At eight years old, Hadley still loves to cuddle at night. Although her bed is piled high with stuffed animals, she has an affection and story for each one of them. She remembers the details of how they were acquired, their special traits, and their place among her stuffed animal kingdom.
“White Fang is my favorite. She’s a husky. Grandma got her for me when we were in Leavenworth. This is Jadoor, an owl from Santa. He gave her to me because I helped him with a very important job. Jadoor is Hedwig’s little sister.”
Even though she loves her stuffed animals dearly, she’ll shove them aside on her bed as a soft barrier between her and the wall to make more room for me during story and cuddle time. Larry the lion, a huge stuffed lion we inherited from grandma, also rules her queen-sized bed in which he regally sprawls out, acting as yet another buffer between the wall and Hadley. She’s got about four regular pillows, a giant Squishy Mellow, and stuffed Pikachu type pillow. She’s got a spot for those too. With all this on her bed, she still manages to make room for me. As I lay next to her on the edge of her bed she starts to share with me details of her day that were earlier forgotten, but now have seemed to crop up just in time for bedtime.
I notice how her two adult front teeth no longer look too big for her mouth as she grins thinking about her day. Her cheeks and nose are spotted with light freckles. As she begins talking I noticed her lips are pink and slightly chapped giving them a nice rosy color. Her green eyes twinkle while she describes a game they played in her classroom at school. As I brush a stray piece of her brown hair back over her head, she quickly moves her hair back where it was with a slight pause in her story that you’d really have to be paying attention to notice, then she continues on with the details of her day and tells me about recess.
“First recess I played with Jocelyn. Second recess I was with Rose. Then, at the third recess it was Kendall and Verah.”
I can almost see her planning her play schedule at school with her friends each morning, trying to coordinate quality time throughout the day so each of them gets a chance to spend time with her and feel included. She wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out. An organized Hadley friend rotation if you will, so everyone gets their time with her. She comes home with notes from her friends that spill praises of kindness and “bff” status. I get the feeling that Hadley is well-liked and other kids want to be around her. Not that this surprises me, she’s got a kind heart and a special way to make you feel included. For example, moving aside her prized stuffies on her bed to make room for you.
This past fall was the first official soccer season for our family. We managed to get Hadley on a team with two of her friends. Once her new jersey arrived and it donned the number ten, we had high hopes for our girl. My husband tells me typically number ten is the best player on a soccer team. We’ve had our share of soccer practice in the yard with Hadley and her younger brother John, including but not limited to, passing, scoring goals and keep away.
Hadley is sure-footed and coordinated as she kicks the ball precisely toward me. This must be a trait from my husband, who played soccer growing up. As for myself, coming from zero soccer experience and a real fear of the ball hitting my face, I tended to avoid this sport. But I’d pass the ball with Hadley anyday knowing she can keep it away from my face, for the most part. She gives the ball a swift kick with her left foot (one thing I do share with her is my left-footed favoritism) a smile sprouted on her face as soon as her foot made contact with the ball and shot toward me. A small giggle escapes from her mouth as I try my best to stop it.
Passing the ball as a family of four was one thing, but going out onto the soccer field with a whole team of 2nd and 3rd grade girls was quite another. I don’t think Hadley expected a throng of girls to follow the ball wherever it went during the game. When the ball came to her, so did several people running behind it, she’d give it a quiet, quick tap away when I knew she had much more in her. She’d give a half-hearted run up and down the field after the ball along with the other girls, but she never made much contact with it.
“I just don’t like crowds.” she explained in the car taking a bite of her post-game granola bar. “I want to be a goalie. There are no crowds near the goalie.”
Next game, Hadley went right up to her coach and asked to be goalie. Suddenly, she was pinny adorned and gloved at the goal. She was alone, nowhere near a crowd. She seemed to love it. She asked to play goalie many games following.
If it were me, I’d crack under the sheer pressure of the ball coming my way, but not Hadley. These girls are still learning defense and positions. As mentioned before, they just run back and forth after the ball. It seemed that rarely Hadley would have help as goalie from a defender or other team mate. They almost always weren’t near enough or ready. So Hadley had many times where it was completely up to her to stop the other team from scoring a goal. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t.
She also enjoyed playing defender, although she didn’t give as much power in her kicks to clear the ball away as one might hope to see. She enjoyed not being in the midst of the chaos or the middle of the pack, she preferred to linger back to help the goalie.
I wonder if this is why she divides up her time with friends? Maybe all of them at once seem too much like “I don’t like crowds.” Yet, they all want to be with her. She craves meaningful connection, conversation, laughter and jokes. Sometimes that’s hard to share among a big group, but much easier one-on-one or with a couple of friends.
She doesn’t mind being on the perimeter or staying back. I don’t mind her being there either, because I know she won’t be alone for long. As far as her soccer skills and confidence, these are things that will only get better and build with time. She’s up for playing again next year as long as she’s on a team with some friends again. She has settled on defender as her favorite position.
“I help out the goalie because I know what it feels like to be the goalie and not get help. I’m good at helping.”
I sneak back into her bedroom to turn off her lamp. Now asleep, she clutches three different kinds of owl stuffies and her blankets. I look closely at her closed eyelids, long lashes hover over the tops of her cheeks. For a second I see a glimpse of her face as a baby before it morphs back into one of a young girl’s.
“I don’t like crowds.”
I’m afraid, sweet girl, that you might have a crowd following you wherever you go. It’s a good thing you can schedule, coordinate, and make each person feel included, because as much as you might want to be a goalie alone or watch from the sides, I’m not sure that’s what God has in mind for you. I’m not sure that’s where you’ll shine. It might be. But it just might be that you were meant to be right in the middle of it all, able to make room on the edge for a friend and recall the details about what makes them special.