Obsessing About My Great Love (Soccer, of Course!)

Tiare Loves Soccer 4everWorld, I must confess that I am in love. Not just a silly schoolgirl crush, either. Topsy-turvy, head-over-heels, inside-out love. With soccer.  In fact, soccer and I have had an ongoing relationship for almost 27 years now (not counting those dark years when I had no team, and no way to watch my beloved sport on TV, but we won’t discuss that sad time).

Yes, I have always been kind of a sports nut, since childhood. I have played on baseball, basketball, track, swim, and, of course, soccer teams. I was (and remain) a 49ers fan, an A’s fan, a Giants fan, and a Lakers fan. I have followed tennis almost religiously since Venus and Serena came on the scene, and am a die-hard fan of Nadal and Federer. But soccer still tops them all, in my opinion. As soon as the internet made it possible, I began to follow the world of football (the “real” name for the sport). I became an instant fan of the English Premiere League, especially Manchester United, and occasionally Chelsea. Eventually, Barcelona from La Liga España and the Seattle Sounders from MLS also joined my list of favorites. Eventually, my cable provider made it possible to actually watch regular games on TV, which really brought the sport to life in a way that radio programs and internet commentaries could not. I was hooked, addicted, obsessed with The Beautiful Game. watching live soccer 2013

It was only natural that my children would play soccer, whether they liked it or not. Fortunately, my oldest son did like it, and has played the sport every year since the age of 5. This year, he plans to try out for his high school Junior Varsity team. And if he doesn’t make it – well, it’s still been a fun ride. My 11-yo daughter, who recently retired from a high level of competitive gymnastics, is planning to play soccer for the first time ever this season. My youngest son, unfortunately, has sworn off soccer forever after one lousy season. No matter how hard I try, I can’t convince him that soccer — or any sport, for that matter — is worth his time and effort. (Yes, the competitive tiger mom inside of me is banging her head against the wall in frustration).

Still, even though I play soccer, and most of my children play soccer, and I watch it on TV and listen to it on the radio and follow it on the internet, I simply cannot get enough of my favorite sport. I have long dreamt of being at a live, professional soccer match, right in the middle of the excitement, cheering on my teams along with crowds of supporters. And yesterday, for the first time in my life, I had that opportunity. No,Daughter and me at pro soccer 2013 it was not Manchester United or Barcelona, or even the Seattle Sounders. But I did get to see Norwich City from the English Premiere League take on the Dorados from Mexico, and the MLS San Jose Earthquakes reserve team play against a team of local all-stars. Not only were these matches incredibly fun to watch in person, but my daughter and I got to be present as our city’s new USL professional soccer team was unveiled — the Sacramento Republic FC. I practically danced home after such an amazing date with my beloved sport, dizzy with excitement, and ready to hop aboard the Sac Republic bandwagon and support our new team, from the minor leagues, all the way to MLS. Sac Republic FC

My biggest fantasy is that one day, I will get to travel to see the World Cup in person. That is probably the ultimate fantasy of every person who is in love with soccer. (Yes– you see, my favorite sport has many lovers). Sadly, I will probably be stuck at home, parked in front of the television for Brazil in 2014. But there is always Russia. Or maybe Qatar. One can dream.

Girl on Fire (aka Allergic to Exercise)

Run interrupted It happened again this morning. Like I do so often, I pulled on my sneakers and went for a run. It started out beautifully – cool, sunny weather, an empty park, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasting through my earbuds. But less than ten minutes later, it all went wrong.

First, a flush of warmth spread throughout my midsection. Within seconds, this turned into a hot flush, and my skin began to itch. As I continued to jog around the park, the sensation intensified, until I was overwhelmed with discomfort. It felt as though my body was on fire, yet excruciatingly itchy at the same time. (Cue Music: Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys).

Girl on fire

By the time I made it back to my car, I was in tears, covered with hives, feeling as though I was being attacked by a swarm of flaming mosquitoes. I sank into the driver’s seat and sat there, unmoving, for several minutes, until the symptoms gradually subsided and I could relax.

