Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Godspeed, Little Man

I will never forget the moment I met the sweetest boy in my world.   His coal black corn silk hair and scrunched red chubby face won my heart and took my labored breath away the moment he was draped across my chest.  As his eyes began adjusting to the clinical lights and lungs to the crisp, cool air, I fell in love.  Hard. 

 This wasn’t my first rodeo…my vibrant, rambunctious 18 month old Libby Lou was anxiously awaiting her new brother from afar.   Amazingly enough, I found that the rumors were true…that I COULD love two babies equally and just as much if not more than I imagined. 

I’m not sure that I could have given birth to three less identical children.  Not necessarily in looks…the oldest and youngest are quite similar in that regard.  But in personality…whew!   God broke the mold when he made each one of them.   I’ve shared with you about my Lib…she is bold and witty and snarky and smart as a whip.  Ben…well he’s my little old man, my little professor.  He’s serious and exasperated and irritated and charming and can make me crack a smile at the least opportune moment. 

But my Timothy…true enough, I’ve not shared much about him.  You see, he tends to hide amongst the chaos.  He is the chameleon in our home of strong personalities.  He chooses his battles and is comfy cozy and quiet in the back seat when the bottom falls out in our world.  He’s a watcher, a listener, a learner…from way back.  He takes the heat when need be but rarely gets any glory.  Sad to say, as his mother, I’ve unfortunately allowed him to play that role entirely too long. 

 As my forever-content and satiated child, I rarely see an agitated drive or determination rise up in him.  While I’m quite the opposite, I’ve let Timmy be who he is.  There is a lot of merit in living a life you are simply happy with…able to find the pleasure and satisfaction in what is already amongst you.  God, I love and downright envy him for that.

But guess what.  He found that drive.   The desire.  The inspiration.   And I got to witness this in him…to see him grow and find himself.  (As much as a 9 year old can)  I thank the Lord every day that I am fortunate enough to have been chosen and placed on this earth as his momma.  What a lucky girl I am. 

When we moved to our current home, our new town, Timmy was only six and finishing first grade at his old school.  We were looking for ways to integrate these kids into our new community.  Knowing what a small town this is and how “local-yocal-politics” and favoritism can unfortunately impact a child’s experience in said town’s small school system, we thought it best to get them involved early.    Right about that time we discovered the school offered a junior football league.  Perfect.  Right??  Maybe.  I mean…we had attempted soccer which for all intents and purposes was a joke.  He learned more about picking daisies and watching planes than he did about the game itself.   We discovered early that he hasn’t an aggressive or competitive bone in his sweet little brown-bear body.   So why WOULDN’T we opt for football, right?  RIGHT??

Worth a shot. 

To my surprise he was actually quite excited about the prospect of donning pads and a helmet and GOD love those cute little fat-butt football pants.  GAH.  My ovaries were doing cartwheels just thinking about how cute his fat head would be out on that field.  I was…at that moment…becoming a football mom.  I truly believe I was born to be such…just hadn’t yet experienced the revelation. 

 He spent his second grade season learning the basics of the game.  Skipped around to various positions, not quite finding the perfect fit but still….learning.  We knew early on we wouldn’t  likely hear his name announced at games for gaining yards or sacking QBs.  But again…he was learning.  That’s what is important right?  His first year…this is to be expected.  A few questioning glances between the gentleman and I at his last couple of games left us wondering if this was really the right fit.  But damn if that boy didn’t run off the field as excited as day one, eagerly sharing that the league also had an all-star team that would begin after regular season.  And you guessed it…he was SO hoping to be picked.  Can I tell you how difficult it is to encourage a child yet keep his feet on the ground all at the same time?

As I suspected there was no request for Timmy to join all-stars in second grade.  Was he crushed?  Devastated.  Completely.  He pouted for a few days…but one morning he awoke with this new determination.  Something I’ve not seen out of him before.  It may have only been September but he sure as hell had a game plan for the following July when he joined the third grade team.  Surely then…then he could play well enough to get chosen for all-stars.  He got his own football and practiced every chance he could.  With the gentleman…with friends…even with his stinky little brother. 

