Tomorrow night my oldest son, eight, will have his first football scrimmage. He's in the 3rd grade and will be going up against the 4th grade team.
I pondered the unfairness of this and became indignant about it as I frequently do when the odds are stacked against my children. (Normally I might make a natural metaphor here about mama bears, but thank you Sarah Palin for ruining that one for me.)
I remark about it to my husband, something like, "Why don't they split the team and scrimmage each other? Why are they scrimmaging 4th graders? It's not fair."
His response was, "Why not? Someone is always smaller."
I struggle, as all parents struggle, with wanting to make a child's path smooth -- no bumps, no twists and turns, like the perfect freeway across America where there is always an off-ramp when you're hungry or have to go to the bathroom, and where the street lights always come on at dusk. Safe and boring. That's how I want it to be for my children.
I know, it's ridiculous.
It's especially ridiculous because I value the bruises I've gotten on the road, though maybe not the moment I was getting them. I've learned many great lessons from putting my foot in my mouth, from bad dates and bad relationships, from stupid, shot-sighted decisions. I've seen wonderful sights when I've taken wrong turns.
Once I tore a bunch of soft tissue in my ankle while kickboxing (yes, really) and found myself surrounded by six firemen and emergency responders who looked like they'd fallen out of the center of a fundraising calendar where all the men are half dressed. I wouldn't trade away that horrible experience even though I sometimes still have trouble with that ankle.
I understand challenge, loss, fear. I understand about digging deep. I'm not afraid of a fight. And sometimes I'm keen on doing it when I feel like justice needs to be served. I'll tackle Goliath to save David if he needs saving.
So, why do I not want these beautiful lessons for my own sons? I guess because they hurt and I know that not everyone overcomes their hurt. Sometimes we are hurt beyond measure, beyond repair. We cannot fix the broken things inside us. Falling down and skinning yourself is one thing, but getting your soul crushed is something else.
As I wait in line to pick up my second child, my first reminds me of tomorrow's scrimmage. He tells me who he thinks he will be lining up against tomorrow -- a neighbor friend from across the street. He seems unconcerned about it, thinking more about another boy on his team.
"I feel bad for this kid named Jeremy who is next to me on the line. He's going up against a kid named Roacher who weighs about 117 pounds and Jeremy weighs like 57 pounds. He's gonna be flattened in about two seconds. Yeah, he's going down."
I worry my sons won't know how to dig deep. I worry they will be too fearful to find their courage. I worry they will get a wound that won't heal. I worry they won't win a fight they think is worth fighting and it will make them not want to try again. I worry they will give up.
And so I remind him that when the game whistle blows he is to be fierce, as fierce as he can muster because I can't tell him how his mother takes a simple first scrimmage game and turns it into some sort of mental breakdown as I sit there in a row of other parents who are probably having their own version of mental breakdowns. (Or not, maybe I'm the only freak.)
And I can't tell him that all this reminds me how he's growing up so fast and it's only going to get worse from here on out. Because all he knows is he's gonna go wrestle around with other boys looking all cool in their football gear and later tell me all about how awesome he was on the field
So I think about that instead -- how tough he looks in his gear with his broad shoulders. He's tall, a good head taller than most kids his age. I think about his verve, the way he tells me a story, embellishing as if I were not there to see it with my own eyes. I think about how I will sit in the stands and make a fool of myself cheering for him and the rest of his team. Because I can control all that.
I can't keep them from falling, but I can pick them up when they do and kiss the wounds, the tears, reason with them and be their champion. I vow to myself to be excellent at that if nothing else and hope that excellent will be good enough when they really need it.