Until a couple months ago, I had never heard of TOPSoccer.
While at River Soccer Club for Beckett’s spring recreational league, Pam ran into a friend who told her about a program dedicated to young athletes with disabilities. I’m assuming her reaction was something along the lines of “no way” because the idea of getting Carson involved with sports and other activities has been an ongoing discussion for us.
He’s just not ready for team sports at this point. He gets frustrated easily when things don’t go his way and sometimes his reactions are unexpected. Instead, we have done swimming and tried out some other things along the way.
The idea of him having his own time to play soccer in a unique environment appealed to us. The poor kid has been watching his big brother play soccer for five years on an almost weekly basis, and we were excited he was able to have his own fun.
The idea of TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is to “bring the opportunity of learning and playing soccer to any boy or girl, who has a mental or physical disability. Our goal is to enable the thousands of young athletes with disabilities to become valued and successful members of the US Youth Soccer family,” according to its website.
Above all, at least for us, we want inclusion and tolerance for Carson. This goes for school as well as his community. We believe being in the general education setting is the best thing for him despite his development delays and inability to speak.
That’s why we get choked up when we see him as just being one of the kids in his kindergarten class. For example, when I took a photo of him with a bunch of his classmates at Field Day, what’s memorable to me is seeing him throw his arms around them like they are buddies. We just want him to be one of the kids, but we don’t take it for granted because not being able to talk is a huge impediment for young kids’ socialization. It’s challenging for him to make friends because he can’t communicate like everyone else.
Therefore, inclusion is really what the parents of special needs children want most of all. When he’s included in something, whether it’s in the classroom or on the soccer field, it touches us and he usually embraces it.
That’s why Pam and I were unable to get through any of his TOPSoccer practices without heavy emotions. It’s one of those times when you feel you are doing right by your kid. You are providing them opportunities they might not otherwise have ever experienced. It’s special.
We feel tremendous guilt about Carson not being able to do everything his big brother can do. It’s an emotional challenge that’s difficult to overcome and can be consuming. We will not accept excluding him because of this or that shortcoming, no matter how difficult it may or may not be.
This program allows him to be a part of something that’s unique to him. There’s some soccer skills worked into the practices but there’s also some fun built in because the kids have a certain amount of freedom to essentially do what they want in a fairly structured setting.
We thank River Soccer Club for offering this program and all the involved volunteers, including the many area high school students who serve as big buddies for these children during the practices. It made a lasting impression and a big difference for our family, and I know it has done the same for many others in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
A recent conversation with a mom on the sidelines of a soccer game has stuck with me for weeks.
The woman was rehashing her journey as a single mom at a young age and now being a mom to a newborn 10 years later with no father present. She was struggling clearly with the demands of being a single parent. She said a lot, probably too much to a complete stranger, but what hit me was this simple statement.
“I just don’t want to screw up. I don’t want to mess either of them up.”
Isn’t that really what we all want as parents?
I wish I had that conversation back as a do-over because all I could really mutter was something along the lines of you can’t so long as you love them. I could have done better but I wasn’t prepared for a pep talk to a stranger.
I often compare the journey of raising my children — who each have their own individual trials and tribulations — to hypothetical driving. There will be swerves and accidents along the way. We might even crash into a ditch from time to time. We just have to back out, start over, keep going and put the car on the road.
If I run into that woman again, I would remind her of a conversation Pam and I had with one of our kids’ pediatrician years ago. She reminded us we need to cut ourselves some slack and that parents today are often too hard on themselves. She said take some deep breaths and enjoy the moments. I am constantly reminding myself of that during this parenting journey.