And by God, he was ready and fired up when the 3rd grade junior league registration rolled around.  “Pumped” would certainly be an understatement.  He was to be a Raven…received his vibrant violet jersey and his helmet.  He was ready to prove himself.  Well…

 We saw some improvement.  The coach that year was pushing him harder, expecting more from him, putting him in tougher circumstances on the field.  And while he seemed a little more proficient, he still lacked the gumption, the get-up-and-go, the UMPH.  God love that kid, it was as though he perpetually had poop creeping out of his ass every single time he attempted to run.   Bent over, thighs together, limp wrists…<hangs head in utter resignation>.   The poor boy, despite getting a more defined role on defense spent the entire offensive game on the bench…sipping, no…gulping Gatorade, eventually doing the infamous Timmy-bear pee-pee dance just waiting for his turn back out on the field.   Although his performance left something to be desired, his Ravens took it to the “superbowl” and he got to experience what it was like to be on a winning team.  And you guessed it…all-star selection came.  And it went.  And no invitation for my Timmy.  Again with the obliterated ego.  Ugh. 

But you know what he had?  He had a brand new love.  The Baltimore Ravens.  He never missed a single game.  He learned the players, the plays, all of it.  Before I knew it he was a pro on all things Baltimore.  And I’m not exaggerating when I say I do believe Timmy now knows more about the NFL than the gentleman.  Hand to God.

 Beyond watching the NFL, that boy spent the next 6-8 months studying.  He went to the library every other week through the spring and summer…checked out grown-up books on football strategy, history and the Hall of Fame pros that made it big.  He practiced a LOT.  Every day at recess Timmy could ONLY be found in the field QB-ing his playground group in a daily game of football.  He got gloves and a kicking tee for Christmas…and he used them. 

Where DID this boy come from?   I saw the 4th grade registration fast approaching and the fear in my gut told me I would have yet another opportunity to rub his back, ease his sorrow, tell him once again that he just needs to keep trying and work harder and making all-stars is BOUND to happen for him someday.  He made it through summer football camp and so came the “combine”.  I watched as he ran through all of the drills in an attempt to score high enough for a first, or hell, even a fifth round pick.  He caught a glimpse of others’ scorecards and found that he wasn’t measuring up….again.  Crushed as he was, we got through the combine.  We got our coach, our team, and we started our weekly regimen of practice practice practice. 

(Side note:  if you haven’t yet caught on that this is a HUGE football town….well it is.  So…there is that.)

Much to my surprise, Timmy wasn’t one of the worst on his team.  Dare I say, he was actually one of the better players.  Wha??  My Timmy?  This of course was all hearsay from the gentleman…so I naturally had to check this out for myself.   So I went to practice. 

Let me paint a picture for you:

Timmy is lining up on defense…linebacker…the offense snaps the ball, hands off to the running back just as Timmy does his little tippy-toe-prancing-in-place move (this was no surprise, see “limp wrists” above)…and BAM!!!!!!!!!!   Out of NO where, I see Timmy fly through the line, literally through the air, grab the ball carrier by the waist in the backfield, swinging around him and bringing him DOWN-FUCKING-TOWN.  (Excuse my French…at that moment this was in fact what I was saying in my head.)  My jaw literally hit the grass below my feet.  The gentleman to this day is remorseful that he missed my one and only speechless moment…ever.  When the hell did my child become Troy-freaking-Polamalu???  Naturally my first thought was “would it be inappropriate to drop to my knees in front of coaches and parents and thank God RIGHT NOW for this?  For him??”  I refrained.  But you bet your ass I offered to go to more practices!

