September 10, 2014

A picture of success

"Hey, congrats on the release of your new book!" 

I hear it daily now, which is fabulous. If only it wasn't so often followed by the inevitable: "How are sales?"

(People: don't ask authors this. The answer is almost always, "Not quite what I hoped it would be." Because we all dream big, don't we?)

I always answer it as cheerfully as possible (which, if you know me, is mighty cheerful - in general, in public, I'm ridiculously cheerful), with my canned answer, "Oh, you know, slow and steady. A book or two a day. For me, that's great!"

And I smile and swallow back the self-doubt and the equally-inevitable, crushing thought: "It's not enough. It's never enough."

And then I think about my (seemingly modest) definitions of success, and how I never seem to be there. "Success," or my picture of it, always seems to be just out there, tantalizingly beyond my fingertips, but close enough to taste it. To not give up on reaching.

It's frustrating, to say the least.

But then, this weekend, my daughter, my Zoe, taught me a really good lesson about what the picture of success can - and should - be.

****

Zoe came out of the womb kicking. I'm not lying. She used to sit in her little bouncy seat at daycare (this was back when I worked full time), kicking her little feet, happy as a clam to sit and watch and kick. She wore a hole in the foot-section of her bouncy seat that way.

It seemed, then, only natural to sign her up for soccer as soon as she was old enough (three, in this area, in case you wondered). And from the moment a coach placed a soccer ball on the ground by her feet, she took off running, and never looked back.

Seriously. I have video of her at a 3-year-old soccer clinic, quite literally running circles around the other kids, while dribbling the ball, and heading straight for the goal to boot it in. In a game when she was four, playing in the U6 recreation league, she scored 13 goals. No. That's not a typo. 13. 

Soccer is what she can do, and what she can do VERY well (at least in my mom-ish opinion).

But with all the success she was finding on the field, it soon became clear that she wanted to find success in another way. She wanted to be a GOALIE!

"Shoot the ball at me," she'd shout, every time we set up any sort of goal in the back yard. "I'm the goalie!"

And a goalie she was. She dove for the ball before anyone showed her how. She caught the ball with her hands, her stomach, her face. She'd throw herself bodily in front of the ball, doing whatever it took to keep the ball out of the goal.

Only problem? Our U6 and U8 rec leagues don't have goalies. 

Le sigh.

But have no fear! Help was on the way! This fall, we signed Zoe up for a "club" team - it's a step above rec, and now she plays against teams from around our region, instead of just in our hometown. The field on which they play is bigger and - get this! - there are GOALIES! 

HOORAY!

Now. Here's where I interrupt this story to say: I didn't want Zoe to be a goalie. EVER. I was a goalie when I played rec soccer as a kid and I HATED it. HATED. It was the WORST! It was TOO MUCH PRESSURE! Every ball that got past me was MY FAULT AND MY FAULT ALONE!

So no. Of COURSE I didn't want that for my kid!

But she is as stubborn as me, and she talked to her coaches without me, and this past Saturday, she took the field in their first games as the goalie (other girls played goal, too, but Zoe did it longest by far). They actually had a double-header, and the first game went great. Zoe's team won 9-3, so everyone came off the field smiling (though admittedly, I was still panicking over her being in goal). 

The second game was tough, though. It was a tight one. Zoe went into goal midway through the first half, and three balls slipped past her right away. I stood nearby, knowing she was upset but that there was nothing I could do, so I simply shouted encouragement.

"You're doing great!"
"Shake it off!"
"You'll get the next one!"

By halftime, though, I was hoping she'd play in the field instead of goal. I didn't want her dreams shattered by one bad game.

It was not meant to be, though. 

When she took her spot in goal in the second half, she looked so tiny standing there, framed by a giant, gaping maw of a goal. I wanted to cry. I wanted to grab my baby and take her home. But of course I didn't.

Play started. A girl from the other team headed toward her with the ball. Zoe got ready. The girl kicked the ball and...

Zoe stopped it!

She stopped the next one, too! And the next, and the next! Pretty soon the parents for the other team were cheering for her almost as much as they cheered for their own girls! 

But our girls were all tired. They had trouble moving the ball around. They weren't able to score in that second half. So the game stayed tight, 4-3, with the other team in the lead.

Still. Zoe kept stopping shots. And stopping shots. It was insane!

It was in the final minute or so that finally, another one got past her. The other team cheered. Zoe got the ball of the net, tossed it to the referee, and got back in position inside her goal. She looked more determined than I'd ever seen her.

I wish I could say here that, in a Disney-worthy moment, her team came back and scored three goals for the win. I wish I could say that, but it wouldn't be true. In the end, they left the field, losing 5-3. 

As Zoe reached the sideline, people swarmed her. 

"Great job, Goalie!" said parents from the other team.
"We started calling you No Goal Zo," said the father of one of her coaches. 
"That was almost a shutout, great job!" said someone else.

Zoe ran for the hills. Overwhelmed, a little terrified by all the attention.

I let her sit for a few minutes, then I called her over to me. I was standing far from everyone else, far enough so she listened. As she approached, I wondered what she would say. What I would say. Because I remembered...

...I remembered being 10 and losing a game in which I'd been in goal. I remembered the way I felt I let the team down. I remembered hating myself. I remembered feeling like a failure.

But not Zoe. Oh no.

As she approached, and it was just her and me in the middle of the field, set apart in our own little world, a smile broke across her face and it was like the sun came out.

"Mom!" she said, her voice hushed. Awed. "Did you see that? I only let four past!"

I grinned, and gathered her up into a ginormous hug. "Yeah," I said. "Of course I saw that. I couldn't be prouder of you. You did a great job!"

****

Success. I think I need to redefine it. I need to remember...

....Zoe only let four past. A lot more balls came her way, but she only let four past.

....I didn't only sell a book or two today. I SOLD A BOOK OR TWO TODAY! Either someone who knows me cared enough to buy a book I wrote, or a total stranger was interested enough in something I wrote to purchase it. Either way, that's a huge score, don't you think?

I sometimes forget to think that. But I'm going to try. Because Zoe taught me that this is a picture of success:

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