Puck flips through the paperwork on the clipboard with a snort before setting the clipboard down and heading to the bleachers. ‘Team Mom’. Even though they’d dutifully crossed through the word ‘mom’ on the team information sheet, the system apparently categorized all the teams in one way only: Coach and Team Mom, preferably a matched heterosexual set. They didn’t push too hard, since Beth was already a different sex than most of the kids playing.
It makes sense that they want the Team Parent to be able to communicate with the coach, and since they’d decided Finn would coach this season, leaving Puck a little more time to focus on his classes—which had looked more time-consuming on paper and already feel more time-consuming than Finn’s—that left it to Puck to be the Team Parent.
Or, as the roster emailed out to everyone says, ‘Team Mom: Noah Hudson-Puckerman’, and Puck wonders how many people think the first name is a typo. Maybe they think he’s a ‘Norah’, or that it’s a really odd copy and paste error. The number of times they’ve scratched out ‘Mom’ on a doctor’s office or other form, only to have people insist they filled it out wrong, has taught him that most people will willfully misread things to make the ‘facts’ the way they want them.
The rest of the kids show up in twos and threes, some with their moms and dads, some with just a dad. Puck pulls out his tablet and starts looking over his assignments, glancing up at Finn and Beth from time to time.
After the practice starts, most of the other parents sit down on the bleachers, too. After Puck decides everything else has to wait until Beth’s in bed, he puts down the tablet, and a few minutes later, one of the dads turns to him.
“You know where I can find the Team Mom?” the dad asks. “I wanted to go ahead and pick our days on the snack schedule.”
Puck grins and picks his tablet back up, pulling up the snack schedule. “Yeah, that’d be me,” he says mostly cheerfully. “They didn’t want to substitute ‘Parent’ on the form.”
The dad looks confused, but his smile doesn’t fade. “Oh, okay. Usually one of the moms does it. It’s nice of you to step up, though.”
“They said that they like the coach and the team parent to be in close communication,” Puck says, shrugging slightly. “And snack schedule and an end of the season party won’t take too much time. Everyone can go to a Sycamores game.”
The dad nods. “So, which one’s yours?”
Puck grins and points towards Beth, her single ponytail sticking out of her helmet. “She wanted pigtails, but we told her that wouldn’t feel great once she put her helmet on.”
“Oh. I thought the little girl was the coach’s kid.”
“She is. We would’ve both coached, but I wasn’t sure I’d really have the time this semester,” Puck says, still grinning, but a bit more wryly now. “Finn’s probably a better coach for first-time players, too.”
The dad’s eyes widen a little. “Oh. Okay, sorry about that,” he says. “Can I go ahead and pick out a date for snacks?”
“Sure.” Puck hands him the tablet. “Which one’s yours?”
“You play?” Puck asks.
“High school,” the dad says. “Wasn’t good enough for college.”
“Beth’s grown up watching us play, so we shouldn’t have been surprised she was so excited that she was finally old enough,” Puck says. “Anyway, if you remember any plays, that’ll help if Finn needs extra hands at some point.”
“Sure, yeah, that’ll be great,” says the dad, pointing down at the tablet. “We’ll take that day and that day.”
“Cool. I guess I should start passing it around in a minute,” Puck says. He looks around at the assembled parents, and there are a few who are looking around, too, and Puck fights a laugh at the fact they’re probably looking for ‘Team Mom’. Once a few more parents have lost interest in coaching from the sidelines, probably due to the fact that Finn’s making the kids run drills, Puck stands up and lifts the tablet up.
“Snack schedule’s on here,” he says once most of the parents are looking at him. Some of the faces look blank, like they’re not sure what’s going on. “I’m Noah. Team parent. We’ll figure out the end-of-the-season party when we get a little closer to the end of the season, and if anyone’s got any allergies, let me know.” One woman’s face changes when he says that, and he nods at her. “Allergy?”
“My son has an egg allergy,” the woman says. “His name is Axel.”
