When I was little girl, my father was a teacher in the Hillsborough County School System and after way too many years battling the daily traffic to Tampa over the Howard Franklin Bridge, in a far less than reliable car, he decided to transfer and teach in Pinellas County- still with the same less than reliable car- I might add.
He was a physical education teacher for more years than he wasn’t-in addition to working various side jobs (like any teacher in Florida knows) . . .teaching tennis, summer swim lessons, cleaning carpets with a friend’s business, and various construction projects. He worked more hours than he didn’t- nights, weekends, and of course the regular nine to five.
When he began teaching at St. Petersburg High School- he welcomed an after-school job coaching soccer with open arms. After his inaugural season, he did the math and the income averaged to about 50 cents an hour. Regardless of such, his passion, heart, and soul filled each second he was on the field with the boys, whom he lovingly referred to as extended family. Their families became part of ours and my father followed their lives and careers far after they left those hallowed grounds.
I remember it well. . .when he arrived that first season. As a little girl, I was often carted along to the soccer fields where I would watch many a practice. I spent far too many frigid game nights sitting on those hard stadium metal bleachers freezing my backside off in awe of the camaraderie created on the field.
I fondly remember him prepping for the season. He set out the tattered jerseys from many years of use, on the floor of our living room, attempting to find each its numbered match. The once crisp white and emerald green long-sleeved shirts were now a dingy yellow and stretched out in more places than I could count.
When tryouts came- every player made the team. Because. . .well, there wasn’t anyone left to cut. The soccer team, at that time, wasn’t the team to be on. The theme of previous seasons had been repeated without thought. There was one good player. The object of the game was to pass it to him. Let him run up the field to score. . .and score he would. This was the mantra.
Sadly, this did not follow my father’s vision of teamwork and he was met with some opposition. But as the years went by, the teams became better. The players worked together as a cohesive unit. In future seasons, there were actually players cut, more tried out than were needed. And the minions no longer passed it to the chosen one– his philosophy rang true.
Now, one would think, that for a 50 cent an hour job– it would not monopolize one’s life as it did. But each night before the “big game” and they were all “BIG” games. . .the pacing would begin. The restless nights, the lack of sleep, and the Playbook. Who was starting the game? That was a privilege, I am told, still not sure why. Who would come in the second half? This usually involved those that had reported late to practice. Those that were late, never were given the privilege to start. A life skill, I am told. Punctuality is still something for which I struggle. Which position would each player would take? And strategizing against the opponent ensued. . .Who were their strongest players? What was their record? Who would be best to match their skillset? More questions than I could ever dream of answering. He would go over these again and again and again. . .obsessively.
The day of the “big game” and they were all “BIG games“, he would write out his Plan, his Playbook. Explain it with precision. Delegate it to the team helper, James. James, I often referred to as The Shadow. He was never more than four feet behind my father. Pacing as he paced. No matter what learning difficulties challenged James in school, he was dedicated member of this extended family. He knew every player of every opposing team. He knew every stat; every shot on goal, every assist, every win/loss and could recall them with ease. And he did.
One would think the Playbook would end when the game did. . .however, it did not. As all good teachers know, there is a process. The good old “Plan, Do, Study, Act”. (First, create the Plan. Next is the Do, carry out said Plan. Followed by Study, What ways did said Plan work or not? Finally Act, What would be done differently next time?).
He would go home and review each game, play, and player meticulously. What worked? What didn’t? What would he do for the next “big game“, and remember they were all “BIG” games. So it was another restless night. No sleep. Pacing and thinking. . .thinking and pacing.
My mother said that she could do cancer. . .there was a Playbook for that. She could comfort my father. Go to chemotherapy with him. Pack him snacks. Visit with him. Lovingly prepare the food and nourishment that he would need to survive those vicious chemicals streaming through his veins for hours at a time. Those chemicals now claiming his strength, mobility, and hair. Those chemicals guilty of turning his once bronzed skin into the same dingy yellow of those once well-worn uniforms. She knew how to do all of those things.
But with Lewy Body Dementia, there is no Playbook. There is no How To. There is no Expect This. There is “Everyone is different”. There is “Each person moves at a different rate”.
There is “Will he know me tomorrow?”