The entire Celtics Under Fourteen soccer team focus on star player Findlay at the end-of-tournament supper in Pizza Hut, but as Amanda is observing her animated child, she’s evaluating herself, and she’s Soccer Mom of the Year.
All weekend, her shoulders were stiff with chaperone duty. Now, self-congratulation relaxes her back into a curve.
Best thing she ever did, getting Findlay into soccer. All the driving, fund raising, god-awful early morning practices—worth it—to see him bloom from a wincingly awkward pre-teen into a confident, popular youth. Pete should be witnessing this transformation from wimp to winner instead of winter fishing with his mates. His loss. She is Team Mom and Team Dad and doing a fine job. Straightening up, Amanda lifts her glass and surveys the scene.
Findlay’s directly across from her at the center of the table, half-risen from the wall seat, gesticulating so that the gold medallion around his neck flashes and swings. He recounts the lead-up to his winning goal. “So, Jack does a feint.” Findlay mimes it with his arms, “and this really tall defense tries to block him, and Jack just ducks and runs between his legs!” Diminutive Jack grins up at his teammates. A server places a gigantic pizza in the center of the table, and the kids angle back to allow Findlay his first-by-right slice. He continues the story muffled through gooey cheese.
Jack’s father Stephan, who is also the team coach, catches Amanda’s eye and winks at her from the far end of the long table. She holds her glass up to him in a toast, pleased he has acknowledged her. Findlay’s competition clincher goal wouldn’t have happened without Jack’s assist, but Amanda wants Findlay to be the star today. Her son needs the validation to make up for his dad’s indifference. And she needs to feel Findlay is a job well done on her part.
She sinks back into her chair again as the boys reach their skinny arms for pizza and stuff it in. They elbow each other, tease, laugh in happy splutters.
Jack takes after his dad. Stephan’s contained body is neat and purposeful, so different from Pete’s gangly physique. Plus the honed attention Stephan gives the boys in his coaching contrasts with Pete’s superficial, sloppy attitude to parenthood. She should have chosen a Stephan to be her co-parent, not a Pete.
Amanda sees Stephan stiffen as if he’s discovered the perfect, momentary congruence of ball trajectory and space alignment in a soccer game and is split-second calculating a goal shot. Leaning forward to follow what he’s staring at, her neck muscles tense and strain into her throat. Stephan is intent on her son, and Findlay’s choking.
Eyes wide, throat muscles working, chest heaving uselessly, Findlay’s arms are outstretched in a parody of his earlier triumphant storytelling. As vital air is being tackled away from him, Findlay looks surprised—embarrassed—even, to lose the flow of his tale, like the shame of relinquishing the soccer ball to an opponent.
Amanda’s brain sends urgent, sizzling signals to her limbs, commanding them to act, but the impulse to release her son’s trapped life force zaps against the bell jar of her fear. She cannot move. She’s joined the ranks of top athletes who have choked at a critical moment, just when they are needed most.
A blur of blue tracksuit crashes up onto the table like a striker bursting into a run. With a clatter of plates and cutlery, Stephan is behind Findlay. Hands fisted—up and in—one heave, two, and the boy expels a violent mess of slimy dough veined in red, which shoots through the air and skids on the floor near Amanda’s feet.
Teenagers jump backward, fan away, shout, “Gross! What happened?” then crowd in. Amanda can’t see—two back slaps, deliberate and final. Stephan is making sure there is nothing still lodged in Findlay’s throat. She hears the blissful hack of her son coughing.
That unblocks her. Too far to go around, too many bodies in the way. She clambers onto the table instead—panting—and reaches for Findlay from a kneeling position. But Findlay stiffens his arms to fend off her embrace. He speaks close to her face, near enough that she can smell the sickly tang of tomato and cheese on his breath. His face is drained of bravado, his mouth slack, eyes hollow with shock. “Mom, why didn’t you do anything? You were right there; you didn’t help me!”
Amanda’s momentum drains in a sucking swirl through her torso, and she slumps, her heart thick with defeat. She flashes back to ten years ago, when she began this competition with Pete. After a shout and splash from the hotel swimming pool, she swiveled round to see her partner diving fully clothed into the water to save their floundering three-year-old child. “You didn’t need to rescue him. There was a lifeguard, right there.” Amanda gestured casually to the teenage girl leaning over their stunned and shivering boy. “That’s why I left him to get our towels.”
Pete laid out the dripping contents of his wallet on a picnic bench in the deliberate manner of a casino card dealer, but his messy, loose-knuckled hands were shaking. “She wasn’t fast enough,” Pete gasped. He beat his laminated driver’s license on the wood, spraying water at her. “Not. Fast. Enough.”
Now, Amanda’s hands drop to her sides, and she bows her head in front of her son, like a beaten player after the final whistle. It’s a high stakes game, the struggle to be the better parent. Years of training, pain, sacrifice, all to win the treasured prize. In the end, she isn’t good enough, and she’s lost her most-wanted trophy. Surrendered at the critical moment, when an instant of over-thinking has pushed the reason she breathes into a suffocating choke.
I held my breath! Perhaps when he’s older with a long view he’ll ‘know’ about all the years of caring his mum could claim.
Yes, indeed Iona. Most parents do the best they can. We have to hope the kids understand that eventually.
What a powerful story. It held surprises that kept me engaged throughout.
Glad you enjoyed it Laura, thank you for commenting.
Powerful. Her selfishness almost costing her son’s life twice.
Thank you for reading Lois, I’m happy you found it powerful.
Great story, Elizabeth. Full of tension and it went places I didn’t expect it to go. Well done.
Thank you so much Keith.
Really enjoyed the story!
Thanks for reading it Sharon!
So well written – easy to read and follow – and unique in its story line. I really enjoyed it.
Diane, so glad you enjoyed it for the uniqueness – that means a lot to me!
Hi there Elizabeth,
Great story. I enjoyed reading it. Andrea