“Like Guns N’ Roses?” Puck asks as he makes a note on the tablet.
“No,” the woman says, looking baffled. “It’s a family name.”
“Oh, okay. Cool.” Puck shrugs and looks back up. “Any other allergies? Any questions?” When no one says anything and a few people shake their heads, Puck nods and puts the tablet down, then thinks about sitting down again. He can’t really get anything done on his schoolwork, though, and he doesn’t particularly know the other parents yet to have a conversation, so he doesn’t.
He walks over to where Finn is, standing beside him and watching the kids, still running. “I think they don’t think I’m pretty enough to be the Team Mom,” Puck says after a moment.
“Wrong haircut, maybe,” Finn says. “You should go for the poofy thing like that lady on the end.”
“I was thinking more eyeshadow like the PTA person from last year. Are any of the kids too pretty to play?” He grins at Finn. “Or too fancy, I guess.”
Finn grins back as he shakes his head. “Nah, they all seem like good kids. They don’t seem to know what to think about Beej, though.”
“Admit it, you don’t always know what to think about her, and she’s your kid,” Puck jokes. “The first time someone on another team tries to grab her ponytail, they’ll figure it out.”
“If they get a chance before Beej kicks his ass,” Finn says, then turns back towards the players to shout, “One more time, guys!”
“Just because between us we taught her to punch and kick doesn’t mean she’d necessarily do it on the field.”
“We’re talking about the same Beej, right?”
“Beth’s a good girl.” Puck pauses. “Just pick the right definition of good. Namely, ours.”
“Yeah, she’s just like you,” Finn says, laughing and shaking his head as his players run back up to the 30.
“I’m good! I’m so good, I didn’t forget to turn the crockpot on this morning.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re good,” Finn says. “Though I think Mammy Carole gets half the credit on the crockpot.”
“You think she’ll keep bringing us frozen meals even after we get jobs? We’ll have another kid by then, that should count for something, right?”
“She’s got to keep her Pinners following her, so I guess she’ll just have to keep on crocking,” Finn says.
“Yeah, I can’t believe she’s got more than a hundred thousand people waiting for her next recipe,” Puck says, shaking his head. “Practice almost done?”
Half of Finn’s team is now actually sitting on the 30, though Beth isn’t sitting. Instead, she’s got her hands on her hips and looks disgusted with the rest of her team mates. “Is that all, Fada?” she asks.
Finn laughs. “Yeah, Beej. I don’t think the rest of the team spends summers running drills with their dads. We should probably give ’em a break, since it’s just the first practice.”
Beth huffs just like Finn does when he’s mad at his homework. “Fine. Maybe they should go running before next practice.”
“They’re six, Beej,” Finn says. “I think they’re doing just fine for six.”
“And you are just six and have homework,” Puck says to Beth, who makes a face at him. “Actually, we all have homework.”
“That’s all for tonight,” Finn calls out. “See you on Thursday. Practice those drills at home!”
By midseason, most of the dads and one of the moms talks to Puck regularly on the sidelines, and Puck’s theory about Finn being a good coach for little kids is being proven right. They don’t do a huge playoff bracket with the youngest kids, but Puck thinks that their team will probably be one of the four teams. Puck and Finn’s first semesters of grad school are going pretty good, their last season of college football is going about the same as the others have—the Sycamores aren’t a perennial powerhouse, but they don’t have perfect losing seasons, either—and Beth is taking first grade by storm, like she does pretty much everything else.
When they get to the field, Beth runs ahead, and Puck slings her bag over one shoulder. “I guess it’s good practice,” he says, nodding towards the bag. “Since it’ll be diaper bag time again in the spring.”
“I’ll carry a hundred diaper bags, if it means we get one that’s not a car screamer,” Finn says.
“How many places can we walk? That’s how we decide where we move, then,” Puck says, shaking his head. “We can’t be that unlucky twice, right? Right?”
