“You don’t have to be crazy to be a goalie. But it helps.” -Bernie Parent
Being a goalie means you are part of a special breed. Being the parent of a goalie means that you are part of a special club.
I hate being the mother of the goalie. But for some reason, Little is drawn to it. It could be that hates running. It could be that he loves the limelight. It could be that he is comfortable barking orders at defense and that he fancies himself a Leader of Men. Be those as they may, I still hate being the mother of a goalie. I think that Mothers of Goalies (MOGs) should have special accommodations and support systems. I also think we need a padded cell from which to watch the game. Kind of the like the luxury box at TD Garden, but soundproofed.
But since we don’t, I look for the other goalie mom in the stands. Usually, she is the mother of another boy in the same league or the mother of the other goalie on the team. Sometimes, I find her when I am not looking for her. Like the last time Little played lacrosse.
The game was heated, and for good reason. This season, my son’s school was able to field a real lacrosse team. Last season, they fielded a team – technically- but our coach was a father who had tons of good intentions but no coaching experience. My husband, a more experienced coach, was not able to help out. The team lost. Every. Game. And they didn’t just lose: in one game in particular, against a very established team with older, experienced players, they got destroyed. The destruction wasn’t just limited to the field. Six of our players came off of the field injured. Physical pain and extremely low morale make for a slaughter. That’s what it was: there is really no other way to describe it. Parents are usually not allowed in the pen with players, but there was no assistant coach, so I played Florence Nightingale, ministering to bruises on the shin, elbow and ego. No one on the opposing team was trying to hurt our players, but it happened. It was a shut out and we couldn’t leave the pain on the field. At the end of the game, the coach swore that next year would be better.
And it was. It has been. We have three coaches and a seasoned team now. The veteran coach jumped at the chance to vindicate last year’s season with the same team that slaughtered us. So we met again on their field. And we started to win.
One of the reasons was that the older kids, last year’s eighth graders, moved up to the high school and a bumper crop of sixth graders replaced them. Some of them are smaller. One in particular was checked by one of our defenders, prompting screams of outrage from some of the parents of the opposing team: “That’s a dirty check!” (It wasn’t.) “Hey, ref, get your eyes checked.” (He didn’t need to.) And the coup de grace, “What do you expect from kids like that? Playing dirty is the only way they can win.”
“Now, hold on just a cotton pickin’ minute,” I almost said on the sidelines to my friend, the parent of another of our players. We were shocked at first. Then, as our score and the barrage of character insults piled up, we couldn’t take it anymore. We both stared at the parent. Really? Our glares spoke volumes. She still wouldn’t shut up. “We can hear you,” my friend said, evenly but with malice.
“Oh, yeah? Good: you heard me. Your players can’t win fairly so they have to hurt our kids. And you’re not my mother, so you can’t tell me what not to say.” My friend and I looked at each other incredulously. Before she could stop herself, my friend countered, “Well, your own mother obviously didn’t do such a good job of teaching you how to behave.” Two generations of mothers were involved now, albeit one virtually, and it was getting nasty.
My blood was boiling. Our children could hear us, I was sure. (They could have if they listened, but turns out, they were too focused on the game, I learned later from Little.) But at the time, I felt certain that some rabid sports parent was doing irreparable damage to my kid’s team’s reputation.
As we were preparing for our own battle, which I hoped would be short and only verbal, my friend, Ed*, the town league president for the opposing town, walked over. I made a huge show of greeting him loudly by name and he stood next to us. “Good game,” he said. “Lots different from last year, huh?” I forced a laugh to be congenial: “Yeah, you guys slaughtered us last year.” Then, pulling him aside, I nodded to the woman on the sidelines. “Who the hell is that?”
“Oh,” he said. “That’s Linda. She’s Connor’s mom.*Not their real names. Because, duh. It’s the last game of the season for him. He’s an eighth grader, and the high school team already has a goalie for next year. It’s a tough way to end the season.”
“I’ll say,” I muttered.
One of the things I like about Ed is his inability to get riled up easily, although sometimes, when it doesn’t serve my purposes, it’s downright annoying. He shrugged. “She’s the goalie’s mother. She’s having a tough game, too.”
Of course. She was one of my people. And I didn’t recognize her through all of her bluster, her put-on toughness. To their credit, her son’s team wasn’t outwardly blaming her son for the goals he let in, but I could tell by the way he held himself, standing less tall as the game went on, that he felt responsible for the loss. And she couldn’t make him feel any other way about it. Losing is an important way that character can be built, and as parents, we know this, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
The last seconds of the game elapsed, and we won by a landslide. I saw Linda * wipe her eyes with the end of her sweatshirt and decided to approach her.
“Your son did a great job in net today. I wanted to tell you that before we left.”
Her tears flowed freely. It seemed that, instantly, they washed away all of the anger that she had expressed only minutes before. “It’s his last game on this team and he probably won’t play next year because he’ll only be a freshman. He loves playing,” she started to explain. I just reached out and gave her a hug.
“Good game,” I said again, my own vision clearer.