Simmer down, soccer parents

How many times am I going to write about parents behaving badly at their own kids’ sporting events?

How many times is Kim Kardashian going to get married? We have no way of knowing, right? Ditto on the bad parents. The possibilities are endless.

My latest rant stems from last Saturday’s U10 soccer game between my younger son’s team and their local rivals. Tom warned me going in that it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Hoo boy. He sure wasn’t kidding.

Here’s what when down:

The game was heated. An opposing player may or may not have tripped a player on Tom’s team, but the ref called a foul. And then the little opposing player said, “Are you f***in’ kidding me?” to the ref. The referee heard the remark and gave the young player a yellow card.

Then the opposing coach screamed in outrage because he disagreed with the ref that what his player said was offensive and inappropriate. He already had bullied the young refs into calling some other fouls his way.

So in my worldview, that coach should have at the least received a yellow card and at the most been ejected from the game. But no. Nothing. The other parents and I were dumbfounded.

In disgust, I wrote a letter to the league board. Here’s an excerpt:

“Hmmm. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why a young player on that team would feel entitled to express his displeasure with the referee’s call. Just look at the coach.

While I find any behavior of this sort abhorrent, it’s especially disturbing given the context. It’s a recreational soccer game. These children are 9 and 10 years old. The stakes are non-existent. Seriously, it’s not worth developing high blood pressure over whether a referee made a proper call.

I’m certain this is not the first complaint you have received about this particular coach’s sideline behavior, and I’m just as certain it won’t be the last, unless the man receives some sort of anger-management training. I just feel so sorry for whomever he goes home to.”


I think the league needs to ask itself whether the coaching behavior exhibited today is how the league wants to present itself.

So far, I’ve heard nothing from any of the board members who received my letter. It’ll be a week tomorrow.

Here’s the problem, people. Adults watching their children playing team sports have lost all perspective. I grew up barely after Title IX took effect, so most girls I knew didn’t play team sports before junior high or high school. Some boys did play Little League, but I don’t remember their parents going ape over their kids’ freakish athletic ability, plastering their cars with sport clings with their kiddos’ name and number on it, driving all over Hell’s Half-Acre to watch them play whatever sport they played.

And that would mostly be because the parents were busy with other things in life and saw sports as a diversion and learning experience to keep kids busy until more important things came along – like school and jobs.

I really think the energy expended by people like that opposing coach could be channeled into making sure their kids learn what they need to learn in school, set some attainable life goals and work on becoming a human being who could make the world a better place.

But I think I’m in the minority.


The sting: Don’t try to fool Mama

The game was afoot.

I knew something was going on when I turned on the television in my room one day, and the TV was in a different mode. There’s only one way that can happen, and that’s by deliberate intent. And there’s generally only one reason the TV would be in a different mode, and that would be because someone was using the xBox on it.

Which is weird, because it was a weekday. And folks in these parts don’t play video games during the week. That’s a luxury reserved only for weekends because of homework and such.

So I took a straightforward approach and casually remarked to my three offspring that the TV was in a different mode. Did any of them have any theories?

They emitted a collective “nope.”

Hmmm. I posited the xBox theory. And they were aghast. What? “No way,” my oldest said. “I don’t know what happened.”

But you see, he protested a bit much. Because he is home by himself for a couple hours three days a week while I’m either at my internship or at grad school.

It was a curious situation, exacerbated by the daily updates from PowerSchool, that gift/curse that tells parents what their kids’ grades are. And the grades of the prime suspect were fair to middling. I smelled FIFA12, but I couldn’t prove it. And with the face of an angel and the pulse of a con man gifted at outsmarting lie detectors, that kid was telling a tale, I was sure of it.

I just needed evidence.

Not for nothing have I watched years of the various Law & Order franchises and NCIS. And that’s not even counting the dozens of Agatha Christie novels I’ve read or the five or so times I read Harriet the Spy.

And let’s not forget Oceans 11, 12 and 13.

What I’m saying is, I know how to get the evidence I need, capiche?  I just needed to bide my time.

So one Sunday, we all got up bright and early to go to church. But the oldest was exhausted from his busy social life and asked if this once he could sleep in a bit and then work on his homework, study for his finals.

Certainly, I purred. Just don’t play any video games.

“I won’t,” he said, all wide-eyed innocence.

