Sunday, May 29, 2016

Adventures of a soccer mom: Tournament in Puerto Rico!

Another installment in adventures of a soccer mom.  Written in Evernote and I forgot to transfer tomy blog until now.  Information is still insightful to my fellow soccer parents though!

Hello from 18,000 feet.  It's January 27th, 2016.  I am on my way to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Why?  Glad you asked!

It's not exactly for a vacation. In fact I would not even be on this plane were it not for my 14 year old soccer playing son.  It was not really in my budget or my plan to take a 6 day trip to a tropical climate in the middle of January. Although I must admit, I am definitely all for a break from winter in New England!  I'm sure when I get there and get my toes in the sand, I will not mind the time, expense, and piling up of work that awaits me when I return, at least for a few days! 

Don't be too jealous. The day at the beach will be literally a day.  Two full days are lost to travel there and back, and two days are pretty much lost to a hot soccer field with a 5:30 am wake up call.  The other day will be a transition day.  Of course there will also be lots of eating. Growing boys... it's a real thing.  Constant eating!

No, we are going to Puerto Rico for a soccer tournament, not for a vacation.  The GPS Caribbean Showcase.  He plays for the GPS U14 Central Ma Elite team.  We are playing up one year in the U15 age bracket (eek!)  I believe we are the only team from the United States playing in their age group.  It will definitely be a challenge given the change from 30 degree temps to playing in the mid 80's with humidity and playing kids a year older, bigger, and used to the climate.  I believe in addition to teams from Puerto Rico, we will play teams from Dominica, the Virgin Islands, and perhaps others.  Oh, and we don't have a goalkeeper on this trip.  That's concerning.  Yikes!   All the boys are saying "not it!"

The boys claim they are excited, but it's kinda hard to tell.  They are hormonal, "cool", and presently much more interested in their electronic devices than anything soccer.  Of course, kicking a soccer ball on a plane is frowned upon.  I think, too, they are still a bit too young to truly understand the impact of being invited to and having the opportunity to actually play, in a tournament like this one.  It's their first college showcase. College coaches will get their first glimpse at these boys, who are all in 8th grade.  You'd think that's way too early to be thinking about college soccer, but after having gone through this with my older son, it's really not!  That's frightening to mama. He's still my baby!!

This will be a combination of a day and a half of vacation at a beach resort and 3 days at the soccer hotel with the team.  They will play 5-6 games over 2 days, thankfully all in the morning, so they will have the afternoon and evenings free to swim in the pool, hang out, and eat. Dear God these boys eat constantly!  We will have a team dinner on Saturday evening.  As they are missing 3 days of school, they also have homework with them to do and a midterm to study for.  They are not pleased there will be no sleeping in on soccer mornings and bedtime will be before they are used to going to bed at home. Coach runs a tight ship.  It's good practice for the rigors of collegiate play and a glimpse at what professional players do.

It's a great team building and bonding experience and one that affords the kids a glimpse at a different culture, the chance to try new foods, and even give their rudimentary Spanish a whirl.  My son is a fairly seasoned traveller, at least on domestic flights, and at 14, it's SO much easier than when the kids were little! 


As I gaze out the window, the sun is beginning to set.  There are puffy white clouds below us taking on a pinkish hue, highlighting their tops and emphasizing the contours of the clouds. It's quite pretty.   We're flying over land instead of over the water to Ft. Lauderdale, because of rough air.  Our flight was also delayed a bit more than a half hour, which gives us precious little time to make our connection to Puerto Rico.  The boys are mostly upset their dinner plans for FLL won't materialize.  They stocked up on snacks just in case. My son has already eaten half of them.  We have 5.5 more hours before we land in PR! 

I am grateful for this opportunity to travel with my son, see him experience a new and different level of competition, and watch him play.  When given the choice to accompany him, I quickly cast aside concerns about cost and time because I know all too well how quickly he will fly from the nest.  He's already very different than he was when we traveled to Barcelona 2 years ago for soccer.  He's much less a child and much more a teenager.  On that flight, he wanted to sit next to me, sleep on me, and talk to me. On this one, he made his friend sit between us, only talks to me if he needs something, and is wide awake. 

*sigh*  Poor mama. 

Addendum:  The flights to PR were quite bumpy!  We were delayed about 45 minutes leaving PR as well.  Thankfully, because when the first flight landed, we had 4 minutes to make the departure of our next one (as in no way, since we were in the back 1/3 of the plane and they opened the door about the same time our flight to PR was to depart.  We did quite literally walk off one plane and get right in the boarding line for the next one. 

We landed at 10:30 pm local time (11 pm for our body clocks), and were at the hotel around 11:30. The boys were hungry, but nothing was open, so we walked about a mile to a Denny's where we had a pretty greasy, not particularly tasty or good quality meal.  I was amused by the fact it was 74 degrees and a waiter there was wearing a winter coat.  A WINTER COAT!  I get that it's winter for them, too, and it was probably 68 degrees in the Denny's with the AC on, but even *I* was comfortable in a sweater and jeans!  While we were walking back, the boys heard the Coqui frogs "singing" and observed what happens when the local dive bar starts to empty out (as in drunk people literally falling out the door and off the sidewalk while music with offensive lyrics blared from the open door bar.  They were amused, especially since a police officer stood across the street by a tree, astutely observing the goings on.

