Replacement Therapy

I don’t even like soccer.

Our family of four was at the drill hall on a Saturday morning at 9 am, though, because I pushed us there. A friend from church told me about a preschool-age soccer league meeting there weekly. Her son was on it and she wondered if Little Brother might be interested? I am a Yes person when it comes to my kids, motivated partly by love and largely by guilt, and I considered the fact that LB accompanies The Kid and me to so many therapy appointments, waiting patiently (usually; with the occasional “This is fuck” thrown in, but bygones) for his brother to emerge. It’s time for him to have his own thing, I thought. So we talked it up all week: “You want to play soccer?” And he responded affirmatively: “YES!” he’d exclaim, with a little jump thrown in. Skies were blue, the coast was clear.

Then we arrived. The other kids, who already had one session under their belts, were socialising and kicking and playing. The room buzzed with activity. And LB was all, “Oh HELL naw.”

He wouldn’t put on the shirt. He wouldn’t touch the water bottle. He wouldn’t grab a ball. He climbed up on The Husband like a jungle gym and refused to have anything to do with it. TK begged to go outside; LB begged to go home; TH managed them both while ducking out to take a work call briefly.

And I? I did what I always do in these situations. Outwardly, I drew toward the activity, to remind the kids and instructors that we were still here. Our family was represented, and I was its placeholder. We would make this work, dammit. But interiorly? I retreated. I curled up into a dark corner of myself and the dark thoughts began.

It’s happening all over again.
This was the kid who was going to be your chance to escape from the sidelines, from the questions, from the explanations, from the stares.
But here you are, standing alone again while your child cries. Here you are, in inner turmoil with a fake smile plastered on your face, your insides seething at yet another thing not going the way you planned. At yet another child making things more complicated than you chose.

And, finally…
Life is never going to get better.

These are the whispers and hisses I battle daily, that I confront in the glow of my computer screen and manhandle until I’ve managed to unearth the beauty, or at least choose to believe it exists whether I see it or not. I don’t start there–it’s a road, and the first steps are in darkness. This is no “chin-up” exercise; it is clawing and sweaty and tear-streaked and blood-stained. It’s real, and it’s hard.

(That’s what she said. Thank you, I’ll be here all week, oscillating between extreme moods!)

TH asked me if we should just leave, and I dug in my heels, gritted my teeth, and refused. I’d paid good Australian dollars for this and I’d be damned if we’d give in too easily. I looked at LB, lying on his stomach on the ground at this point like some kind of asshole, and my anger grew. Why are you making this so hard for me? I seethed silently, and then he looked up. He saw whatever horrible look was on my face. And I felt the knife-wound through my heart of all the demands I’ve placed on my children, on myself, on my God, to capitulate to my plan. To what I think is best. And I think, further, of how none of my plans would have gotten me here: to this country, to this family, to this computer.

I want to run, yet I stay. And this, somehow, is grace.

Later, at home, LB puts on the shirt. He kicks the ball around and says he’s going to play soccer next week. And I grin, while thinking that I’ll believe it when I see it. He has about ten weeks to prove it, and maybe it will take that long. Maybe it will take even longer. Maybe it won’t work out at all this season. I’m learning that it takes time for a kid to unspool, to bloom.

At one of the many therapy appointments later that week, LB is not with TK and me. TK climbs into the occupational therapist’s hammock swing, the one he hated and ran away from the first time he saw it, much like LB at soccer practice, and this week he doesn’t want to climb out. He laughs, spinning himself tighter so that we can’t see him, and when we act playfully in return–asking where James is, wondering if he might have fallen asleep–he starts his fake snoring, and giggles from within what now looks like a cocoon.

His therapist turns to me. “He’s had an amazingly successful year, hasn’t he?” she says, and the words are like a balm to the many knife-wounds of the heart of a mother, some self-inflicted by trying to choose my own path, my own sacrifice; some inflicted by the troubles of this world and the hurts our children must endure within it. I think about how often I inwardly accuse my children of misplacing things, plans, goals I had, when the truth is that they’ve replaced them. With what is often harder, and better.

There is room for grief, the space that must be made when the plans we had must die so that new ones can be born in their place. Grace makes the space for that grief, and it has the power to transform it into something different: not the “yes, finally” of triumphant parenting and living and faith that meets our expectations, but the “oh, I see” recognition of what we’re actually meant for. For sidelines and fields, for explanations and silence, for pain and joy. TK slowly unspools from his tightly-wound state and pokes his head out of the cocoon, grinning, and the only word I have is yes.

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