The first of September finally turned up on the calendar. It's a month which I look forward to every year because it comes with it the promise of a new school year, a break from the Texas heat, and yes, my friends, the beginning of football season. I know I am not alone in saying that, for football fans, the seven long months between the last play of Super Bowl Sunday in February and the beginning of September without football is like spending time on the dark side of the moon! We football moms are still working, just not at full capacity.
As readers of my blog know, this particular off -season was unlike any otherfor my family. With our son's L-3 fractures, we spent many days, weeks and months waiting and worrying about whether there would even be another football season. This was not just another year of middle school football for our family. It was not a repeat performance. We have all treated every practice, every workout, every tackle, every handoff, as nothing short of a gift.
Because this was our son's sixth year playing football, much was familiar, with players competing for starting positions or getting the bad news that they would be back-ups. I found myself experiencing moments of paralysis, wondering what would happen if my son's back could not hold up under the stress, and whether I would just burst into tears after the first play from scrimmage. (I know! Football moms are as tough as a Riddell helmet. We have to be! My neighbor Margaret Stafford (mom of Detroit Lions QB Matthew) taught me that lesson last year.)
This year just felt ... different. So, after many days and nights in solid prayer, making sure my son did the core and abdominal exercises he was prescribed to keep the muscles in his lower back strong, and even going so far as to invent football yoga and accompanying Twitter hashtag (#footballyoga), I still had one lingering question: how would I get through that first game? A dear friend suggested nothing short of a stiff drink, but that just would not do for a youth football game, especially since, like last year, our first game was an hour and half away on the Red River border of Oklahoma.
I realize now how my whole family got through that all-important first game BACK in action. All true sport fans rely on it more than we care to let on. It' called SUPERSTITION!
Get Your Mojo
Sometimes, you do not realize how much of a role old man Superstition plays in your life. As school was starting and after-school work- out were beginning, I began to think a lot about my son's uniform. Did I need to purchase new football pants? I asked my son whether I should buy new, clean and pristine white ones. No, he quickly replied. Nothing short of the "lucky" pants from last year for the first practice of the year would do. OK. I would pick my battle later.
I insisted that he start drinking Pedialyte to get on top of hydration BEFORE practice. The closest store only carries the toddler favorite, bubble gum flavor. My son panicked that it was not the grape flavor he had last year. What was I thinking? How could I let such an important detail fall through the cracks? Was I really off my game before we even had a game? I agreed to take the extra 10 minutes to drive to the store which promised to have the grape-flavored Pedialyte for the week. (Note. This is awesome source of hydration for any athlete!)
After the second full week of practice, we were heading into game week! I was getting the cars fueled up for the trek to the border, and grateful that things were going smoothly! Then I saw the look on my son's face as he was coming out of practice to the car. Something had gone terribly wrong! I was about to hit speed dial to calll the back doctor - stat! Nope. Nothing medical. Two bad setbacks though.
Bad moon rising
THE JERSEY - My son has been #30 for years! Football, basketball, and baseball - it is HIS number. Why? I do not know. It is just his number. In junior high the boys are still allowed to pick their number for their team. This year the coach put the jerseys out and had the boys choose and record the jersey number by their name. Simple? Yes. Apparently the #30 was at the bottom of the "20s"! My son could not find HIS number. It was not there! He panicked, grabbing #32 instead, and ended up having a complete and total identity crisis - at 14 years old! Could he learn to be a #32? He knew how to be a #30. I calmly told his it would all be great! He had been #30 for so long that he was still #30, but the 2.0 version (Thank you Apple Computers). He responded with an indulging smile. Smart dad chimed in with an astute observation: opposing teams remembered the large and fast #30 from last year and would be looking for him, but they wouldn't know who #32 was. The 'ye old wolf in sheep clothing' trick, we all thought! The future was looking brighter! (As a side note - no boy on any of the three teams chose the #30 jersey! Respect for player or for superstition? We may never know!)
THE PANTS. Now to the subject of pants, that I had to dig deep to find at the back of his closet, pants that were clearly too small to wear to a game, or so I thought. The next day after practice, I saw my son carrying THOSE pants toward my car, prompting my car pool of boys to double over in laughter. My son said that coach wanted the football pants washed before the 2-hour bus ride! Again, I saw terror in my child's face! There was terror in my face as well. Clearly, the pants had to be washed. Nothing could describe the stench. It was so bad, I made him hold them out the car window on the ride home. After closer inspection of the stains to determine what pre-treatments were required, I asked about the bloodstains down the front. He just smirked and said, "That's not my blood!" OK. We now had a HAZMAT situation. He was terrified that washing his special pants would make them even smaller than they already were, and was concerned that I would I wash the luck right of them before the first game. Really? Only my promise to wash them using the gentle cycle and drying them outside under the super full moon - the last of the year - was enough to calm his pre-game jitters.
Good Jub Jub
The day of the first game finally arrived, and I am glad to report we actually survived. It was so fun to see him dressed up to go to school that day. As I reported in a previous blog, our school's tradition is that on game day players wear khaki pants, button-down shirts, belts, proper shoes and, yes, a tie! My son picked out the same tie he wore last year; the same one he wore to 6th grade confirmation. It was too small for someone who had grown about nine inches taller than he was on that Confirmation Sunday, but I just smiled, and told him he looked awesome, and to have a great day. I would see him at the game.
I realized that, all day, that I, too, was following superstitition. I went to the same place for lunch that I did all last season; I bought the same gum for the road trip; as usual, I called my college roommate to catch up during my 2-hour trip to the game, and, it goes without saying, I was wearing my game-day outfit from last year, which, fortunately, I had not out-grown!
As I got closer to the Oklahoma border, I saw a mighty storm on the horizon. We Texans call them 'Blue Norther's', powerful storms that sweep down the wide prairie from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico with no mountain ranges to slow them down. I was mesmerized by the giant cloud formations. I have always been a fan of finding the shapes in the clouds. I realized I was over the limit when I saw a charging rhino in the cloud and decided that it was the good omen I had been looking for all day. I had a huge reality check as I was tuning the radio to the Oklahoma station we listened to on our victory drive back home last year! Who writes down a radio station? A mom, that's who! Yes, we hold on to every good morsel we get.
Finally, I arrived at the stadium. I gave myself a pep talk. You can do this. No matter good, bad, or injury delay, you will be a mom that any boy would be proud to have. You will not cry, you will not freak out, and you will not totally 'lose it.' I look to find my husband and we take our seats before the kick-off.
Game time. First play from scrimmage. Number 32 is in on the tackle for a 5-yard loss. Yes, my son! You know exactly what I did next: I cried, I freaked out, I screamed, "That's my kid"! Six and a half months of pent up mom energy came out in full force. But no one looked at me, or judged me. They were all too busy checking the program to figure out who #32 was! Where was #30? It's was a new year and a new season. As for old man Superstition ... it's just not crazy if it works!
The team won. #32's back was fine, and he was named a Defensive MVP of the game!