I know what you are wondering. What the heck happened during that run? Obviously, that was not normal. Well, it is something that began when I was in my early twenties. When the weird symptoms first began, I described them to my doctor. “Huh,” he said. “That’s weird.”

Gee. Thanks, doc.

Over time, I sought the opinions of three more physicians, including a dermatologist. One doctor even sent me to the hospital for a treadmill test in order to induce the reaction. No one had any idea how to diagnose me. No one had any recommendations for treatment, other than Benadryl and avoidance of exercise. Since Benadryl made me feel like I was swimming in syrup throughout the day, I began to avoid exercise. This was so hard to do! I was so athletic. I have always loved to play sports, ride my bike, and dance around my living room. Suddenly, I was forced to do nothing more than occasional slow walks around the block. Medical Mystery

And then, thanks to the amazing powers of Google, I began to come across accounts of other people suffering from similar symptoms. And behold! Suddenly my weird condition had a name: Cholinergic Urticaria. An allergic reaction to exercise. Seriously. Apparently, whenever my body core begins to heat up, I suffer a hypersensitive response that does not stop until I stop moving. For some people, this response can even lead to anaphylactic shock. Luckily, I have never experienced that reaction. And luckily, I finally found a doctor who was familiar with the problem and directed me toward THE wonder drug for people with cholinergic urticaria: Zyrtec. Hooray for Zyrtec! God bless the makers of Zyrtec!

No one knows for sure what causes cholinergic urticaria. Doctors and medical researchers have various theories – genetics, environment, food allergies, auto-immune reactions. No one knows exactly how to treat it, either, since not everyone responds well to antihistamines or steroids. “Avoid activities that may lead to a reaction,” the medical community recommends. In other words, avoid sports, avoid hot showers, avoid sex, and avoid exercise of any kind, especially in cold weather. Ha! Thankfully, I do respond well to antihistamines, and so long as I take my wonder pill every day, I do not have to limit my exercise. I can run, play soccer, and ride my bike as much as I want. But if I slip up and do not take my pill (like today), then the consequences are severe.

Many sufferers of cholinergic urticaria are told to avoid exercise

Many sufferers of cholinergic urticaria are told to avoid exercise

Well, now that I once again have Zyrtec coursing through my veins, battling histamines like a well-trained army, I can now move once again. Perhaps I will go and finish that run, or turn up the Red Hot Chili Peppers and dance around my living room.

Additional Reading on Cholinergic Urticaria:

http://www.cigna.com/individualandfamilies/health-and-well-being/hw/medical-topics/urticaria-cholinergic-nord249.html

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/1015/p1367.html

http://www.cholinergicurticaria.net/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20086478

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6169753

http://running.about.com/od/illnessesandrunning/ss/embarrassing_6.htm

Life Has No Pause Button (a.k.a. Changes)

Everything has its season. Change is inevitable. Of course, of course, like so many others, I am very familiar with these sayings. And of course, they are true. Life has no pause button. Children do not remain small. People grow and change. Our interests and abilities shift as time marches forward. But although we understand these things, when the tide shifts and change arrives, it is unsettling, like walking on wet sand.

My daughter is quitting gymnastics. It is a huge change – not just for her, but for everyone in our family. She has spent most of her childhood as a gymnast, breathing in chalk dust, traveling to competitions throughout the state and beyond, and executing difficult skills as her team and her family cheer her on. She has been our little athletic superstar, smiling for the camera with shiny medals hanging around her neck. Our tiny Olympic hopeful. But now, at the young age of eleven, she has decided that she has had enough. She is currently competing as a Level 8 gymnast (out of 10 levels). This will be her final season.

Balancing on the balance beam

I love my daughter to pieces, and naturally, I respect her decision. Gymnastics is one of the most demanding youth sports, and one of the most expensive in terms of money as well as time. Unless a child dreams of obtaining Olympic gold, or at least university scholarships, there is not much point in continuing at the highest levels. But still, I will miss it. I will miss seeing her do amazing flips across the balance beam and swing around the bars in her adorable leotards. I will miss her huge grin as she salutes for the judges and earns high scores. I will miss the proud idea that she is The Gymnast of the family. Oh, change is hard. Boo, change!

