Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Team on Three ...

What happens when you take 18 kids from a half dozen towns and four different high schools and throw them together on a soccer field? Well, if you’re lucky – and if all the stars and personalities align – you get a team. 

This was the experiment we started back in March, although the conversation started well before then. I had two kids who wanted to play spring soccer, but had no team. Some of their friends were also interested in playing. My friend Mike – whose kids are friends with my kids – was game to help with coaching. And I had a connection with an established club who said if we could wrangle enough kids, they’d include a locally-based team under the club’s umbrella. 


Finding those 18 kids from a half dozen towns took some scrambling, and our group grew in fits and starts. Before we got to that soccer field, we started in a high school gym. It was the home school gym for several of these kids, and a rival gym for the others. And, indeed, before we started, many of these teenagers knew each other only as rivals – having faced off on opposing sides of the soccer field or basketball court a time or two. 


During the first couple of practices, only two schools were represented. Those sessions were pretty quiet, with awkward silences between drills and activities, and groups forming mainly along school allegiances. Then we added a handful of boys – and another coach – from a third school. 


Maybe it was some “Rule of Three” effect. Or maybe it was the timing of it. Probably it had a lot to do with personalities. Whatever the reason, by the time we headed outside in mid-April, this group of mostly boys and a few girls was goofing around, cracking jokes – often at a new teammate’s expense – and assigning each other nicknames. Sometimes, they were getting along SO well that we had to pause practice and wait for them to stop talking with each other.


When you grow up in a small town surrounded by other small towns, you spend a good portion of your childhood with the same bunch of kids. If you play sports, you probably have the same teammates (and some of the same opponents) from kindergarten through high school. If you’re lucky, those teammates become good friends, and maybe you figure out – early on or further down the road – how to work well together on the field. 


But every now and then, it can be really fun to mix it up. Play with different teammates. Compete against other teams. Listen to a different coach (or two). Learn to play a new position. And, well, make some new friends. 


By our first game, we had players from four different high schools on the roster. While we didn’t end the season with a winning record, the highlight of the spring was a tournament over Memorial Day weekend. The team won its first three games, including beating a team they’d tied earlier in the spring, and reached the tourney’s semifinals. For coach mom here, though, the best part of the weekend was seeing this group of awesome humans hanging out with each other and just having fun together.  


Our coaching goals for the season were to get the kids lots of touches on the ball, teach them a bit more about the game, help them learn to become better players. And they did – as individuals and as a team. The new friendships were a collateral bonus. 


This week, this crew of kids who didn’t really know each other a few months ago had their final game of the season. The next day, they got together one last time for a pickup session, which was as much about socializing as it was about soccer. For 90 minutes, they ran around a soccer field, laughing and playing and talking smack. 


Come fall, these kids will go back to being rivals on the pitch. But at the end of the season’s last gathering, they came together in a tight circle one more time, put their hands into the center, and gave their pre-game yell: “Team on three – one-two-three team!”

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's June 9, 2022 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record. 

May Mornings

By nature and my own design, I am almost always the first of my household to rise. When the kids were little, I got into the habit of rising earlier than they did, no matter how tired I might be. Those early mornings were often the only time I could rely on quiet; I cherished that bit of peace, however short, to sip my coffee and prepare for whatever the hours ahead might bring. As a morning person, I am attuned to the light early in the day – and how that light ebbs and flows through the seasons.

As September spins into October, summer’s yellow-white light fades, too quickly, to a subdued gray and I lament the morning dimness. No matter how bright an autumn day may become, with fall sunshine and all the colors of changing leaves, the steadily darkening mornings clearly indicate that summer has gone. By November, I am feeling my way down the hallway well before sunrise, shocked into wakefulness when my bare feet hit the chill of the kitchen’s tile floor. 

Though I grow used to these dark mornings by the depth of winter – and even accept the coziness of the lamp-lit quiet, tucked warmly away from the snowy world outside – I wholeheartedly welcome the return of early morning light come springtime. Some morning near the beginning of March, I notice a faint glow through my window shades as I awaken, and I know that no matter how much snow there is on the ground or how icy the wind is outside, the light is returning. This happens not long before the bi-annual time change, which always seems like a cheap trick to me – to give me morning light, then snatch it away as a tradeoff for lingering evening brightness. 

