Nerd v. Soccer: Confessions of a Soccer Mom

I married a nerd.

He’s not the Hollywood kind of nerd, clad in black rimmed glasses and slightly less than stylish clothing, occasionally awkward in a hot kind of way and able to morph to perfect beauty with a simple costume change.

Think Henry Grubstick from Ugly Betty or Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality.

See what I mean?

Nor is he the kind of nerd appropriated by hipsters, usually tattooed, sometimes ironically—binge-watchers of sci fi and/or life-long gamers. You know the type. Thy’ll all be incredibly wealthy in less than a decade.

My husband is the nerd who was shoved into lockers, hoisted up by his patched corduroys, pushed around by both types of poser nerds mentioned above; the nerd who lost himself in programming and math over girls and music (even as he hoped perhaps a girl might notice him).

He is the nerd who does Calculus to relax.

I have always been attracted to nerds—real nerds—with their rapidly spinning, voracious brains that think in speeds and vibrations the rest of us can’t understand.

Having been married to one for 14 years now, I know the many beautiful perplexities of loving a true nerd, the least of which is that I have never had to suffer the loneliness of being a widow to an entire sports season. My nerd neither plays nor cares much about sports. We have blissfully skipped 15 years of sporting events together (save the Olympics, which, truthfully, we watch for the human interest stories).

Despite knowing that we have some naturally athletic children (which required a whole other gene pool than ours to produce), we have raised our children with the notion that if they really want to play sports, they will let us know when the time comes.

While watching our eldest play some fiddle bluegrass amidst a sea of grey-haired banjo and mandolin players (plus a lone accordionist) at a pizza place, my son turned his head from the basketball game on TV and asked, “Mamma, do athletes like those men on TV actually get money to do that? I mean, is that, like, their full time job? I mean, what I mean is, could I do that for a living?”

See how little a part organized sports play in our household? The child was not even aware that one could choose to play sports for a living.

Being married to a bonafide nerd does nothing for me now.

Soccer is my son’s first choice (this, even before the World Cup). It’s a game I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid since he came home as a toddler, having already played some soccer in Haiti (because it seems that every other child in every other country but the US plays soccer as soon as they can walk).

Soccer. He’s asking me to be a soccer mom.

I have successfully assuaged my guilt about actively avoiding becoming a soccer mom by clinging to an interview I’d once heard on NPR. A coach of some college sport (Football, maybe? Baseball? I’ll give the first person to find the interview a dollar) asserted that he was no longer recruiting athletes who’d played their sport year-round most of their lives. He said he gave them huge scholarships and held high hopes, only to have them arrive and announce that they were burned out on their sport or, worse, sustain a major injury early in the season. No, he told the soft, mellifluous voice of the NPR interviewer. I’ve decided to recruit kids who tossed the ball around in the yard with their folks, who got regular games going with kids from the block. If a kid is meant to be an athlete at this level, it doesn’t matter how many years he has trained. He’s either a natural or he’s not. I can teach him everything he needs to know.” That’s all a paraphrase, but you get the idea. What I got from the interview was a huge SCORE for nerd parents.

I didn’t even care if he was right. Or kind of sexist in his verbiage. It worked for us.

Truthfully, my son, he who wants to call me soccer mom, is physically incredible. As a toddler he had round muscles in his arms and 6-pack abs. I kid you not. I took one look at him and vowed never to insult my own abs again. Clearly, it’s a genes thing.

Likewise, he has always been able to throw a ball accurately, with speed and distance, run fast, and kick with precision (His Achilles heel was jumping with both feet, a skill that took him several hilarious years to master).

Now he wants to play soccer and he wants to test it out as a potential career. What does a mother whose child first touched a soccer ball (in the US, that is) at 12 do with that?

We are starting with local recreational soccer. It’s so painful to take this first step that my first new friend here in California is holding my hand through it. She’s already a soccer mom and she says she enjoys it. She and her husband are also both scientists so I feel like she gets both sides: Nerd v. soccer mom.

If he likes it and they like him, I think the next step is competition soccer. It makes me ache to think of it. Competition soccer, I am told, invokes entire weekends lost to soccer fields, hauling goldenrod igloos of gatorade from field to field, washing rancid ‘tween athlete laundry.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe he’ll stink at it.

No. That’s not okay. That’s not an okay thing for a parent to think. Right? I can’t go there?

Can I?

Nope. I can’t. It’s actually time to bid adieu to weekends finding the best spot on the beach or under a tree to plant myself and my Kindle. Saturdays were a fun concept, but beginning in August, I’ll be spending a lot of time in a chair on the sidelines with my hands over my eyes (Because did you see all the knee thrashing and ankle flipping and shoulder biting in the World Cup? I thought he was at least choosing a safe sport. I have been schooled).

I am comforted by the fact that we now live where those soccer fields will at least stay warm all season and, of course, as any good parent would, because my son is going to do something that brings him true joy and excitement.

So watch out, you other soccer moms and dads with your cool kid understanding of the rules and your popular kid pretty pretty coolers and perfectly portioned orange slices—here come the nerds!

Originally posted July 14, 2014