We’re playing football.
I’m using the Royal We because it’s a whole family commitment. Practice most nights, games all over So Cal on Saturdays, in stadiums where somebody thought it was a good idea to put aluminum bleachers. Last week it was 105 degrees. Aluminum bleachers.
I have lots of mama friends who think we are crazy to let our 8 year play tackle football. Heck, I used to be one of them.
Although one of those mama friends only has daughters, and if she and her husband had a son, he’d be the size of Gabriel, so who knows what decision they would make. I won’t name any names but she writes on this blog with me.
And another mama friend, who is related to me and lives internationally, told me she thought I was nuts to let him play but in the next breath admitted her son starts his first season of ice hockey this year.
Right. There but for the grace of God and all that good stuff.
Here we are, proud-ish Patriots. Ish because as Bills and Jets fans, Shea and I can’t get totally on board with the Pats. Even the 8 year old version.
In fact, here’s a funny story. (Stranded at JFK) Amy’s husband, Dave is a BIG TIME Chargers fan. Season ticket holders from waaaaay back.
One night we had dinner at their house and Gabe brought his Patriots helmet over to show Dave. After dinner the kids were making a huge racket upstairs, so Shea went to check it out. He came back and said to Dave and Amy “Well, your daughter is riding my son like a bucking Bronco, wearing his Patriots helmet.”
Dave’s eyebrows crashed together. “Are you kidding me?! She’s wearing a Patriots helmet????”
By far the most difficult part of football for me has been the whole football mom thing. Currently, half the veteran moms on our team are not speaking or even looking at the other half. No one really knows what happened, but the sides formed up pretty quickly. I sit in the middle with the other new moms and just smile at everyone.
AYSO, it’s not.
Then there’s the fact that I am a football brat, born and raised, from a long line of season ticket holders and folks who think that if they yell loud enough at the TV, the coaches or refs will hear them. Plus I have some experience with the whole competition thing.
So I am torn every single practice and game between Grizzly Bear and Mama Bear.
The thrill of the clash of the helmets (which is bad, I know and we are a head’s up league but there’s still something about that sound…)
The fear when someone doesn’t get up from a play.
The almost over-powering urge to scream “F*CK YEAH!” when my son sacks the quarterback.
The anger when one of the coaches tells him to get up and stop being such a whiner.
The fierce pride of watching him go back to the line and do it again.
Saturday, we played a team that won the national championship three years ago. They are some of the best 8 and 9 year olds in the nation. They have creamed everyone so far, and we were next to go. Gabe lined up against a kid who was five inches taller and at least 50 lbs heavier than he was. Lined up against him a lot, since our offense didn’t spend much time on the field.
We lost. Big.
But not as big as everyone else.
It wasn’t until we were in the parking lot that Gabe showed me his arms. Scratches and cuts everywhere. “He held me almost every time, Mom” he told me, tears welling up in his eyes. “He had long fingernails and he dug them into my skin. It hurt sooo bad.” And then the sobs came, thirty hard seconds where all the frustration and stress of having to face that kid over and over finally got to him.
Mama Bear was all over that.
She got there in front of Grizzly Bear only because Grizzly paused for a second to consider whether there were enough Patriot dads around to back her up if she told that kid’s dad and uncles exactly what she thought about his fingernails.
It’s ok. Gabe learned a lesson, and it was not that he needs to grow out his fingernails.
It was that if other kids choose to play a bit outside the rules and spirit of the game, he has little control over it. There will always be cheaters. All he can do is what he did today, get back in there and try again.
And I have to let him, first of all because he wants to. He loves football. But also because these are the kinds of life experiences that grow kids into adults, the kind of adults who face adversity with determination and manage their fear with action.
No pressure, no diamonds.