Endings, while you’re in them, don’t always feel like endings. The last time you do something you’ve done for most of your life, usually, doesn’t feel any different than all of the other times before, and why would it? We are creatures of routine, after all, and many of our routines are so ingrained that the reality of not doing them anymore doesn’t often register a blip on the radar screen of our lives.
Today, I watched my seventeen-year-old daughter’s last high school soccer game. I cheered, paced, and clapped. I hollered, gesticulated, and jumped. I used all of the soccer lingo I’ve amassed from my formative years as a practiced soccer benchwarmer, and I gave her all of my best soccer mom sideline chatter.
“Here we go, Addie. You got this, kiddo. Let’s go! Good ball. Strong ‘D.’ Let’s get it. Hold the 18!”
For years, I remember thinking that 18 was the number of a girl on the opposing team and whatever they did after the direct kick, they better find that girl and hold her tight.
I suppose that explains my history as a benchwarmer.
Clueless soccer mom or not, it’s an amazing feeling, watching your child do something better, with more natural skill and intelligence than you ever did and realizing that some gene or chromosome swimming around in your DNA helped make them into this wonder you see before you.
In my case, Addie inherited all of my husband’s soccer chromosomes, and what she didn’t inherit, she learned by playing in pickup matches with him, her siblings, and her fabulous coaches and teammates through the years.
I remember the first time I saw her put on her shin guards and her little white rec team t-shirt. I worried she would get hurt, miss the ball, or collide with some equally hapless child and get concussed like her father did on occasion.
It didn’t take me long to realize Addie had three things going for her when it came to athleticism: speed, coordination, and intelligence.
Watching my little pony-tailed girl chase down balls, find her foot and her feel for the game, I saw something growing inside her I’m not sure I would’ve had a way to measure otherwise. In school, I knew Addie always worked hard to do her personal best, but parents don’t often get to watch their children learn (unless they happen to also be their teacher, which I was last year).
On the field, I realized Addie didn’t like getting beat to the ball, having it taken away from her, or having her shot blocked. She wanted to shoot. She wanted to score. And she wanted to win.
My little girl was a big competitor.
Honestly, the way my husband’s family plays board games, I should’ve known all along. People who turn Pictionary into a cutthroat battle to the finish probably do have an innate need to “win, win, win no matter what.”
Addie comes from a long line of feisty, fierce game players.
As the minutes counted down, I watched Addie and her younger sister, Meg, play with each other for the last time in both of their lives, and I wondered what they were thinking. Were they sad that this part of their relationship was over? Were they rooting for each other? Would they run to each other when the last second ticked past and stay locked in some long sisterly embrace?
The game ended in a tie, the girls jogged off the field, and I noticed Addie was the last one to the sideline. Her father would’ve done that. He wouldn’t want it to be over yet. Every, last, second, would delay the inevitable — the end.
And do you know who was the second to the last player to reach the side of the field?
They didn’t hug or hold hands or even say anything. They just stood there with their heads down, close to each other. And in my mind I saw my two little girls again.
Addie was taller than Meg and she was telling her how to kick the ball. Meg was looking up at her with hero worship saying, “Like this Ada?”
They were running around out back in their matching tie-dye skirts with no shoes, shirts, or problems, pretending they were on the same team. They were passing to each other and trying to get the ball past Dad, the goalie/ coach/ other team.
“No fair, Dad! You can’t use your hands,” Addie laughs.
“Yes, I can,” he says. “If you’re the goalie you get to use your hands.”
“Well, then I’m going to be a goalie when I grow up, and I’ll use my hands and my feet!” she taunts him.
While they talk about the rules, Meg steals the ball with both her hands and runs into the goal.
“Scoooooorrrre!” she yells. “I use my hands too!”
The beeping car horns call me back to the moment.
Soon, they’ll be packing up their bags and water bottles and slowly making their way to me and I know, for some reason, today I can’t watch this. I tell my husband someone has to get the car and it might as well be me. I need the walk.
As I cry-walk, I realize what hurts the most about watching your kids grow up isn’t actually the last time they do something. It isn’t watching it happen. It’s knowing that you won’t get to watch it again.
It’s knowing that those days in the backyard, these days on the field, this driving them home in the dark when the car smells like cleats/ cat pee (I don’t get it either) this time with them is coming to a close.
And I’ve really liked it. I’ve really loved it.
I really love them.
One minute into our ride Meg says she’s got a math test to finish and Addie wants to drive home to get more nighttime driving hours in. Everybody has something to do and get done and my mind is already on what’s in our fridge and who’s going to cook it.
Meg has a headache, Addie wants a shower, Jack could eat a horse, and I’m relieved.
I’ve survived watching the first “last” of Addie’s senior year, and our life together goes on.
And what a big, beautiful life it will be.