October 28, 2011
I actually don't know a huge amount about chaos theory, and I don't spend too much of my time thinking about dynamism, randomness, or the importance of initial conditions. If I did, I would drive myself crazy imagining what all that would mean for Erin and her cancer. Instead, I want to talk about green shorts and the butterfly effect (from chaos theory--the illustrative example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before).
We lived in Nashville when Davis turned five. We had tried a few, but not many, activities for him before then. Gymboree was a failed experiment because he would lag behind his class as they moved from station to station, preferring to sort and organize the bean bags or balancing hoops and line up the other equipment, rather than moving on to the next activity. Kindermusick didn't work that well for any of us because, though we love to sing, we are all tone deaf. T-ball was a stretch that we weren't ready to try because of basic hand-to-eye coordination issues. Davis could run really fast and really far, but even his daughter-of-a-track-coach mother knew that five was too early to start track training.
Soccer seemed like an okay choice.
It fit his running and endurance skill set, didn't require much extra equipment or early hour practices (like pee wee hockey would have), and neither Walter nor I knew much about it (thus, eliminating, we thought, the idea that we would become overinvolved or overbearing sports parents). We signed Davis up, he played, and frankly none of us remember much at all about that first fall of soccer.
We moved back to Bryan (for the last time) over Christmas, and within a few weeks Davis brought home a flyer from school announcing Bryan Soccer Club sign up. We were fairly indifferent but thought it might be a good way to meet some new kids, so we found the checkbook (there's always a checkbook in youth sports) and a copy of his birth certificate and headed out to stand in various long lines at Sul Ross Elementary cafeteria.
We got to the last table, where you turn everything in, and the woman asked if we were requesting a particular coach and if not, we would be assigned to a team, mostly based on geography and where Davis attended school. I didn't have a coach in mind. In fact, I didn't have a clue about who was coaching and who it might be best to avoid or try to suck up to or anything that a "with it" parent would have figured out ahead of time. I was about to shrug and take pot luck when Davis piped up from behind me: "I want to play on the green team." His team in Nashville had green jerseys and gold shorts, which fit nicely with the rest of his wardrobe that prominently featured the color green. The woman wrote "green" across the top of his application just like I had observed her write the coach's name on other paperwork ahead of me ("Coach Green?" I thought fleetingly.).
It turned out there were no green jerseys that season in the Bryan Soccer Club. The compromise was to assign Davis to the blue team, because they had green shorts (a last minute addition to a popular coach's roster) . I don't remember much about that season or several of the seasons after that. Davis didn't explode onto the soccer scene. He didn't have a preternatural gift with the soccer ball. We didn't collectively fall in love with the "beautiful game." We occasionally wondered how we could have connected to a sport that required thin shorts and a t-shirt for games in January and February.
What we do remember is the coach, Steve Braden, a local physician and father of four, who never yelled at any of the players, even when they were particularly goofy and/or obnoxious, even when they scored on the other team's goal. . . on purpose, even when they ran their mouths instead of their legs and couldn't remember the simplest lesson from the previous practice.
How could we know that Coach Steve of the green shorts team would be Davis's coach year after year, through high school? That because Davis stuck with Coach Steve, he continued soccer long after he dropped other sports options. That he would embrace soccer as part of his personal identity? That, in turn, we would adopt his love of soccer and become coaches and players ourselves? That Erin's first and only sports longing would be to follow him onto the pitch? That I would continue to coach Erin's team long after there was no logical reason for me to continue?
The flap of that butterfly wing. . . "I want to play on a green team" led somehow to a twenty-three year old theoretical mathematics Ph.D. student who has played soccer in Hungary, vacationed at the World Cup, and is as excited calling me about his goals and assists as he is about chaos theory and other math concepts that he studies and adores as much or more. The flap of that wing has given Davis a way to stay fit, to compete, and to grow and improve into a much sought after teammate. And Walter, Erin, and I have followed in the wake of the disturbance primed by that wing, possibly making our own little flap for the people that we pass as we travel along.