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.

 

 

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.”

Quote from an Eight Year Old

We were talking about the complicated web of rules and social alliances an eight year old boy must negotiate to survive recess. He is frustrated with the inconsistency of friendships and where he falls in the order of teammates picked. He says he sometimes feels invisible.

I have found that the second through fourth grade years are tough on boys, as they become aware of athleticism, the cool factor, and “boy world” pecking order. I was advising him to choose a different game or friend on days when football brings him down. Recess is supposed to be fun.

He looked at me, deeply serious. Eyes big and teary. “But would you rather people were friends with you for who you really are, or who you want to be? I want them to pick me to be their friend because of who I already am.”

The Best Vacation

Spring Break 2016 has ended, and I return from a week at the beach certain that it was the best vacation ever. Ideal weather. Tan but no sunburn. Lots of rest despite the roosters. Delicious lobster quesadillas for lunch three out of seven days. Softest sand on the planet between our toes. Clear blue water.

Sounds great, but “best ever” because…

Our three boys played together in the water, splashing through waves that looked too large… even larger when I was in the water with them several times a day. We dove under waves, Let them crash on our heads. They talked and laughed and made up silly games as the waves kept pummeling us.

They told stories, gave opinions, laughed more, told jokes, paused mid-sentence, dove under, and came up talking. Tireless. Fearless.

They played hours of football with Dad.

We made two styles of sandcastle. A multilevel traditional fortress and a drippy one that received a “Lovely drippy castle. Well done!” from a British accent who walked by as we completed it. They were both our best to date.

The boys read good books and talked about them. Killer Angels, Moneyball, Wings of Fire.

They helped the youngest find Orion in the night sky.

If I could have stopped time a hundred times since they were born, I would have. At each moment, I imagined I could not love them more. But then we would not have had this vacation and I would not have seen how sweet they are together at 8 and 12 and 13, how much fun they have with their brothers.

And I might not understand that “best ever” and “love more” will happen again and again, washing over us like the waves and the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m Sad,” He Said

He was supposed to be asleep. 10:30pm. Ski school in the morning after a busy week. His older brothers had been out for over an hour.

“Mom,” he said, dragging his tired little body into the dining room. “I’m sad.”

He is not one to hide his feelings.

So at 10:30, when he should have been sleeping, we snuggled into my bed and had a long talk. “Sometimes my friends are my friends. And sometimes they aren’t.”

With three boys, I have learned that such conversations always end up at recess football. Who did, or did not, pick him for their team that day.

“They are all your friends,” I said. “They love you.”

“But sometimes they are nice to me, and sometimes they aren’t. They act like I’m not their friend… like in football today…”

…as predicted.

“Well, is there anyone who you always trust to be nice no matter what?”

“Well…. Yes.”

“Then that’s who we need to invite over to play as soon as we can.”

He smiled and fell immediately to sleep.

How History Enters the Mind of a 13 Year Old Boy

This morning’s news celebrated the release of ten U.S. sailors held captive by Iran. So when my seventh grade son asked me if I remembered the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, when approximately 60 US citizens were held captive for 444 days, I was impressed.

He seems to teach himself things in a stream of consciousness approach to learning, his path twisting and turning randomly as bits of information catch his fancy. It’s a cool way to learn, even if it distracts from his homework.

“I do remember.”

“Well, do you remember that they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages got to watch it? I wonder how they did that.”

Of course! Football!

He actually had not yet read the news about the U.S. sailors. The question on this day was completely coincidental. As a football trivia junkie, his reading about the NFL connects him to a broader history. A few days ago, he wanted to know if Richard Nixon was a good President. I talked through his foreign policy skills, China and Watergate. The important fact, it turns out, was that he “was not a good play caller.”

In school, we often use the art or literature of an era as a way to help us understand the past. He uses sports. Reading about past Super Bowls, looking at old photos of athletes and teams and stadiums, and a close following of the NFL timeline all lead to non-football discoveries. He digs into what that event was, or if people liked that President, or why there were hostages, how long they were there, and what people like me remember.

And the next time the Super Bowl comes up with an unsuspecting friend, he will ask, “Did you know that during the Iran Hostage Crisis, they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages could watch? How cool is that?!”