Saturday, January 21, 2012

And I Uttered a Foul-Mouthed Little Prayer

For all of you who have kids I will say this:

I don't know how you do it.

I mean, I get the gist of things.  You have a child.  He or she is the light of your life, the apple of your eye, and, on occasion, the slightest pain in your ass.  But to have a child... this little version of you, running around, representing your skills as a parent, scraping knees, falling in love, falling apart... How do you handle that as a parent?  As a person who is hell-bent on protecting this precious and fragile thing while still being hell-bent on him learning his lesson, how do you step aside and watch him go?

I'm just a teacher.  I'm just a coach.  I'm just a summer camp director.  I'm not a parent.  I am without children.  But with thousands of children.  Tonight I went to catch a game at the high school my students feed into.  It was a fantastic game -- one of the best all-around performances I'd seen from the girls in a good long while.  It was a see-saw battle that literally was up for grabs until the last ticks of the clock.  In the final 1:45 there were 6 freethrows made (by both teams) and almost as many turnovers/bad passes (by both teams) and a significant injury to one of our best players.

Two of the starters tonight are former players of mine.  Super-talented players with enormously kind hearts, gracious attitudes, and smiles that light up the gym.  And skills.  Did I mention the skills?  But here they were, in an incredibly important game, and all I could see were their little junior high baby faces in too-big uniforms.  It melted my heart a little.  And then, when the late-game injury occurred, who did the coach bring in but another former Lady Mustang.  She'd seen only limited playing time in the first half and none in the second.  And here she was, stepping in, ice-cold, with 30 seconds left.  I prayed the only "mom-type" prayer I knew for her:

"Please don't let her eff this up."

Then I quickly wondered if God would be upset with that one but realized that He probably doesn't like take-backs anymore than he likes the eff word (even when abbreviated).  I felt bad for even saying it -- for thinking she might -- but all I could worry about was how she would feel if she were to make a mistake.  I couldn't bear thinking about how unfair it would be, to come in for only a few seconds, to that kind of pressure.

I turned to my fellow coach, a mom of 3, and said, "I don't know how you do this."

"Do what?" she asked.

"Sit here.  With no control.  And just watch your kids surf the rise and fall of success and failure.  I didn't give birth to anyone -- not one kid -- on that floor right now, and I feel like I'm going to vomit, I'm so nervous."  And then I quickly took my pulse.

"It's hard," she admitted, "but you just do."

I thought about that.  I am a teacher and coach and summer camp director.  I have no children, but I have thousands of children.  Do you have to give birth to a child to know their labor pains?  Tonight, I saw so many of my former students and athletes.  I lost track of all the hugs and smiles.  I heard college plans, updates on brothers and sisters (who were also former students), lots and lots and lots of grade reports and track practice complaints.  I saw the best of my best -- all the growing-up reasons I love to teach.  But I also saw a few who weren't on the crest but were in the valley instead.  Low or struggling or regretful; lost on "the wrong path" or dealing with things far beyond the normalcy of high school life.   In that moment, I found myself in the valley as well, and it was hard.  I found myself struggling with what to tell them.

I wondered again about what Terry had said.  She hadn't just stopped with "it's hard".  She also reminded me that "you just do".  So, I re-directed the wave, just as I had only a few years before, and tried to instill some motivation, provide some guidance, and reinforce the idea that, no matter what mistakes they make, I love them.

Do you have to give birth to a child to know their labor pains?  No.  No, I don't believe so.  Once you've chosen them, and they have chosen you, the two are linked somehow forever.  Somehow the steadiness of that link, the surety of that choice, makes the pain worthwhile.

Oh, yeah... And that precious little, ice-cold former Lady Mustang coming into the game with 30 seconds left?  She caught the ball under the basket, pivoted in, ducked an opponent flying at her full-speed, and took a completely unnecessary shot so high off the backboard I thought it was going to go over the top and out of bounds.

It went in.  I couldn't believe that flippin' ball went in.  I couldn't believe that she had the guts to shoot it; I wouldn't have.  I'd have played it safe.  I wanted her to play it safe.  I prayed a horrible, little, foul-mouthed prayer for her to play it safe.  The whole time I had worried about the chance of her making a mistake, I was completely ignoring the possibility of her joyous success.  The other team tossed in a couple of freethrows that could've tied the game were it not for that basket.  Her score kept us 2 points ahead -- just enough to pull an upset, thrill the crowd and her teammates, and prove something really important to me: 

I don't know how you parents do it.  I really don't, but I'm so very glad you do.  And also?  God doesn't like take-backs, but maybe He doesn't mind the eff word.  But to be safe, I think I'll avoid them both when it comes to asking for favors.


  1. That's an effing good idea.

    At camp last summer we had kids get caught smoking pot. This one dad came and told us for over an hour how that was no child of his. He was disowning him. He didn't care. He was out. I said, "he's worried you aren't going to love him anymore." (direct quote from the kid.) This didn't calm anything. I cried the whole time. Because I had more compassion and care for this child than this parent did.

  2. And that's why I love you, dear friend. Because you get it even when the people who should don't.