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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Careful what you wish for: quiet Saturday mornings.

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I don't know what the term "sleeping in" means to you, but for a guy who wakes up each morning at 1:30 a.m.. the parameters are probably pretty wide.

I rolled out of the rack this Saturday at 8:30 without the slightest bit of guilt.   Five days a week, I'm among the first people up and, I gotta admit that, come the weekend, it's really nice being among the last.

If you're a parent with young kids, such a luxury probably seems like something that's on your list of things that will never happen again in your life, like college finals or beer pong.

Trust me, you'll have the option again when the kids are gone and it'll return with mixed emotions.

The sun was burning bright in a cloudless sky this particular Saturday morning when I rolled out at a time of my own choosing.   It's mid September, and my mind immediately went to all of those Saturdays past that I would spend on a soccer field at St. John's Catholic Church near 84th and Cold Spring, trying to teach my kids and others the nuances of grade school soccer.

 

 

Funny thing is, I didn't know a side tackle from out of bounds, a corner kick from a hand ball.  I still don't know what offside is.

For whatever reason, though, I looked like a good assistant coach and wound up next to the guy with the clipboard, barking out orders, tweaking lineups, cheering successes and consoling the wounded or less adept.

It's a unique society, those who answer the weekend call on the pitch.   As the coaches warm up the kids, the other parents huddle on the sidelines with their drive-thru coffees and snacks.   It's part sport, part social: no mom or dad wants to miss that goal-scoring kick, that key save in the net because they were trading school gossip with another kid's mom or dad. 

Each year the intensity of the competition grew--from the laughs that came to watching a pack of 2nd graders "bumblebee" around a ball with no hope of moving the ball much less scoring to the intensity of the 8th grade tournaments late in the season.   I've never been more nervous--never--than I was watching my son in goal during a shootout.  

I didn't always savor my soccer Saturdays.   They always conflicted with the Badgers football schedule--I gave away a lot of tickets, and ate more than my share.   Soccer precluded other opportunities.   The games almost always seemed to start at an inconvenient time--either in the middle of the day, meaning you couldn't commit to a more consuming obligation or way too early, precluding an 8:30 sleep in.

My daughter quit soccer, announcing her "retirement" in the 4th grade (her coach and I still laugh when we remember her thoughtful, serious announcement, coming as she made the choice between the pitch and figure skating which she still does now at age 25).   My son stayed with it until the very end.   He's now a college senior.   Both are gone.

And this particular weekend finds me "batchin' it"--my wife is doing a long weekend with friend out of state.  My roomie is Leo, a 12 year old dog I'm watching while friends go hiking out west.   Leo, like me, didn't mind sleeping in at all.

Sure, it was nice getting up at a time of my own choosing.   But the melancholy returned big time this morning, probably because I got a glimpse of the St. John soccer field this past week.   My daughter and her husband were house-hunting, and one of the places they wanted me to see was in the neighborhood.   It was late afternoon, and kids were practicing.    Took me right back to all of those after-work/after-school sessions that were part of the soccer obligation, those two-hour open-air classrooms where I sometimes felt more like a day-care provider when the kids were young and squirrelly.   That would change to inadequacy as the kids got bigger and more adept, when my meager soccer knowledge was exposed.   I was in over my skis.

And all of it was fun. 

It was years ago and the Saturday morning wasn't nearly as nice.   It was pouring and cold--a few degrees from sleet, slush or even snow.   There were puddles on the field as we pulled into the parking lot and I was beefing all the way, grousing about how silly it was to put young children out in such miserable weather.   If we saw other parents doing something like this on their own, I reasoned, we'd call the police and report them for abuse.

The kids sprung out of the car, got together with their teammates and stated kicking balls into the net to warm up.   The slid on the grass like otters.   They laughed.   They got soaked.  They couldn't have been happier.

I remained surly, grousing to an older parent about how ridiculous the whole endeavor was while questioning the sanity of playing in such inclement crapola.  Settle down, he said.   The kids will have more fun today than ever.   As for you, he said as he looked me squarely in the eye, be quiet and enjoy it while it lasts, because there'll come a day when your kids will be gone and you'll be wondering what to do with yourself some Saturday morning not to long from now.

I think today was that Saturday.

Sure, there's ALWAYS something to do, even for an empty nester on a late summer weekend morning.  But it won't be as fun or exhilarating or rewarding as whatever you do with your kids, even if it's something as nuanced or foreign as soccer was to me.

I'd try telling all this to Leo, but I don't think he'd understand.   If you're a parent at my same stage in life, you probably do.

 

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