Swinging around the high bar

But on the other hand, change can be a very good thing. No more gymnastics means no more scheduling our family life around her 25-hour per week sports schedule. It means no more cooking dinner before two in the afternoon and packing it in thermoses and containers for her to eat at the gym. It means no more silent homework times in the car during the long commute, no more missing out on birthday parties or school events, and more time for her to play with her brothers, and maybe make a friend or two.  And perhaps best of all, no more gymnastics means more money in the family budget. Wow – money to save for a new car, money to replace our aging household furniture, money to save for family vacations – money!

“What would you like to try after gymnastics is over?” I asked my daughter, because with her natural athletic ability, it is impossible to imagine that she is not doing some sort of sport. “Perhaps a dance class or swim team?”

My daughter’s next words completely shocked me. “I think it would be fun to play soccer. I’ve never done it before, but it looks like fun.”

Soccer? Soccer? My daughter is ready to quit gymnastics and try playing soccer? Wow! Okay, change isn’t such a bad thing after all. Hooray for new beginnings! Open the door; bring on the change!

Medals for gymnastics winners

Life on the Scales (aka Parenting is a Balancing Act)

My daughter likes to watch her brother’s soccer games on one of her only days off from gym.

Today, I am being a bad parent and a good parent at the same time. You see, I am letting my 11 year-old daughter play hooky from school. I know, I know…what an irresponsible mom! But I do have a good reason. My daughter, who is now a level 8 competitive gymnast, is almost never home. Since she is required to train 22 hours per week, nearly every moment of her time is absorbed by school or training for her sport. Even when we do have moments together, driving to schools or the gym, she is usually doing homework. The sacrifice? Time together to swap jokes, talk about books, or learn how to French braid hair. Time to be silly and play pretend or even watch her pet hamster run around his cage. Sit down and eat family meals together? Ha! Five evenings per week, I hand my daughter an insulated thermos full of food to eat during her break.

Sometimes, I feel terrible, as though my kid is missing out on a normal childhood. Her brothers get so much more time to play with friends, to daydream, to bake cookies, and to lie about watching Spongebob cartoons. They get so much more of my personal time and attention. It seems so uneven.

“I don’t mind, Mom,” my daughter told me the last time I expressed these concerns. She is perfectly happy to eat from a thermos and breathe chalk dust 22 hours per week. She would rather swing around the uneven bars or do flips on a balance beam than daydream and play with friends. It is a sacrifice, but for her, the payoff makes it completely worthwhile.

This week, due to the time and financial commitment to her sport, she was unable to join her sixth grade classmates at science camp. So, rather than force her to go to school and be the only kid there, playing hangman and watching movies with a substitute teacher, for today, I decided to let her stay home. What a great morning it has been! We built structures together with Kapla blocks, did housework while listening to music, and then lounged around on the sofa, watching Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Then I taught her how to make the perfect cup of tea, while we discussed the book she is reading, Anne of Green Gables, and we ate warm slices of fresh, homemade bread. Next, we are going to paint our nails and practice French braiding hair. Bad parenting? Maybe. As for me, I call it balance.

Image

Game On! (A Family Legacy of Sport)

“Are you ready for the kickoff tomorrow night?” My mom asked me on the telephone. “Cowboys against the Giants.”

“Um, Mom, aren’t you supposed to wish me a happy birthday first?” I asked, amused.

“Oh yes. That too,” said Mom. “Now don’t forget tomorrow night.”

As if I could. I come from a family that worships at the at the altar of football . It is probably fair to say that growing up in my family, Kickoff Day in September was more revered than the first day of school, and the Superbowl was like the true New Year’s Day. Game Nights were family nights, with everyone gathered around the television, beers and sodas in hand, screaming noisily at the screen.

Okay, everyone except for me. Why? Because I preferred to sit in a corner of the living room with a book to my nose, scowling whenever the room erupted with cries of “TOUCHDOWN!” and “INTERCEPTION!” Football was a sport that grew on me over the years, like smooth jazz music and fine wines.

