A Letter to the Coach

I made a decision a few weeks ago and I finally followed through on it today.  I decided to take my son off his soccer team.  This was tough for many reasons, not the least of which is that no one- not his father, not the coach, nor any of the other parents on the team- agrees with me.  It can be nerve-wracking to stand up for yourself and do what you feel is right when everyone thinks you are crazy… and when you are a parent, and the people who think you are crazy are other judgey parents, and that THING is soccer?  Nearly impossible.

I did it though, because as scary as the backlash and forthcoming temper tantrums from my ex are, nothing scares me more than the absolute certainty that I’m doing this wrong, this parenting thing.  At 37 years old, I have tossed out everything I used to think I knew.  I have disassembled my perspective on life and I am slowly, carefully, putting it back together with only the pieces I know belong.  Quite honestly I have very few pieces in place.  Maybe that’s all I will ever have as the older I get, the less I realize I know to be truth.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I know- KNOW- that narrowing one’s perspective, limiting one’s opportunities, eliminating choice, and replacing what should matter with what should not is bad.  I know that being kind matters.  I know that family matters.  And I know that it is my job to make sure I don’t lead my children down a path I know won’t lead them to happiness.

My oldest son is a great soccer player.  He is on the premiere team and this means he has practice three nights a week, games every Saturday and Sunday, and this lasts ten months out of the year, the other two months to be replaced with indoor soccer every weekend during the winter.  If for some reason he needs to miss soccer, I have to ask permission from his coach who gives me a lecture on dedication and work ethic.  (I don’t think I need to elaborate on the eye-rolling that ensues when you lecture a working single mother of three with no financial support on the subject of work ethic.)  My son has never taken music lessons.  He isn’t in any clubs or on any other teams.  He has never played anything but soccer his entire life.  Oh, and he’s twelve.

I sent the coach a letter today explaining my decision to take my son off his team.  I’m sharing it here because I want to expand the commentary from a discourse about youth soccer to something a little bit larger: if you are a parent and you are educated, thoughtful, and want what is best for your child to become a happy, healthy adult someday, do what you know to be best for that child.  Everyone has an opinion on how you’re doing it wrong and how to do it better, but your opinion is the only one that matters.  If you find yourself the only dissenter in a mass of parental peer pressure, whatever it is, consider me rooting for you.  And good luck.

My Letter to the Coach:

I am writing to discuss with you my decision to take Matthew out of year round soccer, to explain why this is important to me, and to ask if you will accommodate an alternate schedule for him on your team.

First, Matthew’s father and I have equal split time with Matthew and if he should wish to continue taking Matthew to his practices and games on his weekdays and weekends, I would like to know if you will accommodate him. I will not be taking him to soccer again or allowing him to attend on my days until tryouts for next season begin when I will allow him to join a select team.

As for why I am taking Matthew out of year round soccer, I think this is important to communicate with you as you are a parent and have likely had similar thoughts of your own on what is best for your children.  Matthew has been playing soccer since he was 4 years old.  Up until four years ago, I managed his team and helped his father coach.  He has not been exposed to anything other than soccer in the way of extra-curricular activities.  I reasoned that this was okay because he was gaining so much from soccer- it was healthy, good for his self esteem, and was teaching both to work hard for what he wanted and to be a successful part of a team.  Over the past year, I have found that the lessons my children are learning from soccer are primarily harmful these days and contradictory to my reasons as a parent for exposing him to the sport in the first place.  I feel the importance placed on soccer at such a competitive level in children so young is teaching them a skewed perspective on what really matters in life, that teaching them to win at all costs, to be mean and critical and value a competitive spirit over camaraderie and encouragement is actually very harmful.  I do not agree that soccer practice (or games for that matter) should take precedence over family, health, or education.  I also feel that every child on that team is being forced to miss a large portion of their childhood, to forgo exposure to the vast myriad of experiences expressly available to us only as children, in order to train as though they are Olympians when the reality is that few if any of them will play beyond high school, and all of this misplaced over-exertion is wasted.  I have been harassed by previous coaches for making the decision to keep Matthew home when he was feverish and it was raining, for choosing to take the children Christmas shopping (when your time with your children is limited by joint custody and work, sometimes you have to choose between these things), for missing practice to visit a dying relative in the ICU… I have spent family weekends camping, fishing, and visiting with far away Grandparents without my son there because the coach called the shots instead of me.  And I have watched my son turn into an unlikable ass who yells at his teammates, looks down on others, and has absolutely no idea what actually causes real happiness.