“Don’t say it out loud! You’ll curse us,” Finn says. As they reach the sidelines, Finn leans in to give Puck a quick kiss. “Go keep the moms in line. Tell Carter’s mom if the refs hear her dropping anymore F-bombs, they’re going to ban her from the games.”
“I could start actually answering her questions about us,” Puck says dryly. “Otherwise we’ll just have to keep her in the back of the bleachers.” None of the parents have actually asked Puck anything too intrusive, but he has a feeling some of the moms would like to. “Remind Beth she doesn’t have to try to play all positions at once.”
“She’s still going to try,” Finn says.
Puck grins. “Atta girl.”
Most of the first half of the game goes like Puck’s come to expect, with a few parents on the other team trying to coach from the sidelines. After the second game, he’d glared at all the parents on their team equally and told them they were going to embarrass their kids eventually. Maybe not at six or seven, but another year, if they didn’t behave. It hadn’t kept Carter’s mom from dropping F-bombs, but at least the parents weren’t yelling things that were the opposite of what Finn was yelling.
There’s only a minute or so left on the clock before halftime when Beth suddenly barrels into the biggest kid on the other team. She must catch him by surprise, because he falls over and Beth starts pummeling at him, yelling something that Puck can’t make out.
“Well, that’s my kid,” Puck says under his breath, starting to stand up.
Finn runs onto the field, and even in the stands, Puck can hear him shouting, “Beth! Beth! Not in the face!”
Puck realizes that Beth’s not really letting up, so Puck starts to climb down, figuring she’ll need either an escort off the field or possibly to be carried off. By the time Puck gets to the field, Finn’s got Beth off the kid, at least, who is sitting up and looking a little stunned.
“What happened?” Puck mouths to Finn as he jogs over.
“Apparently, number 9 shoved Chance,” Finn says. “Beej didn’t like that very much.”
“He called him a name!” Beth yells, still glaring at number 9.
“Bethie-girl, you can’t beat up everyone who calls your friends names. Trust me,” Puck says. “You want me to take her?” he asks Finn.
“Yeah. Let’s give her a quarter to cool off,” Finn says.
“C’mon,” Puck says to Beth, then picks her up fireman-style. She hits his back a few times, and Puck laughs. “You know better.”
“Shoving isn’t part of football!”
“Neither is punching people in the face.” Puck deposits her on the first row of the stands, nodding at the parents who slid over. “Fada’ll bring your halftime snack over, and you can go back in when it’s the fourth quarter, okay?”
“No. Not okay.” Beth folds her arms across her chest and glares at the field, the wind making her ponytail even more of a mess than it already is.
“Do you want your hat?” Puck asks, then grins when she shakes her head. “Yeah, I never did think you needed a hat as much as they said.”
“I wanna play!” Beth insists. “Turner couldn’t complete a pass if you put Velcro on the ball!”
“Stop quoting Coach Fuller,” Puck says to her. “Look, here comes Fada with your snack.”
“I hope it’s not grape juice.”
“It’s apple,” Finn says, handing her a juice box and a small baggie filled with Cheez-Its and pretzels. “And you need to check the attitude, Beej.” As Beth takes the snack, Finn gives Puck a look over her head, the one that Puck knows means ‘this is Puckerman bullshit’.
Puck just shrugs and grins, because Finn’s probably right. He’s witnessed it twice now, as opposed to Puck who actually lived it the first time around and therefore thought everything was perfectly justified. “Fada’ll keep the team together without you, Bethie-girl,” Puck says. “You may not trust Turner, but you trust him, right?”
Beth starts to shake her head in what Puck is pretty sure is just automatic contrariness, then she stops and looks at Finn. “Promise?” she says, not smiling at all.
“Promise,” Finn says, holding out his hand. Beth shakes it solemnly, then offers Finn her fist. After Finn returns the fistbump, Beth turns to her snack, looking slightly less angry.
Puck grins at Finn. “Our hero.”