Monday, October 05, 2009

The Kick

Fall soccer season started for Eli 8.1 about a month ago, which was a good thing, because we needed the rain. It hadn't rained in months, so (of course) two of his first four games have been rained out.

Eli 8.1 moved up in league, but the YMCA has kind of a strange league structure-- they have both a 6-8 league and an 8-12 league. This means that eight year olds can either play down or play up, and if they play up, they're playing with kids who are potentially much older than they are.

Eli played up, of course, and so did his friends, so he's playing with three other kids that he's been playing with for years, plus some new kids who all seem nice. Their team name this season is the "Tigers."

As far as I can tell, there only two acceptable categories for team names: predators and natural disasters. Bears and Tigers are acceptable, and so are Hurricanes and Lightning.

"Ladybugs," however, is a questionable choice. Gophers is questionable as well (I'm looking at you, Minnesota).

On Saturday, it was raining lightly, but the games went on, and since it was a bit muddy, everyone enjoyed it even more than usual.

Eli picked up two goals early, and was cruising along in the second half when he got hit full-on with a kicked ball from less than ten feet away.

It was one of those kicks that was so hard it made a thudding sound when it hit Eli's face. I get sick now just thinking about it. It was the hardest I've ever seen a kid get hit in the face with the ball.

There was that collective "ooh" sound from all the parents who were watching, and I couldn't believe he didn't go down when he got hit. I started walking toward the field.

Play didn't stop, but the referee said "Eli, are you okay?"

This is when my little eight-year-old boy, as thin as a toothpick and so easy to break, raised his hand and said "I'm fine."

I'm fine.

I could see from where I was standing that he was far from fine--there was a deep red imprint on his face from the ball (plus mud), and he was running at half speed, but he stayed in the game.

A few minutes later, he was scheduled to come out for the rest of the half, and as he walked off the field, he started to sob. I walked out and picked him up, he put his head on my shoulder, and I carried him off the field.

He bawled on the sidelines for about five minutes--great, heaving sobs with snot coming out of his nose--and then he was okay. His face was still dark red, but he stood up and watched the rest of the game with his friends.

As an adult, I know that I have a high pain threshold. Very high, and I take an awkward pride in being able to endure (if not excel). But as a kid, that was not true, and I've never seen a kid Eli's age shake off pain like that. It was epic.

I've never thought Eli was tough, and that was okay: I'm not The Great Santini.

Clearly, though, I was wrong. I looked at my little boy on Saturday and thought I wish I was that tough.

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