That said, it was impossible to avoid the influence of my sports-crazy family. From a very young age, I was taught that to speak against the Amazing San Francisco 49ers is like blasphemy. I remember standing outside on our balcony with my brother and sisters, looking toward the glittering lights of the Bay Area, blowing plastic vuvuzelas and screaming with pride that the Forty Niners had just won Superbowl XVI. We memorized the words to the We’re the Forty Niners song, which we played obsessively on the record player and sang at the top of our lungs.

Joe Montana, unarguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time

We’ve got the power!
We’ve got the heart!
We’ve got the soul!

We’re the FORTY NINERS!
We will rock you ’til we win the fight!

We’re the FORTY NINERS!
We’re dynamite!

School event on Monday nights? Nope, sorry, our family was busy. Phone ringing in the middle of a game? Ignore it. We were taught to look down our noses at Raiders fans, and to hate the Dallas Cowboys with a fiery passion reserved for the worst possible scumbags.  Ours was a San Francisco family, till death do us part.

Things are a little different today. My mother, who has long since relocated across the country, now roots for the New Orleans Saints. My oldest sisters have grown somewhat indifferent to football. And I am just a crazy about international football (aka soccer) as the American version. But a few things remain the same. In a family that has been separated by time, distance, and dramatically different lifestyles, there is still one thing that keeps us knit together, one reason to pick up the cell phone and call each other…as long there isn’t a game on.

Who’s got it better than us? NO ONE!

In honor of my Uncle Harrison (1946 – 2012), former college football star and receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.

 

Why Are There So Many Black Athletes in the Olympics?

Sisters Venus and Serena Williams changed the face of tennis when they appeared on the tennis scene around a decade ago, and are still winning Grand Slams and bringing home Olympic medals today.

“Mom, why are there so many black people in the Olympics?” my 12 year-old son asked me last night, when my three kids and I were sitting around the television, watching the opening ceremonies together. It was obvious why he asked that question. As nation after nation marched past on the screen, it was interesting to note how many of them had darker complexions and probable African heritage, like me. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only countries that were not represented by at least one black athlete were North Korea and Iran. Though I could be mistaken.

I didn’t really know how to answer my son’s question though. Um…because Black people are awesome at sports? No, that’s just a stereotype. Even though I’ve always been pretty good at sports. Even though my kids appear to be graced by some natural athletic talent. Even though my sisters, my brother, both my parents, many cousins, and even my aunts and uncles (including one that used to play for the Minnesota Vikings) have all excelled at one sport or another at some point in their lives. Even though I cannot recall having ever met a single black person, within my family or outside, who was not coordinated, good with a ball, and able to run fast. Ooof! Now I am only perpetuating a stereotype. Or is it?

Yes and no, say anthropologists. Although it is illogical (and, in fact, racist and ridiculous) to say that all people with dark complexions are superior athletes, there is some actual evidence of high concentrations of people in certain regions of Africa with a great deal fast-twitch muscles — the muscle structure that gives one the ability to sprint very quickly, for short distances. There are other genetic reasons, too, for success in particular types of sports, such as shorter torsos/longer legs, increased lung capacity, and higher levels of testosterone than the general population. No, not all black people have these genetic tendencies. Okay, I probably do. And at least two of my kids appear to be built like me. But not all of us! Really, I think that natural talent is only one side of the coin, anyway. It takes interest in sports, too, which often comes from one’s family culture. And some sports are expensive…one reason one comedian used to joke that “Black people only do sports you can do for free in the park.” With the rise in more affluent Black American families, we are starting to see more black athletes playing sports that were traditionally accessible only to wealthier white families, such as tennis, gymnastics, and swimming. (Let’s not forget…the stereotypes also suggest that black people cannot swim, which is now negated by the appearance of more black Olympic swimmers).

Cullen Jones is only the second Black American swimmer to qualify for the Olympics and bring home a gold medal.

