Today there is the strong scent of freshly cut grass and new cement in the Los Angeles air, a combo-platter of smells that bring me back to the Septembers of my youth. With my lopsided Dorothy Hamill hair mullet and marshmallow-white Chiclet teeth perpendicularly punching their way out of my mouth and into an unfamiliar world of beauty and poise, I began my soccer career looking more mangled pitchfork than majestic filly.
Throughout my childhood, I would roll onto the local athletic fields twice a week after school, dribbling and kicking like a crusty member of a convalescent home for the criminally violent. With the wind whipping against my skinny legs and the sweat tide-pooling in my clavicle, I grunted, groaned and galloped until I collapsed into a pile of nylon netting in the back of the goal, pretending to have scored the winning point for a women’s Olympic team that hadn’t been born yet.
This afternoon I will pick Otto up from school and drive him to his very first soccer practice, a thrill I equate with my first bite of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and my eleventh viewing of Grease at the Old Mill 6 Theater. I have been talking about it all weekend hoping that Otto would be as thrilled as I am at the prospect of him out- dribbling his teammates or tackling the full-figured fullback and receiving his first official yellow card.
But my hereditary hooliganism did nothing more than encourage Otto to eat more grapes, abscond with six Matchbox cars after a play date and ride his outdoor, plastic car with a bit more sass. Or so I thought. This morning I awoke to my little monkey dressed in his new Adidas navy and white striped sweat suit looking like a slightly smaller version of David Beckham at a book signing. This is the same sweat suit that I coveted for years, begging my parents to spend the mere $59.99 to insure my place in the popularity pecking order.
They balked at my request making me suffer through the latter years of elementary school dressed in a cheap, JC Penney knock off that pilled at the collar and smelled like burnt toast when it rained. By the time I reached middle school I had convinced myself the sweat suit no longer mattered until I saw Bonnie McBride wearing the one I loved so much, sashaying those stripes down the social studies hallway like Christy Brinkley on the catwalk. To add insult to injury she had a house the size of a blimp hanger and could handpick any boyfriend out of the Preppy Handbook that made up the male population at our school.
I never forgot the yearning I had for that blue and white striped 1970’s relic of sports mania. And a few months ago while shopping at an outlet mall in the high desert Dave and I spotted the mini-man suit in the same colors and knew that Otto would wear it well. But due to brain freeze and life’s juggling mind jumble I stuck it in his closet and forgot all about it. All these months passed without even a memory of the purchase until last week when I signed him up for soccer and was searching his closet for extra t-shirts. There, hanging on the original hanger with the tags still on it was the minuscule version of my fantasy fashion statement. I took it out and told him that it was a real soccer sweat suit and that he could wear it to practice anytime he liked. He seemed to show no interest, due to the lack of farming equipment photos on the front and no apparent green in the color scheme. Then, this morning, as if on cue and ready to break his momma’s heart with happiness he insisted on wearing the whole ensemble to school as well as practice.
I have no idea how the first session of soccer will go. Will he love turning in circles with a ball between his feet? Will he kick the ball in the right direction? Will he be a team player or a ball hog? Will he throw a fit if there are no Twinkies and cans of Coke after the last whistle? Only time will tell. But I do know he will look the part and learn life lessons while I travel back down a lane of memories I cherish above all others, a collection of snapshots of a gangly girl running into wind with nothing on her mind but moving forward and making it matter.