We did not fall into bed until about 1:30 am (2:30 to our bodies).  So glad we were not playing soccer the next day!

February 1st

Greetings once again from somewhere over the east coast. Looks to be North Carolina from up here.   Our short soccer-cation is now coming to an end and it's back to reality.  It was quite busy, and I really  had no time (or reliable wifi when I did have a bit of time) to write. So here is the rest of the story...

I woke Thursday morning before everyone else and headed downstairs to explore the beach/pool area and try to get a run in. It was very humid, but windy, and partly cloudy.  It was probably in the mid-upper 70's at 8 am.  I went to the gym and hopped on a dreadmill. I hate the dreadmill (hence the term, dreadmill).  I did a 30 min run-walk-run but even inside, it was miserable.  I went upstairs and everyone rallied for breakfast (an all you can eat buffet), which we ate on an outside covered patio overlooking the beach and ocean.  We then walked the beach and found a spot on the lounge chairs. The boys enjoyed body surfing in the ocean as the waves were quite large and the seas rough, with a significant undertoe.  There was a red flag for conditions, but it was quite shallow.  In the afternoon, we moved to the pool area, which was beautiful and offered 2 pools, 2 hot tubs, beautiful landscaping, and food/drink.  We even saw several iguanas of all sizes sunning themselves and looking for lettuce treats. 

After a day in the sun, sand, surf, and pool, we had a "romantic" dinner with the boys on the same outdoor patio.  My son had a steak and ate it in record time!  One of the things he requested was a "fancy" dinner with steak. 

Friday was much the same as Thursday, without the run for me and we did a more casual breakfast on the go, claimed out spot on the beach, and the boys used boogie boards.  Several of their soccer friends and their families had seen our photos from the day before and joined us for the day at the beach. The boys had a blast together and the parents all very much enjoyed the tropical day filled sun, food, and drink.  It was sure a different soccer bonding experience, not that we were complaining. We don't get to have this much fun for soccer tournaments at home!  Especially in the winter!

That evening, we moved to our soccer hotel in Bayamon.  We had an adventure that evening, trying to get across the street to a mall for dinner.  What should have taken 10 minutes took something like 30 because there are no sidewalks and we couldn't figure out where the entrance to the mall was (it was inside the parking garage and we were on foot!).  We ended up at Chili's. Yes, we came all the way to PR to eat at a restaurant we could eat at in our hometown.  It was food and it sufficed.  The boys had a meeting with their coach that evening and then it was off to bed. We had an early wake up call

Saturday- Day 1 of the GPS Caribbean Showcase

We met in the lobby of the hotel at 6:30 am local time. That means we got up at 5 am EST.  See why we needed those days at the beach for the moms?!  THIS is what soccer tournaments are like, no matter where they are. Early wake up calls, long days at a soccer field, unknown weather/food conditions and a mystery as to the level of competition we would face. 

The boys had a quick continental breakfast (at least they ate and drank) and got on the bus for 7 am.  We got the next bus.  The fields were about 15-20 min drive away.  Being an away team (VERY far away), we did not have our usual chairs, umbrellas, blankets, coolers, etc and they were somewhat missed. There were bleachers, which was nice, but precious little shade, and of course, the fields were in full sun.  It rained on and off during their first and second games, but the boys appreciated it since it was quite warm and very humid.  It didn't take much to get them hot and needing a cool down.  They played two very hard fought games and unfortunately lost both. The first game was lost only by 1 goal and it could have gone either way. The teams were well matched (USVI team) and the boys showed good sportsmanship to their opponents on both sides.    The second game was more challenging. Our boys were struggling adjusting to the heat, were probalby all a bit dehydrated (heck we were, and we weren't running in the sun), and have not played an 11 v 11 regulation game since November.  They lost.  I believe the score was 5-0.  It was against the home team and those boys were quite good and of course, not facing the challenges ours were. 

We went out for lunch to the Olive Garden to carb up for the boys and they ate like you read about!  Then it was back to the hotel for some down time, showers, and preparing for our team dinner.  We ate at a local restaurant in a function room. Between island time and the fact they were really not accustomed to serving large groups, it took freaking forever.  Our reservation was at 6:30, we left around 10:30!  The boys were tired and wanted to go to bed.  Their curfew was 10 pm, but their coach was with us, so he waived it until they got back to the hotel.  :-) 

Once back, everyone was asleep in record time.

Sunday

Once again, a 5 am EST wake up call for a 7 am bus departure. This day, the parent bus never came!  Our boys had one game at 8 am. At 8:40, we realized we wouldn't make the game so the parents who had rented cars rallied and drove everyone to the field. We arrived just as play began! 