So what did I tell my kids last night? “I don’t really know why there are so many black athletes. But isn’t it great to see so many different types of people come together to compete in sports?” Because although it is a neat feeling to see people who look like me do well in sports, that is not the point of the Olympic Games. It is about people with every shade of skin color, from every region of the world, representing their countries in the ultimate competition. And one day, should my own children be among the group of Americans marching around the Olympic stadium during Opening Ceremonies, I hope that people will not see them and say, “Look, there goes a black athlete!” But instead, say, “Look, there goes a great American athlete!”

Olympic gymnasts like Gabby Douglas and John Orozco are excelling in sports that were traditionally closed to many black athletes, due to the high cost of training and lack of facilities.

Onigiri — IKEA-Style (My Version of Fast Food)

So our family does a lot of sports. At the moment, my 10-year-old daughter is training to compete in Level 8 gymnastics (22 hrs. of training per week!). My 12-year-old son plays soccer almost year round and practices 2-3 times per week. My youngest starts soccer again this summer, and I play indoor soccer three times per week.

Sports, I love. Kids’ sports, I love. Feeding my family fast food? I loathe. With a passion. I’d much rather throw together a bunch of homemade bean and rice burritos than swing through the drive-thru of Taco Smell. I prefer to prepare and freeze a dozen healthy mini pizza calzones to warm up on the run, or even pack good old-fashioned sandwiches for dinner. And here is one of our family favorites: Onigiri. But, being a true Californian, we had to turn our Japanese favorite into a fusion dish by adding some frozen meatballs from our friendly-neighborhood IKEA store. Ta-daa!! Swedish Onigiri! Here’s how we do it:

STEP ONE:

Throw some Calrose Rice into the rice cooker (the good, sticky Japanese sushi rice works best, although we have tried this with Thai glutinous rice, too. Totally different awesome fusion dish). While the rice is cooking, warm up your meatballs. No IKEA where you live? Any basic 1-inch meatballs will do. When the rice is cooked, line a small cup (like the one on the right) with plastic wrap and add some rice. Make a little “nest” in the center for the meatball.

STEP TWO:

Easiest step of all. Add the meatball to the nest. Cover with more rice (not too much, or your onigiri will be huge!)

STEP THREE:

Lift the saran wrap from the cup and twist around until very tight. If you can stand the heat, then use your hands to shape the onigiri into the perfect ball (or whichever fun shape strikes your imagination).

STEP FOUR:

Unwrap onigiri and sprinkle with salt for flavor and to reduce the stickiness. Best way to eat it? With the hands, of course, especially while sitting in the car driving kids to sports, or while sitting in the stands and watching. Also works well for school lunches, and probably even the dinner table. But who has time for that?

The Topsy-Turvy Life (Raising a Gymnast)

2008 Olympic gold medalist on balance beam , silver medal for All-Around and floor, 2007 All-Around World Champion

It starts off so innocently–a group of giggly little girls doing cartwheels in sparkly leotards, while doting parents snap photos from the stands. This is how they lure you in, with promises of shiny medals and dreams of your daughter becoming the next Nastia Liukin or Shawn Johnson. But that’s all crap. Here’s is what you can really expect if your daughter decides to become a gymnast:

1. Say goodbye to family vacations — Not only will you be unable to afford those extended family getaways to Hawaii or Disneyworld or Europe, but girls who are competitive gymnasts are not allowed to miss more than a day or two of training. So unless you plan to strap her balance beam to the top of your SUV, you are pretty much stuck with day trips or overnighters.

2. Forget about saving for college— Face it…gymnastics is one of the most expensive sports your child can choose. My daughter is currently competing in Level 7 gymnastics (out of 10 levels). With monthly fees, competition fees, leotards, and other equipment, weare paying around $5000 this year. This does not include airfare, hotel expenses, meet entry fees, etc. I told my daughter (who is ten years old), “You’d better plan on staying in the sport until Level 10, so that you can get a college scholarship!” Of course, getting an Olympic gold medal would be even better, but I don’t want to pressure her..

