The sky was soft grey and blue, framing the shapes of the spring leaves above me. I could hear each deep breath, soothing, like a heart-beat in the womb. The ground felt alive beneath my shoulders, my arms spread wide, palms open to the sun. The leaves danced in the slight breeze. Grass blades—still mostly winter brown—tried bravely to stab but failed and settled for a prickly itch. The ebb and flow of excited voices floated like tendrils up from the soccer field below. My six-year-old daughter’s voice was among them. Number 11, defensive midfielder.
I wasn’t your typical soccer mom. I didn’t quite fit in. I didn’t really want to. Most of the other moms lived stay-at-home lives, not altogether common in this day and age but pretty much the norm in that neighborhood in Queens—almost Long Island—for families with grade-school children. It never occurred to me to aim for a provider-husband. I always worked, since I was 13. I went to college and I worked through college, and I got a job in NYC after I graduated and I moved half-way across the country to find and build a life, and—fast-forward—I ended up in Queens as a single mom of a vibrant girl who played soccer for a few years.
Our home field was under the Throgs Neck bridge, which spans the Long Island sound in its reach from Queens to the Bronx. It was a quick five-minute walk from our house to the park. We had to walk under the actual bridge to get to the main part of the park, traversing a path at the feet of monolithic concrete pillars that reached skyward to the noise and swoosh of more than 100,000 vehicles every day. The bridge was so immense it sheltered another world beneath that was perennially in shadow, cooler even in summer. We’d blink at the sunshine on the other side, at the wide fields and expanse of grass, at the shape of a former amphitheater still marked with bones of a dead wooden light-pole or two, at the grand curved approach of the bridge arching across the water. And at two soccer fields.
It was always at least 10 degrees colder down by the water on the other side of the bridge, a lesson I learned over and over again as I shivered on the sidelines watching that week’s match.
Part of the appeal of laying on my back on the hillside looking up at the sky, instead of joining the cheering crowd down on the sidelines, was that it was warmer near the ground where the wind couldn’t quite blow the sun’s warmth away. Plus I had mixed feelings about the pressure some parents shouted at their kids, so it was easier to keep my distance. But mostly I just loved the feel of the ground beneath me. It was solid. I thought about the rotation of the planet, and I imagined I could feel the soaring sense of that motion. I stilled. And I sensed the expanse of the earth as it stretched out about me in all directions. I felt connected. Grounded and unfettered. Natural. Free.