Don't Forget Your A-Game

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

The desire to be the perfect soccer mom pushes one parent over the edge. Will she be able to bring her A-game when it comes to gameday supplies? Fiction short story with text and audio.

May 3, 2016 – Stamford, Connecticut, USA

The air around the soccer field was thick with the smell of cut grass.  Katherine Brockbank sat under a popup shade, staring at her phone, but her ears still monitored her daughter’s shouts as she practiced with her team.  Their coach blew a whistle and the seven-year-old girls ran to form a huddle.  Katherine grabbed her water bottle and put down her phone.

“Focus on your priorities and why you’re here,” Katherine told herself.  She had consciously been trying to stay in the moment and not let work messages or social posts distract her.  Her daughter, Sybil, needed good feedback and the only way she was going to get it was if Katherine paid attention to the field.

“Great job out there!” called the coach from a hundred feet away.  Then his voice grew quieter and his words hard to distinguish.

Katherine was not the only parent straining to listen to the coach’s instructions.  Pods of parents in folding chairs were scattered along the soccer field’s sideline.  Katherine had strategically set her chair between two groups.  She was far enough from both to avoid the nonstop talk about elementary school politics, the weather, and future vacation plans.  After the first few practices and games, Katherine had decided she was better off being distracted by her phone than the mindless chatter of parents whose lives revolved completely around their kids.

The coach finished his instructions and sent the girls running back onto the field.  From the edge of her vision, Katherine noticed a new arrival walking along the sideline and pulling a red wagon.  It was Helen Eyring with her three kids.  Helen’s oldest daughter, Zoe, struggled to squeeze her soccer jersey over the shirt she was already wearing.  When Zoe ran toward the coach, he gave her a few words of instruction and then sent her scrambling toward her teammates.

Helen tugged her wagon while watching her daughter.  She was not paying much attention to the parents already gathered along the sideline and she stopped only a few feet away from where Katherine was sitting.  Helen lifted her toddler and her four-year-old son out of the wagon and then spread a blanket over the grass.

“Stay on the blanket,” Helen said to her young boys.  “Here, play with your Legos and cars.”

Helen dumped a plastic box full of toys on the blanket and watched her kids attack them.  Then she laid out a second blanket and sat down with her legs crossed.  She glanced around and froze for a moment when she realized how close she was to Katherine and that Katherine was staring her down.

Katherine reached for her water bottle as Helen broke off eye contact.  Arriving late for practice had become a habit for Helen and Zoe.  It had also happened at one of the games and forced the team to play with one less player because several of the other girls had excused absences.

Katherine fumed as she snuck looks over at Helen’s boys, who were already wandering off the blanket.  It was unfair for Helen to treat the soccer commitment so casually.  Katherine planned carefully for each practice and game.  She took off work and sacrificed meetings to get her daughter there on time.  Supporting the team was probably hurting her career in the long run, but it was a price she had accepted.  Other parents should be willing to pay their own price.  Joining a team was a social contract.  The group depended on each other to take it seriously.

As Katherine convinced herself more and more that Helen’s behavior was reprehensible, she remembered a recent work seminar.  The seminar had taught Katherine that she needed to confront problems head on if she wanted to see a change.  Staying silently angry or acting passive aggressively would do nothing. 

Katherine decided she had to step up for the good of the team.  When practice ended, she quickly folded up her chair and shade.  Then she took a few steps toward Helen, who was collecting toys from the blanket and surrounding grass.

“I mean to say this as politely as possible,” Katherine began, looking down at Helen.  “I’m concerned about you showing up late for practice and games.”

Helen peered up in surprise, her hands full of Legos.  “Oh . . . I’m sorry . . . I guess sometimes I get too overwhelmed and busy.”

“We’re all busy,” answered Katherine.  “Is there something you can do to help you plan better?  How about setting an alert on your phone?”

Helen’s toddler whimpered and flung a toy car toward his sister, Zoe, who had run up toward the blanket.  “I’ve got a schedule, but things don’t always work out,” Helen said apologetically to Katherine.

“Well, it’s hurting your daughter.  She’s not getting the practice she needs.  And you’re hurting the team.  What if we had to forfeit because you showed up late to a game?”

