Monday, October 31, 2011

Why I Let My Son Play Football

In each parent's journey there will come a time when you will have to sit and think about something you believe to be monumental. You will think and think and think and come to some sort of conclusion you have the huevos to stand behind-right or wrong.  And, with the dedication of a mama bear protecting a cub, you will fight to the death for this opinion.  For me (being a pushy bitch) this happens, oh, I'd say daily.  Whether I am faced with "Family Life Education" materials that wrongly leave out birth control, or the parallel parking skills of the idiots near my work, I CONSTANTLY have to chose my battles. Even, or especially, in my own marriage, where honestly things would go much smoother if everyone did things my way. (Not only would everything be done right, it would be done ON TIME.)

Being the fair-minded person that I am, I have to concede a fight once in a while. Especially when it comes to getting my face beat in (like when I want to scream parenting tips at people at sporting events) or when I want to let Sky King think that he has a fair say in our life together.  This happens every once in a great great great (did I say great?) while.  These are things he has gotten to pick:

  • Princess' name (and, I had thoughtfully narrowed it down to 3 for him, so he didn't have to read through all 50,000 in the baby-name book)
  • Our last vacation-he chose a cruise, which turned out to be super fab and the kids still can't stop talking about it
  • What TV shows we watch on a fairly regular basis-ESPN, Monday Night Football, Storm Chasers, Storage Wars, and anything with Kate Beckinsale.
See what a wonderful wife I am?

Well, this past summer, we explained to Monkey Boy that it was imperative that he exercise more than his thumbs, and so he had to think about what sport he wanted to do.  SK hoped/prayed/possibly bribed for football.  I hoped/prayed/possibly threatened for anything else. because football is so violent and dangerous.  (I can HEAR all the moms nodding. I really can.)

I was---what is that word? Opposite of right?  Ring?  Rang? Rung?  Something like that, although I think it starts with a W.  SK confronted me with an ear-to-ear grin and a laptop full of statistics. And when the internets say it, it's true.  Football was NOT #1.  It was #3, ranked after Basketball and Bicycling.  And only slightly ahead of both Soccer and Baseball.  What a blow.  With the wind only slightly out of my sail, I finally agreed, with the condition that, "One concussion, and we're done. DONE."  I think SK's response was either, "Absolutely", or an eye roll.  I can't quite recall.

So, Monkey Boy begins practice.  He gets out there all padded up with 6 men yelling at him.  And they are not yelling, "Get your ass in the car, we are LATE."  so you can imagine he's a bit confused. Plus, his only exposure to violence and aggression has been watching me shop for shoes during the Nordy's half-yearly, and whatever he sees on the PS3.  He's a peaceful Montessori kid, for crying out loud.  The ONLY kid from his school among 80+ other boys.
The first week is rough-he's fast but totally not getting football as a sport-he's never even watched a game.  He's having a hard time with blocking (hitting) and getting blocked (getting hit).  Pretty much 90% of football is totally against everything he has learned thus far in life.  And the coaches don't get it.  It pains me to watch him, and it takes every ounce of strength not to run out and demand they are nicer to my sweet boy. But I don't.  Something deep down says that this might actually be good for him. And I see that Sky King is ready to horse-collar me if I try.
By the end of the second week we are headed to Jamboree which is a giant scrimmage against other teams in the league. It's a day-long event, and we are all geared up. Things are going great. Then, MB gets hit hard.  His knee gets hurt, and he goes to the side. He's down on the sidelines with our conditioning coach working out his injury.  They work for about 10 minutes (in which my head explodes once for each minute my boy is on the ground) and then Coach gets him up and walks him up and down the sidelines. I see the Coach tell the Head Coach, "He's fine, put him back in".  MB goes in, then right back out, with a pronounced limp. 
Still, I'm waiting on the sidelines.  Snapping at SK to "SHUT UP, I'M WATCHING HIM-IF YOU DON'T GO CHECK ON HIM I WILL." to make sure this knee injury doesn't travel up to his brain and kill him dead right there-which could totally happen-check Wikipedia.  But after a while, his walk is fine.  I mean, totally fine, milk-mom-later-for-sympathy-to-no-avail fine.  The game ends, and MB proceeds to cut off his nose to spite his face (a family tradition) by coming to me to sulk, instead of to the cooler full of drinks and snacks. We talk for a bit, and he is pissed.  I finally figure out he is pissed because he was expecting the sympathy of a mommy, not the harsh "Walk it off and suck it up" from a coach. 

Is there room for both?  Are both valid?

YES.  A kid needs to know that he will be loved unconditionally, that it's okay to be yourself and need to lean on someone you trust, someone that loves you. Someone to just pat you on the back and say, "It's all going to be okay".  We ALL need that.

Sometimes, though, we need tough love.  Someone to say, "Yeah, that sucks.  Pull up your big girl panties, and walk it off."  This can be done with love too.  Monkey Boy does not know this yet.

A pep talk from me (actually, a pep mini-talk-he's only good for about 5 sentences before I lose him, so I act fast), and we are headed home to wallow.

The next week, he wants to quit.  he's in for another shocker. he has forgetten our "No quitting" agreement from sign-up day.

Football ain't cheap.  We are in this about $400 plus several weeks' worth of time. And, his sister joined cheer after coming to a practice. So really, $800 plus almost every weekday night and Saturday day for all eternity. Priceless.  I say, "Sure. You can quit Oct. 22nd."  "Why then?"  "That's your last game. We told you when this began, you start, you finish. Your team depends on you. You don't have to like it, but you won't let the team down."  Cue angst. Cue sulking.

That did not go how he planned. Most things come fairly easy for him, and this was a struggle he did not want to have. He goes back to practice, pissing and moaning all the way.  Games begin, with some turn-around, but progress is slow.

Let's fast-forward, shall we?

Now, we are near the end of the season.  He has seen (sorry, I REALLY love bullet points...):
  • Bad sportsmanship from the other teams
  • Dirty plays
  • Bad ref calls
  • Skilled teammates benched for unsportsmanlike conduct
 He has told me that he can't let his team down, that all the players-good or bad-still need to be part of the team and not tell others that they suck, and that he loves football.

We are now post-season.  They won their last game, which extends them into playoffs.  They are all pumped, psyched, jazzed. Ready to win our next game. 

He's confident.  He's fast.  He's good.  Not great, but good. he puts his heart and soul into every play, every block, every catch.  He's elated when he makes a good play, devastated when he flubs. He has become a teammate. A closer step towards becoming a man. He loves the men that yell at him to suck it up. Why? Because those same man slap him on the back or the helmet when he has a great catch.  Those same men slam down on his shoulders and gruffly yell, "See!!! I knew you could do that."  And inside that helmet, he gives a strong nod. 

Which, in guyspeak, is an ear-to-ear grin.

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