3. Forget about family dinners, too — Gymnasts spend many long, hard hours training at the gym. My daughter, for example, works out four evenings per week, for a total of 18 hours. Next season, this will increase to five evenings per week. Naturally, this means that the entire family does not get to sit around the table eating dinner together. For gymnasts, it is paper bag dinners during a ten minute break. For my daughter, it usually means a sandwich in the car on the way to gym (while finishing homework at the same time).

4. You won’t always be able to watch — Yes, your daughter will look adorable in her $250 sparkly team leotard, especially after you have spent two hours twisting and gelling her hair into the perfect glitter-encrusted ponytail. But sometimes, you will have to send her to out-of-town competitions with her coach and teammates, or with only one parent, because it is expensive and time-consuming to attend every single meet. And even when you can attend, you’ll probably want to close your eyes rather than watch your daughter’s balance beam routine. Trust me…watching your kid do flips and leaps on a 4-inch wide beam is nerve-wracking enough to stop your heart.

5. Competition is not just between the gymnasts You think that the meets are just for the girls to become winners. But the parents can be just as competitive, if not more so. Many of us sit in the stands and keep track of every gymnast’s scores in order to compare them with our daughters’ scores. More than once, I have overheard parents make comments like, “How on earth did Susie So-and-So get a higher score than my daughter? Her layout wasn’t nearly as good!” And yes, even I am guilty of rejoicing inwardly when my daughter manages to pull off a score two-tenths of a point higher than Little Miss Perfect Gymnast from one of those Bay Area gyms. Yes, for many gym moms and dads, winning is terribly important. Why else are we spending all this money? We want a chance to use our super-expensive cameras to snap pictures of our very own little champions (with the flash off, of course).

6. Injuries happen — So you think that your little girl is safer doing gymnastics than playing ice hockey or soccer? Think again. This famous study proved that gymnastics is indeed one of the most dangerous sports for girls, with an average rate of 26,600 injuries per year. Even though coaches do everything they can to keep our young gymnasts safe, there is no avoiding it. Injuries happen. Sometimes serious injuries. As a parent, all you can really do is hold your breath and hope that your daughter won’t sustain an injury during competition season. Because after spending month after month avoiding family vacations, pinching pennies, and giving up family dinners, while your daughter basically lives at the gym, working her tail off and breathing chalk dust, to see your kid limping along In a cast instead of standing on the podium would pretty much suck.

Now don’t take me wrong. I LOVE gymnastics. It is an incredible sport, and it makes my daughter so happy and fulfilled. Gymnastics keeps children healthy and strong, instills discipline and dedication, and teaches them to reach inside of themselves to find a strength and power that they did not know they had. Talk about building confidence! Every time my daughter manages to increase her scores, or nail a skill she has practiced a million times, I glow with pride. It is nearly as good as seeing her standing on the podium, wearing a shiny medal around her neck. Almost. Because really, after spending more than $5000 per year on a sport, I had better see at least one or two shiny medals! Just keepin’ it real.

My daughter (right) and a teammate preparing for a big gymnastics meet in SoCal

From Tomboy to Temptress (Okay, Not Really)

Always a tomboy, I now play indoor soccer 3 days per week

On the outside, I was a total tomboy. I wore nothing but jeans, dirty sneakers, and messy ponytails. Instead of hanging out and chatting with other girls, you could find me throwing a baseball, kicking a soccer ball, or racing around the school playground with boys. But this was a deceptive picture of me. At home, where no one could see, I secretly wore frilly dresses and played with dolls.

By the time I reached middle school, being a tomboy was no longer acceptable. Other girls were busy experimenting with makeup and hairstyles, parading around in cute, girly clothes. Me? I still wore boys’ 501 jeans and dirty sneakers and treated makeup like it was poisonous.

“You hate dressing like a girl?” a girl asked me once, when I was in 8th grade. She seemed genuinely puzzled. “Then how do you express your femininity?” She didn’t know it, but her words had a tremendous impact on me. Why did I dislike being feminine? Why did I insist upon being “one of the guys,” more focused on playing sports and computer games than shopping at the mall? I was not gay. I was frightened. Frightened of growing up and changing. Frightened about entering this alien territory of makeup and boyfriends and kissing. It was so much easier to pretend that I was not a girl, to pretend that none of it mattered, when in fact, it mattered very much!

