Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

Now sprinting with both legs

This post is sponsored by Citi.

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A few weeks ago I took Leta to a three-hour ProCamp soccer clinic held at a local high school football stadium, one that would feature exclusive instruction from Álvaro Saborío, a forward for Real Salt Lake. For those of you who have been following the various stories I have told about my older daughter since her birth you might grasp the significance of this experience, and it has absolutely nothing to do with being in the presence of a professional soccer player. Let’s be honest, that part was a thrill for her mother. Well, I mean… I watched hours and hours of The World Cup just for the articles.

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(Many thanks to Michael Van Dyke of Bell Photographers for this photo of me researching an article.)

Some of you might remember the years Leta spent in physical and occupational therapy for severe gross motor delays and low muscle tone, the two MRI’s ordered by her pediatrician to inspect the condition of her brain and spine. At two months old she was diagnosed with Torticollis Plagiocephaly, a term that seems like just a bunch of vowels and consonants haphazardly thrown together but signified major problems with the shape and development of her head and neck. By nine months old she was still refusing to put any weight on her legs. She didn’t walk until she was two. At age four when we spent a week on a beach in Florida she only once agreed to put her feet on the sandy beach, the night before we left.

My child is drawn to books and art and writing elaborate fictional stories. She could identify every letter of the alphabet at twenty-two months old, before she could walk. She has a natural talent for piano playing and befriending any child who feels left out. None of these qualities is necessarily mutually exclusive of athleticism, but she has not ever expressed any interest in sports. She would much rather read a story about someone else throwing a ball than being in the same room as a ball. And then she’d brag that she could write a better story.

She has plenty of friends who participate in soccer games twice a week. In fact, we recently spent a week in a cabin on a lake with two of those friends, Harry and Ella, who play soccer quite competitively. Their mother Carol is always texting me about the stress of it all: driving one kid to practice hoping that she can get the other to a game on time, try-outs, stubborn coaches, and team dynamics. There was a lot of talk that week about soccer, and I could have shaken my head and asked her why she continued to keep her kids in this activity when it was the source of so much chaos and anxiety. But I knew the answer already. It’s the same one I give when people ask me why I continue to pay for Leta’s piano instruction. One, she’s good at it. And two, these activities are fantastic tools for teaching our kids about hard work. They fortify their character. They’re a lot like vitamins in that they build strong bones.

At least, when they aren’t breaking those bones:

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Carol sent me this photo with the accompanying text a couple of weeks ago: “Harry’s had three soccer injuries in the last nine days. Broke his wrist, thumb and damaged the growth plate in his big toe. Can you say Walking Wounded?”

Harry is in good company, it turns out. Álvaro Saborío broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during a training session and was unable to join his native Costa Rican team in the World Cup. 

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That’s a truly disappointing course of events given how well the Costa Rican team performed, but it in no way takes away from the success Saborío has seen in his career which includes stints with FC Sion, Bristol City, and now Real Salt Lake. Since joining RSL he has become their all time leading scorer. When I told Leta about the opportunity to meet him and play soccer with a field of other kids she shrugged and said, “Sure.” It wasn’t a jubilant or enthusiastic expression, but given her history or, I guess, lack of history with sports, it was a step in the right direction. Let’s give her some credit: her face did not melt off. 

In the days leading up to the clinic, however, she started to become a little nervous about it. Would there be other kids there who didn’t know how to play? Would she be the only one? Would she figure out how to maneuver the ball? Those were just a few of a long list of worries that began to snowball, and when we pulled into the parking lot of the high school she didn’t want to get out of the car.

“It’s really hot out there,” she said when I asked her to tell me what was on her mind.

“It is, I know.” She was trying to deflect the conversation away from what she was really feeling. So I tried to offer some comfort. “There are kids of all ages here, all skill levels. Some have played on teams, others are here to learn like you.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. 

“Absolutely! It’s a clinic. The people here are doing this to teach you.”

“But…” she trailed off and looked down at her hands.

“Leta,” I said reaching back to touch her knee. “I know you can do this.”

“How do you know?” 

“Leta, you got in a kayak and paddled around a lake by yourself. You went tubing behind a boat. You touched worms and caught fish. YOU ATE A BRATWURST ON A BUN. Kicking a soccer ball will be so easy compared to that bratwurst.”

I managed to elicit a momentary smile from her, and then she reached for the door handle. Tiny steps.

