When my youngest son first came to me and said he wanted to play football, my heart landed in my throat. I know football. When I was in high school, I never missed a game. I was the geeky one down on the field with the guys, clipboard and pencil in hand, recording stats and watching, rather close up, the brilliant plays and the tough hits these guys endured in the span of two or three hours. They knew how to take.. and dish out, pain. That was pretty cool when I was a starry eyed teenager at homecoming but it was a whole other ball game entirely, when it was my son who would be out on that field.
I felt a myriad of emotions when I stood on the sidelines of this game watching my sensitive, artistic little kid, get out there and not only hustle.. but actually jump right in the middle of the action and courageously block kids who were twice his size and looked like they could squash him like a bug. Once or twice I really wanted to yell a piece of my mind to that kid who plowed him over.. but I know better. This is a rite of passage for him, and it's important for so many reasons for which I will not interfere.
Eric was born in the dead of winter, on an icy February night when the fog was so thick I wasn't entirely sure I'd make it to the hospital in time. I knew we were in trouble. He wasn't supposed to be born until April and I had the flu and was not in the best position to bring him into this world at that moment. I was sick, I was scared, and I was tremendously worried for his health.
It's times like that, when you realize what you're made of, that life is a series of plays and choices, and that you surely do have to give it everything you've got, if you're gonna make it into the end zone. And so I did. He came into this world weighing less than a bag of sugar and his first memories were of a plastic incubator, beeping hospital machines and a tube down his throat that made his first cries to the world, silent pleas from a mouth open wide, with no mama to hear them. Of all my memories of those first weeks of his life, that one is most profound. I am determined that my son will have a voice.
His biggest problem was that he couldn't get enough oxygen into those little underdeveloped lungs and so day after day went by as he struggled for breath enough to make it to another sunset. I can tell you.. I did too. I sat for hour after hour in that rocking chair, touching my child through the plastic of his little bed, feeling so frustrated and screaming inside, while maintaining a placid and calm exterior.
All of these things ran through my mind as I watched these kids play ball. More than once, I got choked up as Eric was surrounded by boys quite a bit larger than he is, yet unafraid and so courageous in the face of his opponent. Wow.. he started his life that way too. That little baby was so tenacious and determined to get well. Really... they all have a story. They come from all walks of life and from many different circumstances and they pull together as a team, to make something pretty incredible happen. He's learning life lessons out there, that I can't really teach him. But I can let him go. I can let him learn from this experience, the same way I learned at the beginning of his life. The hard way, really is sometimes the most significant way, isn't it?
Shooting the game was pretty interesting for me. I learned a lot in a short span of time. I noticed after the first 20 minutes that I was so focused on the action, and the emotion of the game that I was cutting off all the players feet. So I did what I always do. I got down on the ground. What a great analogy that has always been for me. When you're not getting the whole picture, Roni... try getting down on your knees. It worked when I needed to see things from a five year old perspective, it works in the middle of the night, when I need answers to questions I don't even quite know how to ask, and it worked at this football game. I sat my rear end down in the end zone, and started shooting from a more humble position. Funny how that always seems to work in my life. I think it is a subtle reminder from above... that I am not always the queen. (Ack! Did I just say that out loud?)
We live in a small town in New York that some people might not find very exciting. Football is definitely something that brings the community together toward a common purpose and goal. It fosters a sense of belonging, for which I am forever in pursuit.
For many of us, there is a thirst for something bigger and better out there. These kids have big dreams and stars in their eyes, just like I did back in the day. I hope I can find a way to help Eric balance that feeling with a good dose of reality. Being a parent is the most challenging game of my life. There's no playbook for this.
In moments of stillness, I pause to think about these things. Eric is going to live his life and follow his own passions and I look forward to watching what they turn out to be. Is this one of them? Maybe. I think it's too soon to tell but football is important to him right now and that's all I need to know. He often lives in the shadow of his older brother who does so many things well and for whom things just come naturally. My youngest son works so hard when he's passionate about something. It takes a lot of effort on his part, but he never gives up. And this game... happens to be something for which his older brother has no interest whatsoever. He's giving it his all. I can't even tell you how proud I am of that.
In the end, the game was finished for one of his teammates. None of us ever goes in thinking "It ends here because today I'm gonna take a hit that's gonna close this door in my life." Truly, we can't live our lives that way, can we? We live it out with passion and conviction, and we follow our hearts and our dreams because that is the essence of actually living.. instead of simply existing. I'll nurture that in Eric as best I can, even as I worry about how that kid could just as easily have been my son.
Life is a gift. The game is a gift. My son... wow, is he ever a gift. I don't even remember what life was like without him. The lessons he is learning, and the ones I am learning by default are pretty important, I think and as I continue to document his life photographically, I intend to see it all with more than just my physical eye. As always, I am going to do my best to translate it, via some hefty glass and the black box that has become another appendage to me. Maybe I'll even share those life lessons and my own personal journey along the way.
Everyone's journey is different and we each must walk our own path. Each golden minute and diamond second is precious, and we should always take advantage of every one... The good, the bad, the challenging as much as the peaceful. There's an important lesson in each experience. I firmly believe that. You hold as tight as you can, for as long as you can, until it's time to let them go. I really wish it didn't happen so fast but I'll tell you what. I'm so glad he's in the game and not on the sidelines. Breathe deep #63. You fought hard to get there and you've earned your moment in the sun .
How quickly the years go by.... Savor every one, folks. Before you know it, the sun is setting and the field is dark. I, for one, intend to make the most of the daylight hours.