For the Love of the Game

Our two middle school sons play flag football on the same rec league team, and as I watched their first game under the Tuesday night lights, I realized that later, it would sound like they had played on completely different fields. One would strut to the car as if they had won (they did not), and the other would approach, head bowed, teeth clenched.

For the first, it has never mattered if his team wins or loses (unless he’e watching the Packers on tv). If he makes one good catch, it’s a victory. Last night he made two, including a one-handed, over-the-head grab. You should have seen his grin. He’s an “I’m just happy to be here” kind of player. A big guy, coaches play him at center, which means he is involved in every play. But he’s almost as happy standing on the sidelines talking about the game with his coach.

His younger brother has the body of a sports statistician but the mind and competitive will of a quarterback. When he is not leading the charge, he feels ignored. When he is, the opposing team looks larger than life. But he runs smart plays that give his team an edge, and he knows it.

The Blue Jays’ chosen quarterback threw him one pass, which he caught for a two-point conversion. As he held onto the ball in the end zone, I felt that “phew” moment moms feel when we think we know our athletes will be pleased that they played their play well.

I should know him better than that.

As the game wore on, and he was left out of one play after another, I could see the frustration build in those piercing blue eyes all the way from the sidelines. It’s not “I’m just happy to be here” or even “put me in, coach.” It’s “give me the ball,” “let me lead the team.” Even if they had made it to the rec league Super Bowl last night, he would have seen the game as a defeat.

Two boys who love football. Same team. Different game.

 

 

Things I Will Never Like

Sometimes when our nine year old is angry, he goes to his room to cool down by drawing the thing that made him mad (a mean picture of his brother) or making Keep Out signs or writing down the offending event. Then he returns to family life or homework or the basketball game on the street with a smile.

On a recent weekend evening, he shared a list he had written earlier in the day. The spelling is his (with translation where necessary).

Things I will never like

  • Sewead (steping on)
  • Penut butter
  • Spelling
  • 80s muise
  • Gaming fingers (a.k.a. jamming fingers)
  • Dierreiy (diarrhea)
  • Dring off with a cold wet towel
  • Peolpe that stay inside all day and play video games
  • Peolpe that brag

Funny list.

It’s a Boy Thing

After a week with my three boys at the beach, it dawned on me yet another reason why boys and girls are different. Boys enjoy driving each other crazy for sport.

It is a constant effort to see how far they can go before the other goes bat-shit crazy. I do not remember that in a house of three girls.

They poke each other. Jump out from behind corners to scare each other. Take every opportunity to remind each other of a favorite football team’s meltdown in the Super Bowl.

They have old lady nicknames for each other like Carol and Sally and then use them until their brother can’t take it anymore.

They remind each other of the embarrassing things they did yesterday or last year or six years ago. “Remember when you pooped at the pool? “Well, you pooped on the beach!”

Poke. Shove. Poke. “Hey, Carol, remember when…”

In the end, after all three laugh until their sides ache, someone always storms off. “They are sooo mean.”

But fifteen minutes later, they are back together, back at it, back to smiles and that little-boy twinkle in their eyes. All for one and one for all.

I pointed this observance out to them. They all grinned, “That’s why boys are more fun.”

The Puberty Excuse

Please note: The nine year old, no matter what he says, is a master chore-avoider. But yes, teenage brothers can be disappointing.

His big brother is being a jerk, so he storms up the beach and sits in the chair next to mine with his arms crossed in anger. “He is such a teenager!”

“That’s no excuse to be mean,” I say, as witness.

“I know! If he doesn’t want to play basketball, he says he’s too tired, because he’s in puberty,” a good mimic. “When he doesn’t want to play football with us, he uses the puberty excuse again.”

As if “the puberty excuse” is a real term everyone uses.

“When you make us switch the laundry, we fold everything wondering where he is, calling his name, and he doesn’t come help. All he has to do is load the dirty stuff, but noooooo. And when we’re all done, we find him watching some dumb YouTube video in his room, and he looks up and says, ‘I can’t help it. I’m in puberty.’”

The nine year old marches off, still ranting, “It drives me crazy.”

