Whew. One full week of football practice complete, and one game under our flag belt. It was a week where I learned as much about myself as I did about Joe-Henry. Sadly, I still know nothing about football.
I still feel faint when I think about the kids who smashed into each other head first at practice. And I wasn't even there. One of the boys had to be taken to the hospital with a broken nose. They had to wait a half hour on the field to find his parents, who had gone somewhere without telling the coach and didn't have a cell phone. Or something. I'm not sure.
In any case, it was a long, agonizing time for everyone involved. I wanted to pull Joe-Henry right then.
Or wrap him from head to toe in bubble wrap.
Or fit him with some sort of electrical force field that sends other kids flying when they get within 6 inches of him.
But I didn't do any of that. Even when, on Saturday morning, instead of feeling excited and thrilled for his FIRST. FOOTBALL. GAME. EVER!!!, he was near tears, saying "Mom, they push you down. I'm scared! Can't I play baseball instead?" As much as I wanted to say "YES! Woooohoooo! Let's QUIT FOOTBALL!", Charley and I both agreed that he needed to at least give it a go in his first game. See how that goes.
When we got to the field, there were a million kids of all shapes and sizes. Some of the teams were so tiny it was hard to imagine that they'd even been walking for more than a year. And some of the teams looked huge. And imposing. And together. I felt a huge knot in my stomach, and my palms immediately began to sweat. I looked around and found Joe-Henry, who had already found his coach and his team, and was suddenly all focus and if he felt afraid right then, I didn't see it. All the kids had their mouthguards in, and were listening intently to the coach. He was explaining that the boy who had the broken nose had been taken to the hospital and wouldn't be attending the game today. He was telling them how important it was to listen to him, and how important it was to have fun. That was Rule Number One. He didn't care if they won or lost. If they had fun, that was all that mattered.
They all moved to the sidelines, waiting for their field, when suddenly I heard the coach yell "NICK!!! YOU MADE IT!" I looked, and there in front of the coach and all the kids, stood a smiling Nick, with a gigantic forehead and nose. He looked like a friendly little alien. The coach kneeled down and said "I'm so glad you came to the game to watch the team!", and Nick looked crestfallen.
"Can't I play?" The coach gave him a huge hug and said "I don't want you to get hurt. Do you want to play? Really?"
"Well, yeah!" Earnest puppy dog eyes peeping through giant forehead.
So the coach gently put the jersey over Nick's head and said "I'll save you for the important plays, okay?"
The game went without any injuries for our team. The other team had a kid carried off the field, but I saw him walking it out, so I think he's okay. Joe-Henry played a bit, with all the focus and heart he had, and said he loved every second of it, even though they lost 2-0. The other team had this HUGE kid who was their ringer. He wasn't just big, he was fast and there was no stopping him. They also had a girl on their team, but she didn't get much playing time. The other team had plays and you could tell they all had done this before. Our team was sort of like the Bad News Bears. They didn't have any plays, they didn't really know where to run, and everyone got a chance to play. After the game, the coach even said, "yeah, you guys are kind of a bunch of rag tag raggamuffins, but I don't care - you all looked like you were having a great time!" So the guy who said this, totally redeemed himself in my eyes.
There is the obligatory parent who undermines the coach because his kid is the best player, and after the coach tells him what to do, his dad yells onto the field to do something else. A whole season with that guy is going to test my ability to hold my tongue.
Honestly, I'm still not sure we'll make the whole season. The thought of JH getting hurt becomes more real to me, and the consequences of that... I don't think I could ever forgive myself.
But I also don't know if I could live with myself if Joe-Henry questioned HIMSELF if he quit. If quitting made him feel like a failure.
All I know is this: he's looking forward to practice tomorrow. So we'll go. One cleat in front of the other.