I will continue to encourage him in soccer, but I intend to move him to Select next year as it has been made clear to me that balance in one’s life is not an option on a Premiere team.  I hope you will understand my decision even if you do not agree with it and I wish the team the very best for the remainder of the season.

Best Regards,

Marie Sorbel

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One Thing Right

It is one thing to know right from wrong, I have found, and another thing entirely to put that knowledge into practical application.  I suspect that deep down even the most horrible among us knows how to behave appropriately at all times, but something greater than that knowledge takes hold and we act very often in direct contradiction to how we know we ought.

Never is this phenomenon more prevalent than when an “ex” is involved.  And never is it more detrimental and inevitably regretful than when there are children with that ex.  I’m surprised by the rhetoric so many separating parents can recite by rote memory- “I just want what’s best for the children, we never fight in front of the kids,”- and the stark contrast that is usually the reality.  The same parents who love their children use them, grill them, brainwash them, withhold them, and manipulate them as they suffer through a divorce in an effort to inflict pain on the other parent.  I’ve seen it constantly and I am excessively grateful that for all my difficulties through my divorce, I never felt my children were part of the battlefield.  I was asked the other day how I managed to maintain my sanity through the split and remain above the drama that drives so many couples insane.  While I don’t feel a great deal of secret wisdom was at play, I am able to at least impart the basic tenets of reasonable, sane human decency which dictated overall the manner of my separation and current coparenting arrangement.

  1. Don’t make money more important than your children.  Child custody laws are strange sometimes.  A law entitling the custodial parent to more child support makes sense on the surface as the parent providing more care for the child needs to be reimbursed for that care by the other parent.  Unfortunately, a law designed to ensure enough financial support for child-rearing can easily be utilized by a greedy parent to increase child support simply by demanding the majority of the parenting time.  In fact, in nearly every custody discussion I have viewed in the past few years, this has been the case.  Given that virtually every study on the issue unanimously agrees that equal time with both parents both offsets the harmful emotional effects of a divorce on a child and fosters the important child-parent attachment essential for healthy development, there has to be a pretty compelling reason for one parent to want to deprive their child any amount of time with the other.  In the first-hand custody battles I’ve watched recently, none of the parents were abusive, none of them were drug addicts, no children were in harm in one household or the other… one parent was simply denying the other parent equal time for their own benefit.  Too often- that benefit is money.  Yes, you may be able to avoid paying child support by limiting how much time the other parent sees the child, but if those are really your priorities- WHAT THE FUCK?!
  2. Don’t carry your baggage forever.  When first you part ways with the other parent of your children, you will likely feel a myriad of emotions, few of which are sane or beneficial to continue to feel for the long haul.  You may feel anger and resentment over how things ended, you may feel hope that you will eventually reconcile, and you may feel jealousy if the other parent has found a new partner or begun dating.  The actions we take when we allow our unsettled emotions to dictate our path are very seldom wise actions.  These emotions are the things which lead you to stalk people you don’t know on Facebook to see who your spouse is dating now, or hack into his email account to sift through all of his private match.com correspondence.  Sadly, these emotions can also lead you to use your child as a weapon to inflict pain or elicit remorse from your spouse.  While behaving irrationally is wrong and will end poorly, behaving irrationally and using a child to do so is reprehensible and can cause irreparable harm.  As insane as your situation makes you feel inside, take a deep breath, accept that this shit is just what it is, and let it go.  If you find yourself behaving in a manner which is obviously the result of resentful or jealous feelings- stop.  Just don’t.
  3. Remember you are creating a real life human being.  So you fucked up the marriage part of your life.  C’est la vie.  Maybe you try again someday, maybe you collect cats instead, maybe you find a nice cave and live out your old age weaving stocking caps out of ivy and carving pictures into rocks.  I don’t know or even really care.  What you don’t get to do is stop parenting.  It is your job to give that kid the best chance at becoming a happy, healthy adult who contributes to this world in a positive manner.  It is your FUCKING JOB.  I don’t care how mad you get at that kid’s father- the best thing for a child is to love and respect BOTH parents throughout their development, and it is your job to foster that because this is no longer about you.  The upbringing of that child has nothing to do with who cheated on who, who felt neglected, who yelled too much, blah, blah, blah.   Speak well of that other parent.  Encourage your children to love you both equally.  Put your selfish ulterior motives and underlying issues aside and do your job.
  4. Grow up.  You can whine to your girlfriends as much as you want about how you accidentally married the worst human being on the planet, entirely unbeknownst to you until approximately 5 years, a white picket fence, and 1.5 children in, but it’s highly unlikely that this is the case.  More likely, you married someone who just wasn’t a good fit for your personality in the long term and things just didn’t work out despite the fact that you are both relatively good people.  While it may be tough when you are disagreeing over massively important contentious issues like who gets that piano your mother-in-law clearly gave to you, it is important to remember that this is just another human being you are dealing with who hurts, fears, regrets, and also wants to be happy someday.  It takes a very mature person to embrace empathy and forgiveness in order to replace some of the inevitable vitriol with kindness or, at minimum, civility.  Be that person. Be better than you want to be because it is good for your soul.  Have something to be proud of when you look back on one of the most difficult times of your life.