The Stars Were Out Tonight, and…

At dinner tonight, we watched the sun set over the water after exploding from behind a single cloud near the horizon.

We watched the lights come on along the quiet dock.

In a clear sky, we looked for constellations, the usual suspects but strikingly obvious. Big dipper. Orion…. A son’s sarcasm, “There are two stars in a line. They must be some god’s belt!”

While night came on, and my husband and I sipped our wine, our middle school sons debated the meaning of “infinitely small.”

Does “infinitely small” exist? Or do you eventually get to zero? Arms flailed. They argued during pasta and continued to debate over chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.

Their third grade brother jumped in with “as the universe expands, which it is always doing, what’s small gets smaller.”

I was impressed that he had the confidence to leap into the fray.

And then he grinned, “They think close to the box. I think way outside the box.”

“Seriously?” said the oldest, “I am measurable no matter what happens to the universe.”

And then the two older boys returned to their debate, stars winking at us, lights reflected in the water, and a warm breeze barely whispering above a calm sea.

When I was in middle school, we talked about tv shows, boys, politics. I do not remember considering the universe or its infinite possibilities.

Sports Memories

My Packers fan asked me the other day what football games I remember besides last year’s Bronco Super Bowl win. That doesn’t count, he said, because you were there. I realized that very few of my sports memories are actual plays, and I do not have a single stat in my brain.

But I remember…

…the first time my parents let me stay up late to watch a big game. The Bullets won the Championships. And as they celebrated, Queen’s “We are the Champions” played, and I was so happy and moved by the emotion of the win and the song that I cried.

…making a touchdown on the 7th grade camping trip.

…screaming until my voice gave out every time my sister swam in a race.

…feeling my heart break for Georgetown’s Fred Brown when he passed the ball to UNC’s James Worthy in a mistake that allowed Carolina to win the 1982 championship game.

…accidently smacking an opponent in the face with my lacrosse stick as I turned around to say something to our goalie when the ball was at the other end of the field.

…decorating the inside of my locker with newspaper clippings of John Riggins, Dexter Manley, Art Monk, and Darrell Green, and getting to miss school to go to the Super Bowl parade when the Redskins won.

…watching as one of the New York guys in my sophomore dorm ran through the halls banging on doors to celebrate the Mets’ World Series win in 1986.

…my husband doing the most funny Village People YMCA you’ve ever seen at a baseball game, so funny I do not even remember what game or which team. But I can still see his grin.

…being at the 2007 World Series cheering for the Rockies with my two week old son.

Since that day, my sports memories mostly come from watching my kids watch games. So I will remember my passionate Packers fan donning one of his brother’s many Falcons jerseys for the Super Bowl game last night, but showing me his Packers jersey and his loyalty underneath.

I have already forgotten the plays in the playoff game two weeks ago when the Falcons beat the Packers, but I will remember the boys’ “truce” for the game and their surprising sportsmanship throughout.

And now, the only thing I will remember about Super Bowl 51 is my Falcons fan lying on his bedroom floor crying, “Why? Why? Why?”

The Courage to be a Fan

Everywhere we went last week, people asked my son if he was excited about the game. On the street, on the ski slopes, in the reception area at school, and everywhere he wears his Packers sweatshirt (which is everywhere), strangers called out to him, “Go Packs!”

Then today, he sat next to his brother, an avid Falcons fan, and watched his team get crushed in the playoffs.

He was quiet, but he let his brother celebrate. And I realized, watching him be a good sport, what courage it takes to be a fan. As a fan, he has worn his heart on his sleeve. He has made himself vulnerable to loss. He has shouted out to the world, “I stand with them!”

Now, he must steel himself for school. The pats on the back. The “sorry, dude.” Or “nice sweatshirt.” Or “what in the world happened to your team?”

But if he had not had the courage to be a fan, then he would not have felt the joy of this season’s victories. The thrill of Aaron Rodger’s Hail Mary passes, the wonderful feeling that people know you and what you care about. And the respect you have earned because you are willing to show that you care, to cheer big wins, mourn today’s loss, and wait patiently, optimistically for next year.