Helen grabbed her toddler and put him in the wagon.  “All I can say is I’m sorry,” said Helen, clearly embarrassed and on the verge of tears.  “I’ll try harder.”

Katherine realized that she might have come across as too harsh.  She tried to sound conciliatory when she added, “We’re all in this together.  Let me know if I can help.”

Helen smiled weakly and rushed to get her kids, toys, and blankets into the wagon.  She grabbed her daughter’s hand and headed across the grass to the parking lot.  Other parents could not help but see and hear what had happened.  Katherine looked around at them and then shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “I was the only one brave enough to do what had to be done.”

Katherine’s daughter, Sybil, had been chatting with her friends and only caught the very end of her mother’s confrontation with Helen.  “What were you talking with Zoe’s mom about?” she asked Katherine.

“Nothing important.  Just parent stuff, trying to help the team,” Katherine quickly responded.  She changed the subject.  “I saw you passing the ball back and forth.  You looked really good.”

“You think so?”

“Yes, I do.  You’re the best kicker on the team.”

“No, I’m not.  Lizzie’s a better kicker than me.”

“Not from what I saw.  I could tell that all the practicing you’ve done with your dad has made a difference.”


“I’ll never kick as hard as Dad does,” said Sybil.

“It’s more important to be accurate.  That’s why you need to practice.  The same way you do with swimming and piano.”


Katherine and Sybil arrived at their while Lexus SUV and loaded the foldable chair and shade canopy in the back.  Sybil placed her soccer ball next to the chair.

“Did your coach say anything special about your game this weekend?”

Sybil thought back to the huddles with her team.  “Yeah, he said we were supposed to bring something.”

“Bring something?  What are you supposed to bring?”

“I can’t remember.”

Katherine and Sybil got into their car and buckled up.  “Think, Sybil.  This is important.  What are you supposed to bring?”

“Um.  I can’t remember.”

“Was it something about your uniform or your shoes?  Some kind of special food?”

“I don’t know.  I can’t remember.”

“When did he say it?”

“At the end of practice.”

“Sybil, you’ve got to pay better attention to these kinds of things.”

Katherine spent the drive home trying to extract the forgotten thing from Sybil’s brain.  She had no success.  When her husband, Dan, got home, Katherine explained the problem to him.  He sat Sybil down in a hard kitchen chair, intent on probing her memory banks.

“When I have a computer problem at work and I can’t remember how to do something, I close my eyes and pretend I’m floating in a swimming pool.  Can you close your eyes?”

Sybil obediently squeezed her eyes shut.

“You’re floating along in soft water.  Now think back to standing next to your coach.  He’s talking to you about the game.  What does he say?”

“Do your best?” said Sybil, hoping it was what her dad wanted to hear.

“And what are you supposed to bring to the game?”

“Um, our uniforms?”

“Yes.  And what other special thing?”

“Um . . . Um . . . I don’t know.”


Dan tried for another 10 minutes but got nothing more out of Sybil.  “Maybe we could call one of the other parents,” he suggested to Katherine.  “Maybe that Helen woman.  She seems nice.”

Katherine frowned.  “I don’t trust the other parents.  Especially not Helen.”

“What do you mean you don’t trust them?” asked Dan with a chuckle.

“A lot of them show up late or forget things for the games and practices all the time.  I’m supposed to be the reliable one.  How can I be an example if I’m asking them what to bring?”

“Tell them that Sybil forgot.”

“You want them thinking our daughter is an airhead?  No, we’ll figure it out.”

“Sometimes I don’t know why we’re doing soccer in the first place,” replied Dan.  “It just stresses everybody out.”

“If Sybil isn’t playing soccer, she’s not going to have the right friends.  You want her going to school without the right group of friends?”

“I don’t know.  If she has to keep playing soccer, how about dropping something else?”

“These social things are super important.  They might seem trivial now, but they can affect the rest of her life.  They rub off on high school and where she goes to college.”

“When she started, you said soccer was for fun.”

“It is fun when you do it right.”

Dan hid a sarcastic sneer.  “Okay.  So what’s your plan to find out this top secret thing Sybil forgot if you can’t ask the other parents?”