I asked my children the other day if they were happy.  They told me yes, all of them, even happier than when we lived in Spokane and their father and I were together. They see us both an equal amount of time, they love us both, and they are happy.

For all our failures, at least we got this one thing right.

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The High Road

Divorce.

The dissolution of a marriage between two people. The end of a union which two adults have determined to be insufferable. A very private choice which can only ever be fully understood by the two individuals who were personally living the married life that resulted in so much unhappiness.

One of the things I found most jarring upon choosing to end my marriage was how many more people than TWO are actually involved in a divorce. People you don’t think to run your decisions by when you set out on the journey. People who didn’t have to live through the marriage itself. Family, friends, mutual acquaintances, relative strangers… People who didn’t give a rat’s ass about supporting the sufferers during the marriage, yet immediately feel the entire event is public property when it ends and appear entitled to an opinion on its every aspect. These people often take longer to adjust to your divorce than you do, and have more difficulty behaving with general empathy and courtesy until they’ve adjusted. They are often outraged when they didn’t even see it coming (because why aren’t you keeping the general public apprised of your every marital issue?!) and quick to take sides with whoever will tell their side first and loudest.

I don’t deal with this much anymore. I cut the people out of my life who didn’t make room for compassion and forgiveness. It was a long road weeding out the busy-bodies and judgmental skin-deep acquaintances who always had more than two cents to share, but now I can feel content that the only meddling left is from former in-laws, and it’s at least done behind my back where I can’t see or hear it.

Instead, I now find myself an outside observer to a divorce and this strange phenomenon of the real life he said-she said game. The advice I give when asked- to take the high road, stay above the bullshit, and just let it all go- is difficult to follow. Because not everybody takes the high road, and when you are a victim of someone else’s low road, you find your friends taking sides, and not yours… because you haven’t shared all of the dark, filthy gossip that led you to where you are now. You never told anyone your wife was sleeping around, or that she used the children as pawns, that she won’t let you be with your child half the time because she wants more child support despite her trust fund and an income three times what you make. You don’t complain to them that she erupted in a jealous rage after you finally started dating and has since been using every avenue possible to ruin your new relationship- secretly reading all of your texts and emails multiple times a day, sleeping with your friends in an attempt to make you jealous, refusing to let you take anything from your marriage but the shirt on your back, and even moving your son’s mother into her home and instigating a second custody battle. And so your friends have taken sides and, although they claim they are still your friends and don’t want to choose, they show no sympathy for you when you prefer not to be around your wife and her new fling-slash-attempt-to-get-a-jealous-reaction-out-of-you. They treat you as though you are over-reacting about the pain and cannot understand why you have to make everything so difficult when they just want it all back the way it was.