I held my hand in the small of her back as we stood in the registration line and occasionally rubbed the back of her head as a gesture of reassurance. She would whisper a few times, “I’m worried.” And I would nod and tell her that I understood. After finding our way to the field, we stood on the bleachers and waited for everything to begin. She reached down and squeezed my hand.

Several minutes later they started calling for kids by age group.

“All the six-year-olds!” the announcer bellowed through a microphone. “Six-year-olds to the field!”

Leta continued to grip my hand. We watched the seven, eight and nine-year-olds run out onto the grass, and when they called for the ten-year-olds, the kids who came screaming into this world a decade ago and changed the hearts and lives of their parents forever, she took a deep breath and looked up at my face. I gave her a huge smile and said, “I’m already so proud of you.”

She let go of my hand, ran down the steps of the bleachers and out onto the field, my child who refused to walk now sprinting with both legs.

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I won’t lie. It was really hot out there. And as organized and friendly and understanding as all the coaches and teachers were, they put them through a set of drills that I was certain would exhaust her into an eventual meltdown: dribbling, passing, attacking, shooting, and juggling not to mention all the running. There was a little downtime between stations, and each time I’d find her face in the crowd and point my thumb up and then down to ask her how she was doing. Only once early on did she shake her hand from side to side to indicate that she was “so-so,” and then I guess she started talking with the other kids and the coach of her group. I think she started to get a feeling for the ball and the grass beneath her because every other time she gave me the thumbs up. So happy I was that she wasn’t sticking out her tongue and  pretending to shove her finger down her throat.

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Three hours later—three hours of 95 degree heat with not a cloud in the sky, three straight hours of intense and technical exercise—she passed me to grab her pizza lunch. I ran out and hugged her as quickly as I could and asked, “How are you?” Except in reality I think I may have repeated that question four times and sounded like the sky was falling right on top of our heads. And it was made of bricks.

She grinned when she saw me and answered joyously, “It was really hard! Like, really really hard. BUT I DID IT! I REALLY DID IT!” She said it so fast I almost didn’t catch it.

“YOU DID REALLY DO IT!” I yelled after her, and then I turned around in circles looking for someone, anyone who would understand the significance of this, the physical AND emotional significance. The hours I used to spend holding her feet in a bucket of rice, how she’d scream when she felt the grains between her toes. The years we spent in stubborn stand-offs about food and and sleep and everything else in between. Nothing was too insignificant to let go, not even the brand of the shampoo I bought that was different from her normal shampoo. She would not. She could not.

And then I found that person standing in line to get a piece of pizza. She waved at me and I waved back, and then she cupped her hands around her mouth so that I could hear her yell, “I AM SO PROUD OF MYSELF!”

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I don’t normally like to break the… wait, that expression isn’t right here. “Breaking the fourth wall” is about addressing you, the audience, and I do that all the time (hi, Tish!). Maybe there doesn’t exist an expression for this so let me just get on with it. Yes, this is a post sponsored by Citi, I am acknowledging that, but what she expressed and continued to express for days about her courage was so visceral and real and triumphant. I am going to print this out with all the photos and am going to put it in the journal she keeps next to her bed so that whenever she’s feeling uncertain or insecure or doubting any of the outstanding character she has already assembled she can pull it out and remind herself that she really did it.

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This post is sponsored by Citi. To learn more about access to the best in live music, sports, dining, family entertainment and more with an eligible Citi® credit card or Citibank® Debit MasterCard visit http://www.citiprivatepass.com.  To get involved in the conversation happening right now with Citi and sports camps visit www.closertopro.com.

  • crooked teeth

    I don’t usually like to start coments like this, but AS A MOTHER, I can feel your pride and disbelief and the way that you simply stood back and marveled at your daughter. Tears are pricking my eyes. Stop it with the feels, woman.

  • dc

    you’re a wonderful Mom.

  • Jennifer Cafferty-Davis

    So, soooo glad that she is proud of HERSELF. I hope that feeling sticks with her and that she remembers it next time something new presents itself. Yay, Leta!

  • August

    Heather, your love for Leta just drips off this page. What a treat to read. I have felt so very sad today thinking about Robin Williams, and what he must have been feeling at the very end. This tale of yours, and the feeling it invokes, is just what I needed as a counterweight. Thanks.

  • Susan

    I just love your whole family.