Today there was no rain, and it was HOT, even at 8 am.  I was sweating standing still from the humidity.  They played hard against a team from the Dominican.  They dug deep to come from behind and win 4-3. Another really great game by 2 well-matched teams.  The boys were thrilled with a win, as were the parents, and especially a few dads who are now hoarse from their yelling. :-)  

Speaking of yelling, I can't help but wonder why anyone who screams at their kid, or in general, can possibly think that helps them. Especially when it's things like "get to the ball", "you need to get a foot on it", "you have to beat them to the ball" and so forth. The kids *know* what they are supposed to do. They *know* when they do something wrong or make the wrong decision.  They don't need the distraction or stress of a parent yelling at them, to them, or just yelling in general, especially if it's not simply applause for a job well done.  As I was explaining this to a dad who was next to me expressing his frustration with the way the boys were playing, I gently reminded him they were at a disadvantage being in this heat, not having played together on a field this big in 2 months, they were all growing and their bodies and center of gravity was changing, and that distracting them with noise and negative comments does nothing to boost their morale when they are already struggling and know they are not performing the way they need to.  I aslo pointed out, my job was to be supportive and enjoy what my son did, whatever it was. I had no business telling him how to play soccer and unless I could get out there and play at this level, I shouldn't be telling him what he should and shouldn't do and personally, I wish all parents thought that way.  He did not yell again, but was supportive with his vocalization after that point. 

We were very proud of them for how they behaved and played, bonding more as a team and displaying wonderful sportsmanship.  They "borrowed" a goalkeeper from the GPS PR team for all of their games.  We sure as heck needed him as our GK was unable to make the trip.  He was fantastic and the boys were so grateful to him and included him in their team photos, high-fives, and he also got a rousing round of applause from the parents for his contribution to the team.  The coach got a showcase T-shirt and all the boys signed it and gave it to him as a keepsake of their thanks.  Such a sweet gesture of sportsmanship and appreciation. He looked thrilled.  It makes me wonder if he's ever seen or experienced anything like it in his culture. 

After the photos, everyone went their separate ways. My son was very cranky (hot, hungry, and dehydrated) and once I got enough food and drink into him, he perked up.  Our travelling companions arranged for us to tour Old San Juan with her mom, who lives in PR.  She drives a beat up, old, barely working jeep style car and it was certainly an adventure. No AC, missing seatbelts, and her driving was... adventurous!  Still, we were grateful to her for her hospitality and for driving us around.  On the way to Old San Juan we stopped a little beach/reef where the boys did some snorkeling. There was not a tremendous need for a snorkel since you could just stand in the water knee deep and see all sorts of colorful tropical fish swim by! 

After our little beach diversion, we drove and walked the narrow, cobblestoned hilly streets of Old San Juan.  We had lunch at an old convent turned hotel and restaurant, which was lovely.  We checked out shops and observed the culture and took in the sights.  There were old forts and beautiful scenic vistas.  The architecture was very similar to what you'd see in New Orleans with the colorful buildings, balconies and railings of wrought iron and plants decorating them, and the narrow, quaint roadways.  Rumor is New Orleans was modeled on Old San Juan, at least as far as architecture goes.  I was thrilled to find a lovely pendant of larimar in a little shop.  It was SO much less expensive than the larimar necklace and earrings I got in Jamaica at a cruise port (although that was very beautiful as well), but this is a much larger piece for WAY less than what I paid for the former set!  Lesson learned! 

After our sightseeing tour, we returned to our hotel to shower, pack, and chill.  We were exhausted.  We ended up ordering Dominoes pizza for dinner and we all went to bed early, the last one being my son at 9:30 against his preference, but he was asleep quickly once the lights were out and the TV off. 

And that brings us to today.  I am now somehwere around Long Island.  We were up at 3 am EST today to get to the airport on time.  Our flights were on time and the weather much better. Very few bumps today and both arrivals on time. 

My mind is now starting to realize all the things I must do to settle back into the reality of day to day.  And how much of it needs to happen between now and when I get to bed tonight.  I anticipate being home about 3:45 pm and being in bed by 8 pm! 

As I reflect on these past 5 days, I am grateful not only for the opportunity for my son to play the sport that is his passion with friends old and new, but for the time I got to spend with him experiencing PR.  He was often distant and grumpy, as teen boys can be, but when he was not with his friends, he was more the mama's boy I know.  He's spent quite a bit of time these last 2 flights playing with my hair and sleeping on my shoulder.  He still has no true concept of how lucky he is to have these opportunities and I'm not sure how to convey it. 

I'm also grateful for getting to know my fellow soccer moms and dads better and for the ease and grace of our traveling companions who we shared rooms, taxis, and all other sorts of things with. 

Of course, I am grateful for the brief "vacation" to a warmer climate, two days at the beach/pool, and a break from the day to day. 

That said, I look forward to seeing my husband and older son, sleeping in my own bed with my cats at my feet, and returning the normal family chaos that is the life of a mom of teen boys. 

Until next time...

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