My youngest son is 17, and right now, in this moment as I write, he is practicing the piano, pounding too loudly at the keys trying to perfect a song for the Christmas recital that may or may not happen, all things being what they are right now with social distancing and limiting interactions and it has felt like a season of scarcity, where everything is and continues to be unknown—how long students will remain in class, when we will get to see family, how we can communicate and share in one another’s lives when we are supposed to be keeping each other safe by distancing ourselves from our communities; a thought which has led me to ponder on those communities—those clans and tribes to which we belong by chance or by choice and that become vehicles to share our lives and our thoughts and the stories that bind us together. And so here is one story, or the beginning of a story, or the beginning of a lot of different stories.
One day, three years ago at the beginning of the summer, this same son disappeared for an afternoon. It was a long, hot day, and he had friends in the neighborhood, and he was just beginning to be independent, and we did not worry when he failed to show up for lunch, and when he did, eventually, reappear late in the afternoon, hot and sweaty and a little the worse for wear and we asked where he had been and he told us he had joined the high school football team we were only a little surprised.
Because there is another story behind this one, and it is this. Our family is not athletic. We are musical, we are theatrical, we are good at organization and planning and throwing dinner parties. The kids have taken tap lessons and voice lessons and piano lessons and band and orchestra. But this son, this youngest, has always wanted to play football, has always joined neighborhood scrimmages and backyard and lunchtime games, and has loved the sport with an intensity that seemed almost incomprehensible to his less sports minded parents. And we resisted. We cautioned him about concussions and sprains and sport injuries and asked him to wait until he was in high school to play, and that day was the first day of 9th grade practice and he was, technically, in high school, so he had obeyed our request and then he took the very first opportunity to join the team.
And another part of the story—that same year, in an unexpected moment of serendipity, I taught a summer section of freshmen writing and ended up with 11 football players in one class—young men so passionate about the game, and so invested in teaching me about it, and so interested in mentoring my son, that I could not help but be swayed when he asked permission to play.
So this is how I became a football mom. And this is what I have learned over the last 3 years:
Young men grow until suddenly one day you look at them and no longer look into their eyes, or down at the top of their heads, but at their shoulders, and you find yourself craning your neck upward to meet their gaze, these young men who suddenly tower over you and instead of feeling sad there is an odd sense of pride in their sudden height, like you have succeeded in at least one thing, even if it is a strange combination of luck and genetics that causes them to sprout like weeds overnight.
Sports parents are loud and boisterous and fun and generous, and, like all parents everywhere will cheer for their kids as loudly as possible, but not only their own kids, because on a team they all become your kids and you are proud of every block and tackle and interception and pass, and find yourself hoarse at the end of the day if you are doing it right.
Boys of any age can eat massive quantities of food, especially after a long practice, but those large quantities of food can be instantly provided with a quick text, because parents are generous and kind and always willing to feed an extra boy or two or maybe a half dozen, and it seems a veritable magic trick, the way things appear out of nowhere when they are needed.
There is always someone willing to explain what is going on to the uninitiated, such as myself, who is more comfortable in a theater than a stadium, someone to remind me that they wear uniforms not costumes, that they practice instead of rehearse—someone to tell me when to cheer and when they are doing well, and how, exactly, to be a sports mom.
I have learned that there are so many ways to be a part of a community. And I am grateful—for the unexpected synchronicities of our lives, the events that separately seem to make no sense, but when taken as a whole can change moments, stories, and histories. For the gifts of self and service and sacrifice. I am grateful for a class full of athletes who taught me what it meant to love a game, and a son who taught me what it meant to be invested one hundred percent, and for a community that comes together in large ways and in small ways to help one another—no matter how separated we feel right now. This is what I know about abundance—much like a team, we are always more together than we are apart, and that even during seasons where we feel divided, we can find moments of generosity and giving if we are willing to look around for the stories that bind us together.
A note on finding your tribe: Big Ocean Women has recently launched a podcast. This podcast offers unique opportunities to hear from women across many communities about the ways they are getting involved in their own neighborhoods—about the ways they are finding abundance in their lives and trying to make a difference. Join us every Thursday for great discussions and interesting stories. Find us on social media, or anywhere podcasts can be found by searching Currents: The Big Ocean Women Podcast