  • Kerri

    Oh Leta, you beautiful soul, you have people all over the country and world that are proud of you as well.

  • Lisa

    Wow, I am a 34 year old with no children…I have watched Leta grow up here on this blog, and boy am I proud! She has character and strength that it takes many years for individuals to find. She is an amazing human.

  • jashshea

    This is awesome! Go Leta!

  • Ellen

    In the first picture, did you get that top in a Stitch Fix? I have the same one, and it came to me in a Stitch Fix! I love that top & it looks great on you!

  • Heather Armstrong

    Thank you! And yes, this kid will go places indeed. The ride along with her should be interesting.

  • Heather Armstrong

    Yep! I wear it pretty much all the time.

  • Heather Armstrong

    Thank you, she is isn’t she? For 10 years I’ve documented the stories of her youth never comprehending how proud I would be when she reached this age. Not that I ever doubted that she’d be amazing, it’s just witnessing it that makes it so real.

  • Heather Armstrong

    A big hug from us to you.

  • Heather Armstrong

    I am heavy with thoughts about him as well. The people in his life must be so devastated, and I feel such ache for them. But I also ache for where he had to be to do what he did. Such pain and despair and hopelessness. I hope stories like this can help offset even a little of bit of those feelings.

  • Heather Armstrong

    I’m trying! I’m definitely trying and working my hardest. Thank you!

  • Liz Hood

    Happy tears for you both!

  • KJ

    This is perfect. It brought actual tears to my eyes, because I know that feeling of watching or wanting a developmental triumph for your child. Knowing they are more than enough as they are, but wanting to have offered them all opportunities. And, especially the part about turning in circles…..

  • A B

    Thanks Heather for posting this! I admit when I first read it, I thought, why is she making her do this? But then by the end I was so proud of her too. I have a 2 year old, but have read your blog for years, before I became a mom. I look forward to these types of moments ahead. 🙂

  • Oh this is so wonderful! Great work, Leta! You really can do anything!!!

  • Maybe you should print it out and put it by your bed too…Outstanding Job team Leta.

  • Cassie Sue

    I was (probably still am) that child too. I completely felt the fear that she had, and totally get how huge this is that SHE did it. SHE accomplished something that was scary. That is SO cool! Please let Leta know that we are all rooting her on. I still work on doing things that scare me (and I’m pretty much scared of everything), and I get that same sense of accomplishment when I actually get out of my comfort zone and try something new.
    Never stop challenging yourself Leta!!

  • Rebecca

    This post brought tears to my eyes. I was extraordinarily shy while growing up. It’s something that I’ve spent years slowly overcoming, but my parents never encouraged me to get out of my box. Looking back I really wish that they would have sometimes. As a parent with a daughter who shares many of my traits I am always thinking about walking that line between respecting what she wants and helping her to grow, encouraging her to face her fears while supporting her. This story was truly inspirational. Thanks….

  • Ben Gott

    I hope that Citi, a company with whom I’ve done business for years, appreciated this post and were able to help hook Leta up with the soccer clinic. What a great story, Heather. Thanks for sharing!

  • Yvonne

    I love this! This is at the top of my mommy to do list. Making my children proud of themselves, not always looking to me, or anyone else, to be proud of them. Whenever my four year old asks, “Are you proud of me?”, I always say, “Yes! Are you proud of yourself?”. I hope one day she cups her hands around her mouth and screams, “I’m so proud of myself!” Good job, mom!! You’ve done a great thing!

  • Beth Rich

    Tears. streaming down. I was and am that same girl, can’t do anything sports-related. I got an A in PE in college because I made a deal with the coach that I would be the happiest klutz in the class. I am so very proud of Leta – she accomplished something I can only imagine.

  • Mommiebear2

    Yay Leta!!!

  • Ellen

    Nice! I think it’ll be a fall staple for me as well. STRIPES! Also, Leta is amazing & so is this story. Yea for you all!

  • Samantha

    What a wonderful story. I’m a mother of a 5 year old and he struggles so much not being able to do something or not being the best at things. I tell him over and over that all that matters is that he tries. And I try to tell him every time he tries something that I’m proud of him and that he should be proud of himself.

  • MM3

    So touching. Made me cry. I can only imagine the joy you both felt. It’s so hard. It seems every kid starts their sport in utero these days and you are “too old” by 6 or 7. What the hell happened to having fun? As our school principal said in a very, very high strung Chicago suburb — ‘please remind yourself how many Olympic athletes have come out of XXXXX. None. Get out there and support the kids having fun and trying new things.’

