Saturday, May 27, 2017


Dear Spike:

Since the first time you scored in a soccer game -- on May 5, 2012 -- we've been keeping track of your goals.

With each new score, we make a note on your soccer ball. And this is how I know that you scored your first brace on Sept. 15, 2012, and that your first hat trick came just under a year later, on Sept. 7, 2013, and that you scored four goals in a game on Nov. 25, 2014, and that you tallied five on Oct. 15, 2016.

You may chalk up your prolificness to youth soccer being youth soccer. It is and it is not. You are prolific, but you are not a prodigy. You do not score at will. For God's sake, you are consistently the smallest player on the field. Every score is a fight, and multi-goal games, as opposing coaches re-arrange their defense to account for your presence of the field, are an even greater fight.

Upon those fights you and your teammates have built victories. Most of the time.

Alas, today's match was a struggle. It was the morning of your 10th birthday, and you started at right wing. Your opponents scored on the opening sequence and you came out a short time later with a bloody nose. (I didn't see how it happened, but I commend whichever kid gave it to you.)

You and your teammates were down 2-0 at the half, and ultimately lost 4-2.

It's never fun to end a season with a loss, lest of all on your birthday. You're learning, though, that this is part of sports and part of life. The last time your team lost you cried; you felt as though you'd let your teammates down. This time, as we walked back to the car, you told me that you were quite sure you'd done your best, and that you felt your teammates had, too. That, you said, was the most important part.

Soccer is hard. And to steal a phrase from a movie about another sport in another time that was, in fact, about every sport in every time, it's supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.

At the end of the day, as I always do, I dutifully Sharpied the goal you scored -- a blast that split the keeper's legs -- onto the ball you've lovingly named "Cat," and I marveled at how marked up she has gotten this season.

And then, late in the evening, I went to the basement to fetch "Kitty" and "Mao" and all of your other soccer balls. There have been five of them.

Goal by goal, panel by panel, I tallied your scores. Three goals in a double-header on Oct. 27, 2013. A season-opening hat trick on April 2, 2016. Four goals and an assist in the second-to-last game of this season.

And this one.

That makes 100.

It was late and you had gone to bed. But I crawled up your ladder and peaked my head over the pile of blankets and stuffed animals.

"Are you awake?" I whispered.

"Yes," you replied, "I just can't sleep."

"That's okay, because I have something to tell you," I said. "I went back and counted up all your goals. Your latest one was your 100th goal."

"100," you said, as plainly as one can say that number.

"Yes," I said, as proudly as one can say that word.

"Oh," you said. "Okay."

And that was that.

For five years, we've been tracking your goals. I know you're glad that we do, because you often check to make sure I've added your latest score onto your latest ball. But the total number doesn't seem to matter much.

It's the next one that you covet. And then the one after that.

For it never comes easy. And the hard is what makes it great.