Tonight I watched as you strode into the locker room like you have a hundred times before, head held high and bursting with pre-game excitement. Despite the nagging cough, courtesy of a weeklong bout with bronchitis, you took off your tennis shoes and began the ritual of putting on your gear. You strapped on your protective armor and secured your striped socks with lucky tape, one ring around the top and another around the bottom, just like you saw the older boys do at camp last summer. You threw the jersey on over your pads and slipped on your gloves while I tightened up the laces of your skates. And before you got up from the locker room bench, you paused for a few seconds out of habit to let me repeat the same four words I’ve said to you from the moment you started playing—“Skate hard out there.” And then you grabbed your stick and headed out onto the ice.
You’re pretty tough for a seven year old.
As I look at you out there, your name and favorite number emblazoned across your back, I can’t help but be overcome by an intense feeling of pride. This emotion is not a reflection of your ability nor is it attached to your performance. (Although you’ve had many moments of glory when my shouts from the stands can be heard across the arena.) Rather, my love towards you—my boy in the helmet and hockey socks—comes from an admiration of your dedication at such a young age. You sit in a classroom for seven hours a day and spend your nights at the rink. You finish your homework in the car and eat your dinner on the run. You give up screen time for speed drills and sacrifice free time for ice time. While I consider it an achievement if I make it to my exercise class two mornings a week, you spend most of your evenings throughout the year wearing a jersey.
Sometimes, like tonight, you pair the jersey with gloves and skates. In warmer times of the year it’s worn in combination with a ball cap and cleats. In the spring you wear it over a light sweatshirt (at my insistence) to keep out the cold of early morning soccer games. And this fall you’ve already asked if you can wear a maroon jersey over shoulder pads, hoping that I will sign you up for your first year of rocket football. You watched this year as our hometown high school team made it to the playoffs this year and you can’t wait to run out under the Friday night lights someday yourself.
And I know that we sacrifice a few of the pleasures of life that a more open schedule would allow. We don’t eat dinner around the table every night. Sometimes homework and projects are finished at later hours than they should be. You’ve even missed a few birthday parties and sleepovers in order to keep your commitment to the team or ensure a good night’s rest before a big game. But I like to think we make up for our losses by the values and experiences that we gain by being involved in sports. Some of my favorite conversations have taken place in our van on the way home from a game, with you in the back rattling on about your day in between swigs of blue Gatorade. And forget relying on a school-mandated program for physical activity, you burn off plenty of calories running around the bases and dribbling the ball down the field all year long. And let’s not forget the friendships we’ve formed with other sports families and your teammates along the way. There’s a special bond that is formed between mothers who share the highs and lows of a season from the vantage point of the bleachers.
I hope that your time on the field (or the court or the rink) is teaching you things that you couldn’t learn by sitting on the couch at home. I hope your muscles are growing stronger and your mind is too. I hope that while you are scoring goals you are also conquering doubts and building up confidence. I hope that you are listening to the men and women who sacrifice their time to develop your skills as well as your character. I hope that many of your teammates will become your brothers, and a handful of coaches will become your heroes. I hope that you will continue to love the game—because competition will drive you to be better, endurance will push you to persevere, and that feeling of pride and accomplishment will last far beyond the championship game.
I want you to know that there have been moments throughout your life that have caused my heart to swell so full of love for you that it felt like it was going to burst right out of my chest. Your little face as a baby as you drifted off to sleep in my arms, mouth slightly parted and cheeks warm and rosy. The look of excitement in your eyes when you discovered how to navigate your first shaky steps. Your flawless martial arts routine that you paired with an original freestyle hip-hop dance for your very first talent show performance in front of a packed crowd. The sight of you reading a book about fairies to your little sisters, cuddled up on either side of you on the couch and hanging on to your every word. These are all pictures that I will keep in the scrapbook of my mind forever. And the image of you out there tonight, admiring the well earned medal placed around your neck by your coach…that one is right up there with the rest.
And one more thing, a confession really. Whenever I snap the strap on your helmet, I always sneak a glance at your sweet face—the one with the cheeks that I’ve kissed a million times. The face that keeps changing, little by little, with every new season. In case you didn’t already know, I’m proud of the boy with the clear eyes and the full heart who can’t wait to glide out onto the ice and chase after the puck. I’m in love with the young man who puts most of his gear on by himself now and carries his own bag to the car. Thanks for pausing to let me whisper those four words to you through the cage of your helmet and for giving a little wave when you find me in the stands. I’ll be in the same spot as always, on your side forever.
Your Biggest Fan
(Photo Courtesy of Caryn DeFreez Photography)