For a while now, I have thought that perhaps my initial advice to you was wrong- that perhaps it is best to just get it all out in the open… her infidelities and cruelties, the years of misery, the conniving and manipulation and mind-boggling selfishness and greed…

But I am brought back around by a single truth- your real friends do not need to know any of your dark secrets to remain compassionate and considerate. They don’t need to hate her in order to forgive you for failing at wedlock. They don’t need to know who is to blame. They have character and a moral conscience and a heart. They won’t abandon you because her tales are better spun and they won’t bend an ear to the jealous rantings of a woman scorned. People of character like this might be rare, but they exist and those are the only friends worth keeping.

So take the high road, and say farewell to those who will not travel it with you. In the end, you will be happy, and that was your only real goal all along.

 

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For Her

I sometimes find myself wondering if she hates me.

Especially at moments like this, as I sit in her driveway with the car running, and take one last deep breath before I trudge to her front door to fetch my children, one of whom is in the midst of a screaming tantrum and has probably hurled some vehement words at her to the gist of “You aren’t my mom!” She looks less calm today than usual, obviously frazzled by my daughter’s inconsolable rage over being put in time out and having a stuffed toy taken away. As I try to herd the kids out the door, they exchange one last string of venomous words… I am about to step onto the porch, but I look at her and I’m touched by how upset, disheveled, and clearly distraught over this she appears. I tell her my daughter loves her and I go.

She is my husband’s girlfriend. It sounds worse than it is, really… after a 3 year separation, I often forget we haven’t formalized the divorce with paperwork yet. They have been together for nearly two years now, and she has been a constant fixture in the lives of my children for all but the first month or so of that time. We have rarely spoken, and though every word that has passed between us is civil, I know that the stories she has heard about me from my husband must be terrible. I know this because he is often unable to remain civil with me; I shudder to think what he says when he isn’t watching his tongue. I cannot blame him, though… although I harbor no hard feelings myself, divorce is hard and neither of us can claim to regret nothing we’ve ever said or done.

It was hard at first to share my children with another woman. I thought about these little people I had birthed, and fed from my own breasts their every meal for months of their lives, changed every diaper, awakened to every nighttime whimper, nursed through the darkness when they were sick, held in my arms when they cried… and now they were apart from me half the time and someone else would soothe their hurts and coo them to sleep. My heart ached over it for weeks. I would feel pain when my daughter would show me the nails this woman had painted for her, or a doll this woman had given her. When she told me how much she loved this woman, she might as well have ripped apart my very soul.

I don’t know exactly when I began to feel differently… but at some point, I just did. I slowly began to realize that hearts are different from most other of our world’s creations. They do not have finite boundaries, but grow to fit their contents. I suppose I must have feared initially that my children would not have room to love me as much if they chose to love her, but I have watched closely as they learn to love us both completely. They are happy, healthy, and loved in return. I know that when they are not with me, but her, they are still safe, and I do not lay awake at night wondering about what is out of my control.

It isn’t fair what happens when a marriage ends- how two stories evolve so very differently from each other to make the teller feel less guilt over their own part in what is always inevitably a joint failure. If I could share my thoughts with her, I would not bother with a dissertation on my innocence of whatever wrongdoings have been leveled against me. In truth, I am not innocent of most of them anyway. Neither would I level accusations against my husband of a decade to justify my final decision to give up. I have nothing to say on either head.

I only want to tell her thank you.

For loving my children as her own. For staying calm when the boys fight. For showing my children compassion and patience when it gets difficult. For laying down rules and boundaries without losing her temper. For letting them into her heart. For loving their father and making him a happier, better person. For never being rude to me. For setting a good example. For being kind.

And I would tell her I’m sorry about that temper tantrum; it wasn’t her fault and I never blamed her for a second. She’s doing a damn fine job.

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