The hubs and the other two kids were in the car when I ran back inside to get something. I tiptoed upstairs to my bedroom, where the xBox was sitting. I piled a few games on top of the console and put a controller on top. Then I sped back downstairs and went to church.

When we got home a few hours later, I went to my room. Surprise! The games weren’t on the console, and neither was the controller. The TV, too, was in the video game mode again.

I ran into the oldest kid’s room. “Aha!” I said. “You played video games!”

He looked hurt.  “Mom!” he said. “I didn’t do it.”

And then I explained the little trap I’d set. He narrowed his eyes, giving me a look that said, “I hate yo…” And then his look turned to one of – dare I say it – grudging admiration. He smiled sheepishly.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I did it.”

I sputtered, taken aback at the lack of indignant anger, that he’d better do his homework for the rest of the day.

I went back downstairs and shared the evidence with the hubs. The youngest listened intently.

“Wow,” he said. “You set a trap. How did you do that?”

Tsk, tsk, tsk, my young friend. Mama’s not going to reveal all her secrets…

Missing my home

I should be creating a study guide for the hellish final I’m facing in Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Families, Groups, Organizations, Communities.

But like the Class A procrastinator I am, I would rather surf the Internet trying to find out how fast the Mississippi River is flowing through my home county, Mississippi County, Mo., after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasted a two-mile wide hole in a 65-foot-tall levee there.

And doing that made me think about my childhood, which made me remember how scared I always was when the river flooded and my dad piled us all into the station wagon or van or what have you and drove us around Hell’s Half-Acre, looking at the water all out of its banks. And I was always afraid he’d lose control of the car, and we’d careen down the secondary levee to our deaths in the cold, murky, muddy Mississippi waters.

Which made me remember that I always had an escape route planned. Like if that above scenario happened, then I knew that I had only a few precious seconds to roll down the backseat windows, thereby leaving us an avenue to get out of car as it sank. And since none of us wore seatbelts back then, we’d all be able to make it. And then I would receive an award for a) being a hero and b) being smart enough to know what to do when my dad temporarily lost his sanity and drove us all into the river.

Those were the days.

None of my family lives in southeast Missouri any longer. We’ve all migrated north, back toward the land my father’s family farmed in north-central Missouri and toward the land my mother’s family tended in north-central Illinois, far from the reaches of the mighty Mississippi.

Last week, when I learned the Corps of Engineers was seriously contemplating blowing the levee, I quickly did some research. It had been years since I’d thought about the spillway cutting a path through Mississippi County. Despite a local newspaper editor’s years of reporting and writing about what was likely to happen if the right flood came along, I didn’t pay too much attention.

Suddenly, I wished that I had. So I called up my parents, who were skeptical that the Corps would do anything. My mom taught school for years in East Prairie, Mo., a town just down the road from my hometown of Charleston, Mo. Mom said officials always were threatening to blow the levee, to evacuate the spillway. “Those bastards just want to see if they can do it,” my dad said.

See, the spillway was meant to work this way: If conditions were right and the Mississippi River, kept from its natural pathway by an immense federal levee system from St. Louis south to the Gulf of Mexico, needed to let off floodwaters and ease pressure on levees and floodwalls, the Corps could blow a hole in a levee east of Charleston, allowing water to flow through the southeast part of the county. By blowing a hole in a levee near New Madrid, Mo., the water could then make its way back into the river channel.

Click here to get a link to a map of the area.

But this hadn’t been necessary since 1937. Few people remember what that was like. And since then, the land inside the spillway has been farmed (it’s some of the best farmland in the country, maybe even the world) and folks have built houses there and raised families and lived.

My parents didn’t think it was going to happen. But when the story made CNN and the New York Times, I knew it was serious. And when state lawmakers pressed their case past state courts to a federal appeals court and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned them down, I knew it was going to happen.

At my house, miles and miles away from the heartbreak unfolding in Mississippi County, my family watched in real time as the levee blew, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. Immediately, Facebook was abuzz with the comments of my classmates and former neighbors and people I’d known since I was born, checking to see if each other was all right, who’d felt the blast, whose parents had lost everything.

I wasn’t there. I haven’t been there in years. My family never has farmed that land. But I feel connected to it, drawn to the story of what’s going to happen to the people there, my friends, my old schoolmates.

No longer do we pile into the car to assess the flooding; we can do that through Facebook and the Internet and live webcams.

Now I should get back to studying for my human behavior final. But I think I maybe understand more than I thought I did about families, groups, organizations and communities.