So I studied. The summer before I began high school, I pored over magazines for teenage girls. I experimented with clothes and hair. I begged my older sister, who lived in another town, to come and teach me how to shop for clothes, since my dad was completely clueless about the needs of a growing young woman. On the first day of school, I shocked my classmates by wearing a skirt–a skirt! And makeup! Electric blue mascara, blue eyeshadow, and shiny red lipstick. Okay, yes, it took me a few years to get the makeup thing just right. But the message was clear: the tomboy was growing up. I was making an effort to become what I was always meant to be: a woman.

I will confess, at the age of 36, I still struggle to balance my tomboyish tendencies with my inner girly girl. I live in jeans, but still wear makeup and earrings. I am still more comfortable on a soccer field or virtual battlefield than hanging out with groups of women, but I have learned to enjoy “feminine” activities, too, like baking, homemaking, and handicrafts. I am still frightened and clueless in some ways. I have never had a pedicure or had my eyebrows done or waxing of any kind (I’m supposed to shave where? Eek!).

I guess I am just not finished growing up. Just as I did as a teenager, I have begun to turn to Cosmopolitan for advice on how to become the sexy, confident woman who hides inside of me, so afraid to embrace her potential. I do not have to leave the tomboy behind. Today, I allowed her to come out and play soccer and watch the Superbowl. But first, I went to the mall to buy a sexy, pink, lacy new bra.

Expressing my femininity

Not Your Typical Soccer Mom

I am definitely not your typical Sports Mom. Yes, my three kids are all involved in sports. And like plenty of other parents, I drive them to practice (yes, I confess it, in a minivan), pack on-the-go dinners, and cheer for them like crazy at games and meets. But I am not your everyday, ordinary soccer mom.

I am a soccer-soccer-soccer mom.

I love soccer. But I do not only love to watch my sons play. I also play soccer–on four different indoor teams at the moment. Yes, it is a sickness! But it is such a rush, and always an incredible workout.

I am also a huge fan of professional soccer. I know, I know…this is so un-American of me. Especially since my favorite team, Manchester United, is part of the English Premiere League.

"Chicharito" from Manchester United -- One of my favorite soccer players.

Or maybe I am actually a trend-setter, leading the charge of Americans rushing toward a sport that the rest of the world discovered long ago is the Best Sport Ever. They don’t call it the Beautiful Game for nothing.

My boys, who are 7 and 11-almost-12, play recreational soccer.

Soccer game day from August 2010

Sadly, neither one of them is particularly athletic. Yes, I love and accept them no matter where they excel or struggle. But I also confess: I am one of those awful sports parents who expected all of my kids to be coordinated and fast and aggressive little athletes, and sometimes it is painful for me to watch my sons play sports. Especially when my 7yo insists on chasing dragonflies across the soccer field instead of the ball (Really, kid? Come on–kick the darned ball! Please?) But the point is not for them to be soccer superstars. The point is for my kids to enjoy being active, to be part of a team, and to learn new skills.

Then there is my 10yo daughter.

Daughter at a Level 6 meet last spring

The polar opposite of her brothers, my daughter is a natural athlete. She competes on a Level 7 gymnastics team and pretty much lives at the gym, where she swings giants on the bar, flips handsprings and layouts across the floor, and breathes chalk dust 16 hours per week. She does all of this without complaint, despite sore muscles, lack of leisure time, and paper bag dinners four times per week.  If only I could be so dedicated! Well, I guess I am dedicated in the financial sense. This month, I spent around $1300 on my daughter’s sport (competition leotard, warmup sweats, new workout leotard, partial annual team fees, and tuition–approximately $275 per month!!!). Coming soon is competition season, during which I must be dedicated to lots of traveling, hotel expenses, and sitting on hard bleachers for hours every Saturday. But that’s what it takes to be a super Sports Mom. And for my kids, I am all in.