It's been a solid month since our Oldest Girl ventured off to Turkey for a semester of study abroad. She's settled in nicely and seems to be having a blast in spite of the rather huge language barrier and the record snowfall in the area where she's living. She also seems to be navigating this new adventure with relative ease and has managed to find her way around the city despite the confusing Turkish streets and bus routes. Our girl has, however, experienced a little bit of culture shock, which mostly pertains to how the, um, 'facilities' are positioned relative to the floor. (Let's just say that being able to keep one's balance is a key requirement.)
Anyway, while I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing about her new adventures, I've also been nostalgic and contemplative since her departure. Recently I was reminded of one of my favorite stories about her as a first grader, which involves her first experience playing rec league soccer. Oldest Girl had watched her older brother play for a couple years and decided she wanted to give it a try too. We bought her the tiniest soccer cleats you’ve ever seen, and the smallest shin guards available and off she went to her first practice. Our girl was one of the smallest players on her team and didn’t really understand the game yet, but she enjoyed running around in her new shoes, and socializing with the other kids on her squad. The team met regularly for several weeks of practice and the coach worked patiently with the 6 and 7 year old kids, drilling them on the fundamentals of ball handling, kicking, position assignments, and strategy.
When it was finally time for the first real game, most of the kids were still a bit clueless about the nuances of how the game is played (unless, of course, you count running around in new shoes and socializing with the other kids on the squad.) The coaches for both teams assembled the players in their proper positions on the field, and the ref blew the whistle to start the game.
It was instant chaos! The “strategy” that the coaches had instilled in the young players was quickly forgotten and all the kids from both teams (even the goalies!) ran straight for the ball, congregating in a huge mass in the center of the field, kicking and scrambling for a piece of the elusive ball. This was nothing like practice, where everyone was in organized lines and participated in orderly drills, taking turns kicking the ball. This game looked more like two rival gangs of fire ants chasing (en masse) after a soccer ball-sized picnic crumb.
Image borrowed from here.
However, Oldest Girl was a bit timid at first, and she lagged behind the throng of “fire ants” and instead spent her time skipping around safely near the sideline of the field. Gradually she began to feel a bit more comfortable, and we saw her inch toward the action; she even made one or two timid moves toward actually kicking the ball. We watched as our girl gathered courage and she even made contact with the soccer ball, only to be pushed and shoved repeatedly by the other eager players. Then Oldest Girl stopped cold in her tracks in the center of the field, and I was worried that she was about to cry; or worse, that she was about to give up. Instead, she had apparently had some sort of a misguided epiphany. I can almost imagine her thinking, “Oh! So this is how the game is played!” It was like a light had come on in her little 6-year-old mind, and she ran over -- as fast as she could -- to a kid from the opposing team who happened to be lagging behind the group of players. With her entire 38-pound being, Oldest Girl shoved the unsuspecting player, knocking him out of her way like there was no tomorrow! No matter that the kid wasn’t even trying to make a play and that the ball was nowhere nearby. Before that kid could regain his bearings (or the coaches could react to the obvious foul) off our little hellion ran to find the next
victim opponent. For the next few minutes we saw her chase down kid after kid, pushing and shoving with abandon…and maybe even with just a hint of delight.