My son is 16. He is kinda little for his age compared to the other kids at school, and it is especially noticeable when he steps out onto the football field (or stands on the sidelines). He's a Junior this year- and it is his FIRST year playing football. He is very athletic, built and cut well, but still pretty small and quite inexperienced in organized sports, let alone FOOTBALL! He comes home each day after practice and shares how much he lifted, how many 40 yrd sprints he won (6 out of 15 he came in first- he is pretty fast). He plays wingback, but would LOVE to play safety or wide receiver, and with his speed and ability to jump- he would fair pretty well in those positions. But with his size and just starting to play his Junior year, he truly lacks the self-confidence and experience to SHINE.
I am a typical mom, and think everything he does is awesome and I am very proud. I see the talent he possesses quite easily. I also see the tender ego and heart of a 16 year old boy that grew up without his father in his life until he was 14, and how he struggles to find the man inside of him. I see how he measures himself by others. It is normal for 16 year old boys to go through this, but it also breaks my heart. It is particularly painful because I know that no matter how well-adjusted he his, he still feels the sting from the abandonment of his father in his early years and the pain he has endured by my poor decisions.
His first scrimmage game was last Friday, and I was the typical mom, jumping out of my seat exclaiming "Kevin's on the field! Kevin's on the field!" the very first time I saw him run for a play. I laughed at myself, of course. His little sisters, 5 and 6, clamored at the fence yelling his name as he stood on the sidelines, and he graciously turned and smiled and waved. How nice of him not to get embarrassed and try to ignore them. It was such a relief to see his teammates think it was cute too, instead of razzing him over it.
But tonight was different. Tonight he looked agitated on the sidelines. He finally got to get in for one play- the second to last play of the game. It was at the other end of the field and since I was firmly planted in the front row, I really didn't get to see it. The game ended, and we waited by the locker room as he came to get out of uniform. I walked up to him, slapped him on the shoulder and said "Hey, All-Star!" He turned around to look at me, and I could see the fury all over his face. "What's wrong?" I asked. "I RAN INTO THE QUARTERBACK!" He snapped, and I saw the tears well up in his eyes. MY HEART SHATTERED!
How could I fix this? What do I do? What do I say? The mother in me wanted to grab him and hug him and tell him everything was okay, just let him cry. But THANK GOD I am a bit wiser than that, or am I? As my insides burned and my arms ached to hold him, I smiled and said, "Hey, at least you didn't get your hands on the ball and run to the wrong end zone." He rolled his eyes and tried to smile. "Shake it off! It was one play." I said "My ONLY PLAY." He mumbled, and he disappeared into the locker room.
I stood outside, waiting. I rocked back and forth wishing there were a man there to tell me how to handle this without destroying him. I mean, as parents. we just don't have all the answers. We are doing ALL we can just to not totally WRECK their lives. I knew this was a crossroad moment in his life. This young teenager, trying to be a man, had come to a point where how he handled this could effect how he handled failure the rest of his life, especially on the BIG things in his life. This was a moment that would set a pattern for so many things. At this age they hang their identity on things that nobody else ever remembers. OH- I NEEDED HELP! How do I ease the pain? How do I allow him the opportunity to feel the pain without adding to it, and at the same time help him keep this tiny moment in perspective? How do I make sure he doesn't let this moment haunt him or define him without belittling how he feels?
This was truly a moment that required an academy award-winning performance from me, and the wisdom of ANYONE BUT ME! As my heart broke, my mind raced for the answer on what to do. I racked my brain, trying to think of a man I could call in for reinforcements. Okay, to be totally I honest- I was trying to think of a man that I could hand this whole thing over to and say- "Please fix this! I am afraid to touch it! I'll mess it all up! Here- YOU TAKE IT! PLEASE!" Finally I calmed down and the answer came to me.
He came out of the locker room and we walked to the car. On the way, I asked him if the coach said anything to him about it. This is when he explained that the coach sent in 3 guys. 2 wingbacks and a tailback- but no fullback. The quarterback told my son to play fullback. So, of course, he had NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS SUPPOSED TO DO OR WHERE HE WAS SUPPOSED TO GO! When he came off the field, the coach asked him, "What happened?" My son told him. The coach said, "Oh, my bad," and just shrugged it off. I just laughed and said "Well, that's cool. If the coach said 'My bad' then no worries." "But it was my ONLY play." was all he could say. But that was okay, I had a plan. "I got surprise for you." I told him.
We all piled into the car and I headed to Hollywood Video. I ran in and came out with a bag of movies. When we got home, I called my dad to tell him what happened, how I handled it, and what I was about to do, as my son took a shower. Thank GOD, my dad agreed. I had spent some time on the way home sharing with him some of my most embarrassing moments, and explained to him that he would live through it, and this moment just didn't define him and not to let it haunt him. My dad thought it was great that I didn't make it a BIG deal, despite my urge to coddle him and help him lick his wounds. Treating it like just another funny moment in life was pretty good. He was also thrilled with the next step. My son got out of the shower, and we sat down to watch "RUDY."
We laughed, we cried, and we cheered. As we read the little message at the end about how NO ONE had been carried off the Notre Dame field since 1975, my son looked at me and said "AMAZING MOVIE." He hugged me tight and said "Thanks mom!"
He then got on his computer and checked his zenga (OY!), kissed me goodnight and went off to bed. Right now he is laying in bed, drifting off to sleep. He has no idea that I just had one of the most TERRIFYING nights of my life, and I am PRAYING that I didn't just do EVERYTHING WRONG as a mother. He has no inkling that I hope I was a good mom tonight, and that it may be 20 years before I ever find out if I fumbled, or made a game winning Hail Mary catch in the end zone with 2 seconds on the clock. Chances are, I did neither. Chances are, I made a simple play that either gained a few yards or lost a few yards on the vast field of his life. As parents we get in a LOT of plays. But for THIS ONE HUGE MOMENT in his life, it was MY ONLY PLAY of the game.