and closed myself off from my family and friends in an attempt to appease her and gain her love again. She, in turn, thought I was treating our marriage as a job, doing things because I had to, not out of love or affection. She viewed me as having no interest in the world, preferring to sit at home and download nudie-gifs rather than going out to listen to music or just be with people, and treating real-world issues like a flowchart, binary thinking robot that I was.

So, that was a mess. We broke up hating each other, and only after years of separation did our respective wounds heal enough for us to work together amicably for the sake of Stacey. Again, the point here is not to blame or complain, or drag my dirty laundry out for daytime talkshow-esque public scrutiny and commentary, but rather to provide some back story for what comes next.

What comes next? Liberty, who is, by my best reckoning, the perfect woman. Young, alive, nonconformist. Beautiful. Well-read, intelligent, funny. Open to any wild suggestion, believing that I can take care of her, and trusting that I will. I've written about her here a few times, you can guess how I feel about her. Read all the entries from last September until now to get the gist of my feelings for her. They run deep.

Without hyperbole, and not to try to butter her up when she stumbles across this later (as far as I can tell, she doesn't frequent my blogs), and not because she is the relationship I am currently in, but because I have reflected on this privately, and found it to be an irrefutable truth: Liberty has made me happier that any person ever has. She has inspired me to be a man who is strong, asking me to lead. She has made me feel like my presence was valued, showing me smiles and attention whenever we were together. Her love and affection made me into a better man.

And now, we've been married and living together for a few months, and regular life has injected itself. We've seen each other sick, had busy schedules that left us both tired at night (if you're under 18, try not to contemplate what that means), and we've passed each other in the halls without stopping for a quick snuggle. A few times I found myself reading more into that than was there:

"Oh Jesus! She hates me now. I'm latching on to an empty heart, following her around like a lost puppy, what the hell did I do wrong!? No! Don't take this away from me! It was perfect! Have all the years of drinking from aluminum cans catch up to me and give me Alzheimers, have the next soccer game I play cripple me, have the bad wiring in my house short and start a fire that burns it down, have my boss determine that I cost too much and lay me off. But not her. Don't take her love from me, it's the thing that means the most to me."

And like the little boy who fell off his bike because he noticed no one was holding him up, I choked. I barked a confused, accusatory complaint. "Dude, there's nothing wrong, settle," was the response. The love was still there, and still is, and is stronger even than I thought it was. Think of this: Imagine a girl with a young kid who is barely scraping by, whose car falls apart during your courtship, whose cell phone gets cancelled, who struggles every day to get out of bed in time for school or work. She lets you seduce her, moves in with you, lets you be the support that gives her a car and a phone, asks you to stay with her sick kid when she can't miss an exam or when no one else can open at her store. And then she gets comfortable around you, and doesn't spend every waking moment trying to secure her status by exploiting her body. What could that mean?

It means, naturally, that she trusts me. She knows I don't want her to be a doting sycophant out of fear. Her position in our house feels safe to her, and she knows how to claw her way back from the brink of collapse, if need be, but she keeps coming home to me. She keeps inviting me to be with her family and friends, and she trusts me enough not to play a servile role, but to be herself.

What an amazing complement!

The affection? Still there. After a few days of cooling off after I lost my head, we naturally found ourselves in each other's arms. And I can feel the man she turned me into asserting himself, confident in his own position, and his character. I'm back, better than I was, and I don't need the constant whispers of "you are good and I want to be with you" to know that it's true.

Thank you, Liberty, you are amazing, and I have never loved a woman more. And I will be as daring a husband as I was a cyclist, confident and relaxed, with faith in our marriage strong enough to look cocky.