Daylight “savings” aside, come May, the morning light glows through those window shades earlier and brighter. Each day’s first wash of light gradually flows across a landscape whose color is expanding by the day. The newly green grass grows greener, dotted by happy yellow daffodils and dandelions. In the field, the lupine leaves on their slowly stretching stalks hold dew that sparkles in the morning sun. The pink-hued flowers of red maple trees and cascading pale green of willows tint yards and hillsides as leaves prepare to unfurl. The leaf buds on the lilac bushes swell daily, and I think if I had the patience to sit and watch, I could probably see them grow before my eyes. The fragrant flowers of those bushes will bloom this month, as will the shadbush at the edge of the driveway and the sweet pink and white apple blossoms in the fields beyond.


May is when early morning reclaims its light, and it is not only the leaves and flowers and returning birds who take note and adjust. I return to my weekend ritual of early morning porch sits, absconding outside with a blanket, a book, and the day’s first cup of coffee. I return to occasional early morning walks through the woods or slow, backroads runs. Even before the sun is fully up, the sky is filled with light. 


Perhaps we morning people are, in a way, solar powered. This growing morning light corresponds with an exceptionally busy time of year for my family. These early May mornings allow me the bit of space and time – and brightness – I need to reset and recharge before I dive into each full day. 

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's May 5, 2022 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Seasons of Chaos

As every parent of school-aged children knows, each season has its own level of crazy. For my family, it is often the sport-du-saison that ramps up the chaos, especially when there is overlap between one and the next. Now, for instance, as ski season lingers, while spring soccer and tennis kick off at full speed. Three kids. Two sports. Five teams. Oof.

The logistics, even with two involved parents, plus grandparents living nearby to help with taxi-ing and other things, can range from daunting to seemingly impossible. Our spring calendar is a muddle of games and practices and who-needs-to-be-where-when. Some days, my head spins when I try to figure out how to get everyone – including myself – where they are supposed to be at the allotted times. 

Here’s the thing, though – I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. 


There was one spring, in 2020, when we had no place to be. That, of course, was the year Covid hit and much of our world shut down. Frenzied schedules of sports and school concerts and social outings suddenly shifted to a very long stretch of days spent almost entirely at home. Work was from home. School was from home. And our sporting endeavors became constrained to the backyard. 


That spring, we did lots of projects around the house and yard. We spent weekends normally reserved for games instead completely revamping the huge and unwieldy perennial bed at the front of the house. We walked in the woods and along normally quiet roads that had become even quieter, since most other people weren’t going anywhere either. We played nearly daily family games of soccer and disc golf in the yard, fashioning goals from tree trunks and targets from boulders and branches and old stumps. We hardly got in the car at all. 


In some ways, it was kind of nice to have all that downtime and so many fewer obligations. But we also longed to get back to teams and sports and friends and competition – with someone beyond immediate family members. 


Two years later, we have returned to full-fledged scheduling madness. And I am OK with that. Mostly because I realize it will not last forever. 


The other day, I was lamenting to my mom how wild and crazy the family logistics are becoming, with kids going all different directions, work obligations, and the task of feeding three teenagers on-the-fly. “Yes, it’ll be busy for a few more years,” she said. The conversation rolled on to the next topic, but that remark has stuck with me. A few more years. Then, these multiple-sports-a-season, driving-all-over-creation, mom-there’s-nothing-to-eat days will be another phase of raising kids that has passed. 


I won’t have to create spreadsheets and color-coded calendars to help manage our family schedule. I will have far fewer games to watch and none of my own children to coach. It will, perhaps, be weirdly quiet in my house.   


So, yeah, I’m jumping into the chaos of this season. If anyone needs me, I’m probably driving to practice. Or a game. Or to the grocery store – again – to restock. 

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's April 7, 2022 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record.