My Little Runaway

An icon of a girl running across the sun

I always enjoyed watching my daughter play youth soccer when she was little.

Since I knew little about the game, my appreciation for her play was something that was initially hard to define. But I soon recognized that I simply loved the way she ran; with long legs and a deep loping gait, she moved like a gazelle up and down the field.

Stride after stride she would overtake or escape her opponents, her ponytail trailing in the wind struggling to catch up. And I also discovered that she possessed a strong and sure-footed kick that over time seemed to consistently advance the ball where it needed to be.

Sometimes she scored goals herself. Sometimes she assisted. Sometimes she stopped advances. Sometimes through sheer determination she ran down and thwarted breakaway plays all by herself.

And sometimes, well, sometimes she let the ball through. It happens.

But no matter how well she played, she always ran beautifully: with determination, grace and passion. And it made my heart soar just to see her be herself.

Occasionally, in slow game moments, she would catch a glimpse of me watching her quietly from the sidelines. A quick smile would cross her face and she would wave to me; a flitting, imperceptible back and forth hand gesture across her chest decipherable only by me.

I would smile wider than the goal posts and quickly shoot an equally discreet wave back.

It was our own secret signal; a silent nod of recognition and support. And for me, a special acknowledgment as her number one fan.

I speak of this in the past because it seems less obnoxious to openly and unabashedly gloat about my daughter years after the fact. I was, after all, just one proud parent among many who also watched their athletic and talented young girls excel and grow into sport.

In truth, my daughter still plays soccer and runs hard, with all the power and grace of a long-legged gazelle. She competes in high school now. And I still watch quietly from the sidelines. Although now that I know more about the game, I am more focused on the entire varsity team than on her specific level of play.

And these days the fields are bigger and laid with turf and sometimes I have to sit on cold bleachers.

And the games are more intense. She is not even conscious that I am there.

Because little girls turn into big girls. They grow stronger. They grow faster. They grow taller. They grow tougher. They grow smarter.

On the field, they are more aggressive. They take competition more seriously. They run fast, they kick hard, they shift quickly, they play smart, and they yell with command.

They crash hard too. Sometimes there are even injuries. Season ending ones.

And these tough-minded girls no longer secretly wave to their parents who are still proudly watching all these years later. These young women are too focused on the game to lapse into such trivial distractions. The stakes are higher. And let’s face it; in high school proud parents are too much of an embarrassment to acknowledge in public.

Especially when interested boys are watching the game too.

A month ago, in the midst of chaotic and ferocious play, I watched the soccer ball careen high and deep into the backfield. My daughter pedaled backward looking skyward intending to direct the ball with her head as it fell back to earth.

A few steps away a girl on the opposing team had the same idea with matching intensity.

Up they went to reach the ball; two heads colliding. I am pretty sure skulls are harder than soccer balls. It sure looked that way. And sounded that way.

Personally, I don’t think minor and concussion belong in the same sentence, but according to the doctor, that is what she experienced. Given the circumstances, she was lucky. Her ability to concentrate returned after a few days as the headaches disappeared. She was soon able to handle the academic rigors of school.

And she ultimately returned to finish out the soccer season. But much to her disappointment, she was only medically cleared to cheer on her team from the bench.

As a proud, obnoxious parent who relishes in his daughter’s athletic prowess because he has little of his own, I hate to see her in a position where her ponytail doesn’t have to struggle to keep up.

But, of course, it is not about me. While she desperately wants to play, she is also happily content to enthusiastically support her team as they run hard without her.

And to be a smart, active, and engaged teenager with all that entails.

Who is already thinking of the lacrosse season in spring.

I love to watch her run.