Each game brought more kudos for Timmy:  “Ball carrier brought down by #15, Timothy Kasper!”  Over.  And over.  And over again…he was suddenly leading in tackles almost every game!   He was reveling in it.  Hell, I was reveling in it!   While I tried my best to simply enjoy the season for what it was, I couldn’t help anticipate the scale of Timmy’s hopes for all-stars again this year.  After ALL of his hard work…and I mean this boy played his HEART out…I could not take another disappointed boy.  He started asking when I thought all-stars would be chosen this year.  He hinted again at his aspiration to make the team.  We talked a few times about how proud I am of him and that I too hope he gets his wish…but that it’s not the most important thing.  That more than anything he can say that he made a difference this year because he TRIED…because he did the WORK…because he EDUCATED himself.  That, right there…THAT is more than so many adults can say for themselves. 

So we waited.   And we kept going.

Monday evening I chose to take him to practice and discovered ever-so-quietly (so as not to enlighten Timmy) that the all-star coach had in fact reached out to Timmy’s coach for our contact information.  I was then encouraged NOT to get my hopes up or say anything to Timmy because nothing was certain at this point.  I smiled and thanked him for that potentially exciting tidbit but inside I was thinking:
ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  At this point I’ve become as excited about the prospect of Timmy becoming an all-star that I was fit to be tied.   When is he gonna call?  Is he gonna call?  Did he make it?  He’s asking more questions.  He has his hopes up once again.  I swear to the sweet Lord above, if they crush him after all of this hard work, they will have to answer to this football momma right here.   Don’t mess with my baby’s emotions…with his heart.  This boy is ALL heart. 

Naturally, by Tuesday evening I was THIS close to losing my shit and doing all I could to keep myself busy.  I cleaned the shower, did the dishes, more laundry, dusted, made beds…and just as I began to pull the comforter from Ben’s bed I heard it.  The voicemail alert pinged from the cell phone in my pocket and I was frozen.  My shaky hand pulled the phone from jeans and an unknown number was displayed on my screen.  With a voicemail.  A VOICEMAIL.  I sat on Ben’s bed and hit the little green triangle…

“Hey this is Doug, the fourth grade all-star coach…uh…just calling because we’d like to know if Tim would be interested in joining our team.  We’d love to have him…just give me a call…”

Yeah, I didn’t hear the rest.  My eyes were welling with tears as I ran down the stairs to my office, closed the door, calmed my voice and made the call back.  All I could picture during our conversation was Timmy’s sweet face upon hearing the news.  I captured the essentials: new jersey is $35, practice Sunday, blah blah blah.  They want him.  He sacked this coach’s quarterback this season.  He was impressed.  It worked.  His determination paid off.  His lesson is learned.  My advice was validated.  It’s true.  If you work hard, and push yourself, you will be rewarded.  There are no guarantees as to when…or how…but there is a payoff for that kind of perseverance.  And GOD I’m so proud that he found that in himself.

Time for the moment of truth.

I motioned to the gentleman to join me upstairs.  He looked quizzically at me, not realizing I had spoken with the coach, but followed me nonetheless.  I shouted for Timmy to come down from the attic…standing at the bottom of the steps I asked him one last time if he would still be interested in joining the all-star team.  His sweet, exhausted eyes gave me a curious look as he muttered out a very quiet yet questioning “yes”.  My eyes again filled with tears and my voice cracked as I choked out “you’re in…you made it!”

I wish I had taken a picture of his face.  But I couldn’t very well snap the picture and catch him as he stumbled down the last two steps into my arms.   His lip quivered, and the corners of his mouth downturned…his eyes in complete disbelief.  As if I wasn’t weeping enough…gah!!  This boy!!  He cried.  I cried.   We hugged and he wiped his face, eventually giving way to the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.   He was shaking as he asked again if I was serious…if this was real.  After a few more reassuring hugs I do believe it began to sink in.  He did it.  And he knew it.  He finally got his little bit of glory.  And he earned it.