Perspective a wonderful gift

Tommy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images

Julie Foudy, left, stained her 1991 World Cup jersey with champagne, so her mom threw it away.

Forget the heart-shaped chocolates, roses and sappy Hallmark cards.

Forget the gift certificates to fancy stores.

Forget even the free day at the spa. (OK, that's a lie: I am taking the massage.)

What I would like this Mother's Day cannot be bought in a store or sold in a market. All I want for Mother's Day is perspective.

That's right … perspective. (And my kids' cute handmade cards, of course.)

I don't know if other parents feel this way, but as my kids start the process of playing organized sports -- and with the recent death of soccer referee Ricardo Portillo after he was punched in the head by a 17-year-old player he had just yellow-carded -- perspective seems the perfect gift.

Courtesy of Julie Foudy

If Julie Foudy follows her parents' example, she'll make sure the most important thing when it comes to her kids playing sports is that they're doing what they love.

I consider myself lucky; I'm certain I have a head start, thanks to my double helix: Mom and Dad are the living, breathing role models of perspective. Here are just a few examples from my early days playing with the U.S. national team:

Mom: "Honey, how was your trip to Bolivia?"
Me as a 17-year-old: "Great, Mom … but I was in Bulgaria."
Mom, while giggling: "And these entire two weeks I thought you were in Bolivia!"

Me at 19: "Hey, Dad … the first-ever Women's World Cup is in China next year. Can you and Mom come watch?"
Dad: "Oh, that is nice, honey, but tell me again what the World Cup is?"

Me at 22: "Mom, have you seen my 1991 Women's World Cup jersey, the one from the locker room after we won the World Cup?"
Mom: "You mean the one with all those big, black spots on it?"
Me: "Yes, Mom. Those were the champagne stains from our postgame celebration in the locker room."
Mom: "Oh, honey, I threw that out a long time ago. I just could not get those darn stains out!"

And, finally, one of my all-time favorites …

Mom: "How was your trip to Cypress, Florida?"
Me at 23: "Good, except we were in Cyprus, near GREECE."
Mom: "GREECE?!!!?"

We both fell off our chairs laughing. Some may blame it on an era of no iPhones or email, or a bad sense of direction or soccer naiveté, but I blame it on perspective.

Beautiful, simple perspective.

My soccer and sports career wasn't about my parents; it was about how much I loved playing, how much I wanted to get better and how much work I was willing to put into it. It was my decision on how far I wanted to go. Mom and Dad didn't need to run down the sideline and tell me where to kick the ball or how to play. In fact, the only thing they consistently yelled was, "Good kick!" Or, if they were really getting wild, they'd yell, "Kick it hard!" And in moments of insanity, it was, "Go Green Machine!"

Yes, times were different then. Clubs were different. The pressure to play was different. I get all of that. I get that finding perspective now compared to then is a different beast. But my parents are a precious reminder of why we play sports and why we cheer as parents. We play sports for so many wonderful reasons, and equally important, we cheer on our kids for all those same reasons.

My parents found this admirable balance of support and encouragement when needed, but they never suffocated. I once asked them if I should miss my high school graduation to go with the national team on a trip to Italy, where I could possibly earn a starting role. They shrugged and said, "That is a decision you have to make because, ultimately, you have to feel good about it. We support whatever you decide." I chose to go with the national team. In later years, when people asked me with shock, "Who in the world made you miss your high school graduation?!" I could say, without regret, "Me."

We all want the best for our kids, and it never hurts to be reminded that sometimes by doing less, we indeed give them more. I will strive to remember this as my children learn, fall and ultimately grow. I will strive for perspective when they are in tears over losing or stumbling. I will calmly breathe in perspective when my veins are popping out of my neck from the sideline. And, most important, I will bring perspective by delivering donut holes as a wholesome team snack.

And if I forget that perspective for a moment, I will go back to one of my most cherished memories: My parents, also known as Slim Jim and Fruity Judy, smiling on the sideline, having no clue what position I played, or what "offsides" meant, or what the score was, but determined to be the first ones to hug me as I walked off the field, win or lose.

Now that is a true gift. May the gift of perspective be all of ours on Mother's Day.

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