My son stands in front of the living room window, his hands pressed tightly against the glass. He’s peering intently at the world outside, looking for other pint-sized people to play with.
First, to the left. Nobody. In front, then. Nope. To the right. Nothing.
He furrows his brows and looks at me with a grimace that says: You’ll have to do.
“Daddy? Play with me?”
Before I can answer, he marches to the door. “Yes. We play now.”
He’s getting unfathomably good at answering his own questions in such a way as to make those around him feel obligated to do what he wants. He’s clearly been spending too much time with his mother.
We grab his semi-deflated soccer ball and invite Angela, his mother, to join us. Once outside, Riley places the ball on the grass, winds his foot and delivers a mighty kick. Piff.
The ball rolls six inches before coming to a stop. He kicks it again. Piff. And again. Piff. He doesn’t stop. Piff. Piff. Piff. Piff.
In the distance, two boys approach. One is around four, the other a few years older.
The young one sees the soccer ball and his face lights up. They both have the same angular jaw and raven black hair. Brothers, possibly.
Riley kicks the ball towards them, a silent invitation. Wanna play? The older boy shakes his head and says something in a language I don’t understand, but I know what he’s saying. We don’t have time.
The little one runs to the ball, shrugging. Yes. We play now. The older boy begrudgingly follows.
Angela tries to initiate conversation as we kick the ball around, but she’s met with friendly nods and smiles. They don’t speak English or French. Luckily, soccer is universal, and soon there are a handful of children playing with us, most speaking the same language. One of them speaks French and details where they are from. Syria, Angela says to me. Refugees.
When Canada announced we’d be accepting Syrian refugees, there were many critics. Why are they our problem? How can we afford it? And my personal favourite: what about all those potential terrorists we’d be allowing in?
Most of the criticism is bred from ignorance, of course. There’s a growing movement calling for sustainable living, but when we think of sustainability, we often think only of the environment, not of people or culture. Say the bees are in danger and people will gladly plant a flower, yet when people need our help, we often cower behind excuses.
Why must the seeds of inclusion be so reluctantly sewn?
The older boy grabs some rocks and places them on the ground, about two feet apart. He then walks down the field and does the same.
Angela looks at me quizzically. Impromptu soccer nets, I explain.
The older boy points to me, himself, and Angela. We’re a team, us against the rest of the kids.
Angela sheepishly whispers she isn’t very good at soccer. I tell her she can play goalie. All she has to do is stand there. I don’t tell her you generally throw your worst player in nets.
In my youth, I was a very strong player. I didn’t realize how long ago that was. The kids literally run circles around me.
Five minutes in, and I’m a heaving, drenched husk of a man. One of the kids takes pity on me and eases up as we jostle for the ball. I promptly trip over my feet and fall heavily to the ground. The ball rolls to Angela, who kicks it perfectly. It whistles into their goal.
The older child looks at me, and I know he’s thinking about putting me in net.
Meanwhile my son and the little one are pretending to be airplanes, running between us with their arms out, laughing. They’re happy and safe. Just like they deserve to be.
These kids were uprooted from their home soil, but I have hope they’ll take root and blossom here.