Mr. Carter hits the field

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There comes a time in all our lives when things be­gin to get con­sis­tently com­pli­cated. I al­ways as­sumed that time hit around pu­berty and the in­tro­duc­tion of un­re­quited love, but have since re­al­ized it emerges dur­ing a child’s first in­tro­duc­tion to sports.

My son is now three years old, and in At­lanta that means Mr. Carter can play in more de­vel­oped or­ga­nized sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. He did par­tic­i­pate in soc­cer at age two, but that small league was only about learn­ing how to run and kick a ball with­out fall­ing, and no ac­tual games were in­volved.

He be­gan play­ing soc­cer again last month, but this time his more de­vel­oped body can par­tic­i­pate in some prac­tice drills with a com­pe­ti­tion to fol­low. It was that first game against an op­pos­ing team that made him ques­tion all he had ever been taught be­fore. It also forced his other mother, Katie Jo, and I to think on our feet so he could in­tel­lec­tu­ally and emo­tion­ally make it through the game.

In tod­dler soc­cer prac­tice, ev­ery child has a ball to work with. You learn how to ig­nore the in­stinct to use your hands to han­dle the ball, and how to ef­fec­tively kick the ball so that it moves at some dis­tance down the field. You also learn to un­der­stand that the goal is the, well, goal and you kick the ball into the one the coach and all the par­ents keep point­ing to. I didn’t think to ex­plain to him the con­cept of one ball dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion, and ap­par­ently nei­ther did any­one else be­cause that sim­ple change in the struc­ture of play was the cat­a­lyst of a very pub­lic protest in the mid­dle of the field.

Mr. Carter did what he was told dur­ing the game and fol­lowed his fel­low ath­letes down the field as the big­gest kid on his team kept scor­ing goals. But then he got the ball and be­gan to kick it at a steady pace, only to find an­other kid run in front of him and take it as his own. I could tell that frus­trated my son, but the blood only be­gan to sim­mer un­til it hap­pened again and an­other goal was scored by some­one else with his ball.

That’s when he stopped in the mid­dle of the field as ev­ery­one else gath­ered around the win­ning goal and screamed, “That…is… not…very…nice!”

Shar­ing. All he has ever known is shar­ing. He gets con­stantly re­minded of it in my home, Katie’s house, his grand­moth­ers’ houses, with his aunt, un­cles and cousins. His school makes sure he shares what­ever comes into his pos­ses­sion. Yet on the soc­cer field, some­how all of a sud­den, it is no longer OK to share, and he’s the one who is get­ting scolded for protest­ing this sim­ple rule that un­til now had been car­di­nal law.

It’s funny how the things that con­fuse or hurt us the most, no mat­ter what age you are, come back to a vi­o­la­tion of that same con­cept … shar­ing. Shar­ing of love, of prop­erty or of peace. But we adapt, and soon Mr. Carter will too. How­ever, I can’t help but think how nice it would be to stand still and sim­ply scream my son’s words of protest, re­mind­ing ev­ery­one to stop for a minute and think about what game we’re play­ing and if we all un­der­stand the rules.

Melissa Carter is rec­og­nized as one of the first out ra­dio per­son­al­i­ties in At­lanta and has been heard over the years on B98.5 and Q100 and can cur­rently be heard daily on the Pro­gres­sive Voices pod­cast “She Per­sisted.” Fol­low her on Twit­ter @Melis­saCarter.

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