Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Night Lights

That's my boy with the ball in a game last year.

There hasn't been much "house" going on around here, and no, readers of On the Doorstep didn't accidentally stumble upon the Sports Illustrated web site. It's been crazy-busy around here. I started yet another job (more on that later), and did you know it's football season? I have a high school senior, and it's my last year (for now) of practice and weight room schedules, player rosters, packing coolers and warming stadium benches.

Since I haven't had much time to write blog content, and we're in the pigskin mood anyway, here's a column below that I wrote, published in the local newspaper two years ago, about my experience as a football mom. If you have Friday night lights of your own, win or lose, cheer for your hero. There's more than one on every field.

Where Football and Motherhood Collide
Something unthinkable happened to me last year. I became a football mom.

I am not a sports fan and never was. Football in particular wasn’t at all interesting to me.

Most of my adult life before motherhood, football was just crowd noise and the voice of Al Michaels on the tube while I occupied myself with other things. As a young mom raising little boys, I lived in Michigan. The high holy day of the year, the Michigan-Michigan State game, went unobserved in our household. They played soccer instead. Even while I worked in newspaper, the sports writers were on the far side of the newsroom, publishing football stories in a language foreign to me.

Last year, my oldest son went out for high school football. This year he is again. I have a ten-year-old who plays flag football. The six-year-olds tumble about the grass imitating their big brothers. Three-hour practices, game schedules, jerseys in the laundry, equipment in the hall, scrimmages in the back yard-- football came when I wasn’t looking. I am a football mom.

I was exhilarated to see my sons on the field, but clueless to what I was witnessing. Ever the journalist, I researched the rules online. I’ve been taking surreptitious glances through Sports Illustrated and have watched NFL games all the way through. It’s my job to know my sons’ lives. Therefore it is now my job to know football.

The blindside tackle that football made on my life wasn’t because I had different expectations of my sons. I was raised with my sister by a single-parenting mother. That solely female household gave me no idea of other possibilities, and the little girl me blithely thought that I would, of course, also have daughters.

This did not happen, and while I welcomed each baby boy into my arms with love, I never reconsidered my playbook for motherhood.

In some ways that was a good thing. I couldn’t embrace any tired gender stereotypes of boys because I never lived with any growing up. I think I have a fairly well-rounded tribe. They read books and play musical instruments and give hugs freely and are open about their feelings. But I am no gender-neutral idealist about raising boys. As a mother rearing four of them, I referee on the field where testosterone and male bravado meet. They brawl and shout and pee on the floor.

Every time I walk down the girls’ toy aisle in a store, I get a little nauseated by the ocean of pink, the wince-inducing cutesy-pie ponies and dolls, and the positively yucky undertones of premature sexuality and passivity implied in girls’ playthings. If I had daughters, I’m not sure I could stomach it.

That fussily pretty version of femininity doesn’t square with my own girlhood. I sported pants with muddy knees, grubby hands and ratty hair. I was running or rolling in the grass or ruining my clothes, not unlike what I see in my boys playing football. If our society insists on maintaining the great gender divide, I may have fallen on the right side of it.

As I am writing this, it is late on Friday night, and my oldest boy is playing an out-of-town game. I will pick him up from the team bus around midnight at the high school. He will be tired, caked in dried sweat and dirt, and lugging a duffel bag of equipment. He will be brooding if they lost, and deeply satisfied if they won.

The sight of my son in that solitary moment is alone enough to make me a fan. Always a history geek before (and still), I can only think of this one football quote by Theodore Roosevelt as I pull up to the curb to greet him: “In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: hit the line hard.”

The metaphor comparing football and life may be as old as the game itself; it is new to me. But as my sons learn to run plays and I learn to raise boys, I believe it to be true. I am, after all, a football mom.

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