“We’ll have her sleep on it.  She’ll remember in the morning.  And I don’t think I like your tone.  You need to be as committed to this team as I am.”

To help Sybil’s memory along, after breakfast the next day, her mother led her through the house to provide visual prompts.  They stopped in front of her closet and Katherine asked about Sybil’s uniform and shoes again.  Then they went into the bathroom.

“Are you supposed to wear your hair a certain way?  Do you need sunscreen?  How about bug spray?”

“I don’t think so,” answered Sybil.

In the kitchen, her mother asked about potential snacks and food Sybil might need.  “Was it extra water?  Orange slices?  Protein bars?  How about a protein drink?”

Sybil shook her head and Katherine groaned.  That afternoon they visited the large Target store nearby.  As they walked around, Katherine tried to prompt Sybil with items on the shelves.

“Was it bananas?  Some other kind of fruit?  Was it ice?”

“No.  No.  No.”

“How about a first-aid kit?  Band-aids?  Itch cream?”

“Uh uh.”

“What about music?  Did he want you to bring a certain kind of music to help you warm up?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Katherine shared the disappointing news with her husband.  The missing item was still stuck deep inside Sybil’s head.

“So now what?” asked Dan.

“At this point, I’m not sure if she would remember even if it was staring her in the face.  We simply have to bring anything it could possibly be.”

Before the Saturday game, Katherine and Dan loaded up their SUV with a long list of items.  They started with a large cooler filled with ice and an extensive variety of possible snacks.  Plastic bags filled with sliced fruits and vegetables were packed next to cartons of yogurt and drinks.  Outside the cooler were other snacks that did not need to remain cold: nuts, dried fruits, energy bars, and crackers.

Another bag served as a mobile pharmacy, containing every kind of over-the-counter ointment and spray Katherine could imagine.  She was prepared for any type of skin problem or allergic reaction.  Bandages, braces, and leg casts were ready for any major trauma.

The SUV was also piled high with extra chairs and shade canopies, a case of bottled water, along with a three-gallon water jug.  Sybil had extra shoes, socks, shirts, and shorts.  The team was scheduled to wear their green jerseys, but Katherine brought the white one as well, along with extra underwear.

“If we get stranded somewhere, we should be okay for a while,” said Dan with a grin as he stared at the loaded SUV.

“We need to get there early so we can talk to the coach,” said Katherine.  “If we didn’t bring the right thing, that will give us a chance to find it before the game starts.”

When the family arrived at the designated field for the game, they were indeed the first to arrive.  They spotted the coach, Marcos, inspecting the nets attached to the goals.

“Here’s our chance, let’s hurry over and ask him,” said Katherine.

She and Dan walked quickly toward Marcos while Sybil was content to dribble her soccer ball and stay out of a conversation.  Marcos greeted the parents with a friendly smile.  He was a native of Brazil and had played some type of professional ball.  He was eager to keep all parents happy because they were paying his coaching salary.

“You must be excited about the game.  You’re here very early,” said Marcos.

“Yes, we’re very excited,” said Katherine.  “We also wanted to ask you about your conversation with the team after practice.  Sybil said you told them to bring something special to the game.”

Marcos continued smiling but he was obviously confused.

“We brought everything we could think of, so most likely we’re covered, but I wanted to check and make sure.  Was it something to do with the uniforms?  We brought both colors just in case.”

Marcos grew thoughtful and raised a finger to his lips.  “Hmm.  Let me see.  What was it I told them to bring?”

“You said it right before the end of practice.”

Marcos smiled and chuckled.  “Oh, I remember.  I told them to be sure and bring their ‘A-Game.’  You know, I wanted them to play their best.”

“Their A-Game?  It wasn’t a special kind of food?” asked Katherine.

“No, it was their A-Game,” said Marcus.

“I wonder if Sybil even knows what that means,” said Dan, returning Marcos’s smile.

“I hope I didn’t cause you any trouble,” added Marcos.

“No.  No trouble,” replied Katherine, forcing a smile and a tiny laugh.  “But maybe next time you can send any requests like that in an email.”

 

For more stories like this one, including audio versions, please visit 500ironicstories.com


Submitted: August 06, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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