I’m not sure how it happened, but I gave birth to an athlete. It’s as perplexing as realizing my beautiful, perfect, totally charming son does not, for reasons of his masculine chromosomes, think at all like I do. Despite our shared compassionate nature, somewhere deep beyond his awesome green eyes lies a Neanderthal.
It’s a friendly Neanderthal. It’s linked genetically to the brooding, knuckle-scrapping alter-ego that lies dormant, except for rare moments, in the depths of his father’s psyche, too.
It seems inevitable this alternate personality will spring forth, and very soon my young athlete will get that look in his eye. You know that look? The one where logic and reason have evaporated and his purpose in life involves running full throttle into the body of his sports opponent, free of mother-approved, bubble wrap security padding, chomping on a plastic mouth guard, with hard padding only protecting my future grandchildren’s production, and driven by testosterone with only one goal in mind: getting a ball-puck-football away from said opponent. Grunt.
Did I mention I was a dancer in my youth? Ballet, tap and jazz. Eleven years of horrible leotards in my under-developed puberty phases and more than 40 costumes of which photographic evidence haunts me today. But that is the kind of athleticism I understand.
I never played a team sport. I was always the last girl picked in school. It could have been the thick Roy Orbison glasses or that I faked a lot of injuries. I thought menstruation was a gift from the non-athletic gods so I could escape volleyball, basketball and the socially cruel dodge ball. Track and field? Thoroughbreds were meant to jump obstacles, not me.
Now I run between four and six nights a week, from venue to venue, to get my son to his sports. What I didn’t expect was this: I love it. There is something so deeply satisfying about watching your child swing a bat, score a goal, run up the infield with that rugby ball tucked under his arm swiftly past his opponents.
Last week, when my boy was stung by a bee right before the big game, I actually heard myself coaxing him to be tough. I believe I said the words, “Shake it off.” I told him his team needed him to get out there. I knew he was okay. This was no time to kiss boo-boos. This was game time. He had a job to do and so did I: to get him in the game.
This was one of those important life moments. There was a silent understanding between my boy and me. He knew what I was doing and he forgave me for being less concerned about the insect sting and more about the endurance of the game. It was as if I was giving him permission to become a man. Oh, I am so not ready for that.
Loving your children means teaching them life is fraught with injuries and scrapes, and fleeting moments of glory. You cannot have one without the other. Any goal worth reaching is worth enduring the bumps. He knows I’m over there, somewhere on the sidelines, trying to find that “Go get ’em” mentality.
When his green eyes look back at mine, he’ll know I’m struggling to be tough, bubble wrap stuffed in my purse, cheering him on. Ready or not.