  • Amy

    Totally crying… so proud of Leta. AND of you. Good job, mom 🙂

  • Frank Purrkins

    Oh, the joy in this post. Well done, Leta, for pushing through her fear and to Heather who enables her to make that journey. Wah! Tears of that joy.

  • Jeanie

    We’re all proud of you, Leta. Best of all, it looks like you were enjoying yourself.

  • Michelle

    I didn’t just have tears. I was nearly sobbing toward the end of this article. What a joyous occasion to make of what would have been an ordinary day for most people. Powerful.

  • Breanne

    What an awesome story to read today… but beyond story, a genuine joy at reading her accomplishment and hearing of her pride. <3

  • Lauren3

    MOTHER OF EFRON I LOVE YOU GUYS. I don’t care if you are strangers I will never meet; I care about ya’ll and I loved reading this story.

  • That was so awesome. Loved it. I have a 10 year old that even when proud of herself would have a hard time expressing it. Go Leta!

  • theresa

    this brought tears to my eyes!

  • Meredith Andersen

    Well now I’m crying. I am SO PROUD of Leta, too! I love how external all of this was. Talking about how she was worried, nervous, and then was able to own without reservation her achievement! SO impressive. Still working on it myself and I’m definitely not 10. Way to go, Leta.

  • Kristen

    How did you do it. Just, how did you do it. Any chance my weird 8 year old will be alright once he’s 10?

  • Teal

    What a beautiful experience and memory for Leta. I got verklempt when she said “I really did it!”

  • lxd

    And now I am crying. I am one of “those”, the group that has read for years and years but never commented because somebody else had already said it in the comments. But this was beautiful and inspiring and lovely and I couldn’t let it pass. Many congratulations to Leta and to you.

  • Jane

    Ahh that’s beautiful, Heather. I’m one who does remember all the worry and fear, and the joy when she finally walked…pulling you guys around and around through the kitchen…, walked on the sand, jumped in the bouncy house. Please tell her ‘the internet’ is so proud of her too. Knowing and loving your kids, who I’ll never meet, is thankfully one of the wonderful, crazy things about the world wide web among many not so great things.

  • david

    I’m a 55 year old grandpa to 9 wonderful kids. And now I am sobbing. Moments like this are what makes life worth living. In so many ways, Leta is a very, very lucky girl. Great job mom.

  • KJ

    Way to go, Leta! And Heather, I am sure your attitude, that you were prioritizing her effort and not the outcome, made all the difference in the world. I will say that only one of my 3 kids is an athlete (swimming!), but even he could not hang with the “in” crowd in a sport like soccer. My kids did find sports like fencing and water polo where they could excel, if for no other reason that not every kid was playing those sports, so it was easier to make “the team”. My only piece of advice as she dips her toe into the proverbial waters is that maybe she should wear shorts in 95 degree weather? I was getting hot just looking at her, but I am guessing that was a 10 year old’s decision for some good reason. I notice she was the only one not in soccer garb and my 10 year old self would have freaked big time if I had shown up dressed to the beat of a different drummer. Leta is the woman!

  • Jenay Hoover

    I’m not teary-eyed…. there is something in my eye!! Stop looking at me!

  • Desiree Johnson

    That is so great! My son is 13 and has many issues (anxiety, depression, sensory integration disorder to name a few) and I’m still waiting for the day where he’ll tell me how proud he is of himself. I’m so glad Leta has gotten there at such a young age. Gives me hope that he’ll get there one day as well!

  • I’m crying all the tears…wanker. Oh Leta…

  • Jen Moore

    Tears in my eyes. Beautiful. And good for you for encouraging her to try something way out of her comfort zone. High five for BOTH you two! xo

  • theboldsoul

    I’ve been reading your blog since you went through all of that with her early on. I get it, I SO get it. My God, what an accomplishment. I don’t know how you are managing not to explode with pride. She’s not even my kid and I AM SO DARN PROUD OF HER. Way to go, Leta.

  • Alexa Johnson

    “I could hear her yell, “I AM SO PROUD OF MYSELF!”” This is what it’s all about.

    Well done, Leta, for being brave and curious and stepping into your discomfort. Well done to Heather, Jon and your family for giving her the tools, leadership and support she needs to take these risks and achieve such growth.