I don’t mind football, as long as it’s other mothers’ sons who are crashing their bodies around the field. When it comes to my own sons’ participation, however, I prefer gentler sports. Like chess.
Thankfully, my oldest boys have thus far seemed content to play little league baseball, basketball, and various forms of amateur, no-holds-barred wrestling. So far, so good, I thought. That is, until one day not too long ago when I heard Ambrose’s voice call to me from the backseat of the van while driving home from the library.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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“Hey,” he wanted to know. “Are there football teams for kids?”
My blood ran cold.
“Oh, I suppose so,” I tried to make my voice casual.
But the boy was intrigued. “Do you think I could play on a football team?”
I said a silent prayer that my rejection would end the conversation, but of course it didn’t.
“Football is a very rough sport,” I shouted above the sound of his older brother’s advice that he should check what his father thought about him playing Pee Wee football. “You don’t want to break your neck, do you, Ambrose?”
I waited while Ambrose considered my question, and at long last he answered, “No.”
Thank goodness for that. I even had time to breathe a tentative sigh of relief before he added, “I want to break someone else’s!”
This is what children do to their mothers. For his part these days, 16-month-old Daniel has been putting forth remarkable effort in an attempt to give me a heart attack. He climbs stairs. And chairs. And tables. He stands in shopping carts, tries running in the bathtub, and pulls dish-covered tablecloths onto his head.
Naturally, he winds up bumped and bruised, swollen and scraped.
I think most toddlers go through a stage like this one, where each new day brings new bodily evidence to cause strangers in the grocery store to suspect child abuse. Not only do our babies grow up faster than we are ready for them to, they grow up faster sometimes than even they are ready for them to.
Ouch. Harsh reality of this kind doesn’t mix well with a mother’s protective instincts.
“Don’t do anything,” I remember instructing my son Raphael after an ER trip to stitch closed a split lip not too long ago. I wasn’t kidding. I really did want him to spend the rest of the day sitting perfectly still, sipping Kool Aid and looking at a picture book . . . about chess. But no such luck.
Not ten minutes later, I gasped, lunged, and saved him from a fall down the stairs.
“Maybe we should buy him a catcher’s mask,” an older child suggested.
I considered it briefly.
“Maybe he just needs to wear a mouth guard,” another child mused.
Not a bad idea either. Personally, I would lean toward tied-on feather pillows or some kind of inflatable bubble suits for all my children, if only these were socially acceptable.
In the end, I suppose that a mother must accept the inevitable. We might outlaw football. We might clothe our kids with bubble wrap and duct tape them to the furniture. Eventually, however, they must toddle away. They must grow up and make their own decisions, not all of which will be good ones. They might run with scissors, drive too fast, fall in love with the wrong person, or take up skydiving.
It’s an unavoidable fact: Life hurts. We can’t protect our children from every pain, nor should we. When we allow them to experience suffering or loss, we allow them to learn. We allow them to grow. We allow them to become the strong, grown-up people God intends them to be.
In the meantime, the best we can do is teach them how to handle the pain. The best we can do is pick them up when they fall, hug them when they hurt, and stitch them back together as often as they need it.
The best we can do is love them. And that much is easy — we’re already doing it. So much it hurts.