Once upon a time, years before pregnancy and children and with the athletic ability I will never get back, I played soccer in college. For four years, I spent at least a few hours of every day on a manicured green field in the middle of Arizona with 20 other young women stretching, training, and practicing the craft that had brought us there. College soccer was as much a lifestyle as it was a job, and it came with heavy demands on our time and our bodies as we did our best to live up to the expectations in front of us.
I remember these years like they just happened: early mornings, locker rooms and weight rooms, airplanes and studying for exams on those tiny plastic trays. I remember what it felt like to win a big game and I remember what it felt like to lose one. And I remember learning to love the process of working hard, and trusting that process to do good work in you regardless of the outcome.
And I also remember very vividly the worst parts of that process, and the four words we all dreaded the most: “Everyone on the line.”
Our coaches would usually surprise us with it, as we were winding down a two-hour practice, finishing the last of the drills for the day and thinking (hoping and praying, actually) that coach would say, “Alright ladies, see you tomorrow.” With those relieving words we would all ease up a bit, and start joking and laughing with one another as we put the cones and soccer balls away for the day. But when, “Alright ladies, everyone on the line,” came out of his mouth instead, the tension was immediately palpable. We were already tired. We had already trained for two or more hours, and did I mention we were in Arizona? In August? With no choice but to do what we were asked, 20 girls with shaky legs would find their spot on the line.
“Ladies, to the end of the field and back. Ten of them. Thirty-five seconds in between.” The whistle blew, and off we would go.
Most of the time we would finish our 10, winded and exhausted and begging for water, then head to the locker room for air conditioning. But every so often, coach liked to play around a bit with our expectations. See, when you have just 10 sprints in mind, you can find a way to do 10. Getting through the sixth and seventh was generally the hardest for me, but then I could tell myself “It’s just three more … It’s just two more ...” Yet every so often, our expectations get thrown off—in sports and in life. And as 20 women who just could not do one more sprint would be making our way back to the starting line on the final one, coach would blow the whistle and yell, “Ladies, the game just went into overtime! Two more!”
To this day I have a visceral reaction remembering that feeling.
Everything in your body screams that you cannot do two more sprints. Cannot. You are half angry and half devastated at this surprise "overtime," but you know that quitting is not an option. You have to find a way to do what is asked of you.
So, you do. You finish, because leaving that field well is part of what makes you better prepared for the next time you step out there.
It’s been more than 10 years since my last “on the line” session as an athlete, but the lessons are as meaningful as ever because, as it turns out, motherhood is full of unexpected overtimes, too.
I put my daughter to bed angry the other night. I was exhausted and spent; she was not. She wanted another book and a glass of water and was suddenly hungrier than she had ever been in her whole life at 8:30 p.m. But I had no patience for any of it. When you know the dishes are still in the sink and the emails are sitting unanswered and “This Is Us” is waiting on the DVR, it is amazing how the simplest of requests feel like the most inconvenient intrusion on your plans.
And all I can say is that at 8:30 p.m., the intrusion was too much for this mama, and I acted like it. I forgot all of that training for overtime.
“Harper, no! No more books, no more water, and don’t you even think about getting out of this bed to go to the bathroom. It is bedtime; we’re done.”
“But mom,” she pleaded back, “I just want you to read with me.”
“We read a book, Harper.” (I flew through and skipped a few pages in a book actually, but we looked at it.) “Goodnight.” I pulled the door shut and left her crying in her bed. I didn’t pray with her or ask her what her favorite part of the day had been; I didn’t even say I love you. I had stopped thinking about my kids’ day around 7:30 p.m., and could only think of getting to the rest of mine for a full hour.
And that’s the thing about expectations: they only get thrown off if you have the wrong ending in sight.
A few minutes later, with the dishes half done and the work still untouched, my guilt got the better of me, and I headed back upstairs to her room. I slowly cracked the door open to see if I could make it up to her and at the very least pray her to sleep, but she was already there. I had left the day impatient, out of energy for my daughter and leaving her feeling like she didn’t deserve one more minute of my time. The whistle blew for overtime and I said “nope, no more,” and quit before we were done.
I walked back toward the kitchen and I started thinking about how I just acted. I would not have quit before my coach told me I could; I would have found a way to do the sprints even when I felt like I could not possibly do another. So why did I just do that to my daughter?
My children rarely need to say a word to hold up the mirror to my hypocrisy.
The next morning when Harper got out of bed, I told her I was so sorry for shutting the door on her and leaving her crying, and that I promised I would not do that again. I spent many years training for overtime; I know how to give more when there is nothing left to give. And every day, that’s what moms do. When there is no more patience, she finds more. When there is no more energy, she still finishes the task. When there is not one part of her that wants to give three more minutes to a procrastinating five-year-old, she finds three more minutes to leave the day well. Because as my coach always told us, “It doesn’t matter where you start; it matters where you finish.”