Elephants

Happy Thanksgiving!!

As I am sprawled comfortably on my sofa, watching a football game, stuffed and sleepy from a tasty Thanksgiving dinner, I thought I would avoid the hard work of writing a new story and share an old one from the 2002 holiday season. Elder would have been six years old…

Last night, as we drove to the Christmas dinner for my mom’s family, Elder rattled happily about the Junior Monopoly game he had received at another Christmas dinner on Saturday night. “Next time I see my cousins, I’m gonna bring my game. I think they would like to play it. But we’ll have to be careful with the baby. We’ll have to make sure she doesn’t swallow any of the pieces,” he chattered as we neared the house of some dedicated Republicans who had installed a large replica of the party symbol in their yard. “That’s what you have to do when you have two- or one-year-olds. Right, Mommy? If she swallowed one, they might have to take her to the hospital. Hey. I JUST SAW AN ELEPHANT! I sure would hate for them to have to take the baby to the hospital. Wouldn’t you, Mommy?” He paused before continuing suspiciously, “Why are you laughin’, Mommy?”

I told him I was just laughing for no reason, which he accepted as it has been an excuse I have offered before to prevent insult and he is coming to believe Mommy balances precariously on the edge of insanity anyway. And I tried to stop laughing. I did. But it was like trying not to think about an elephant.

Sorry. Really couldn’t resist.

ELEPHANT, ELEPHANT, ELEPHANT.

Really, really sorry. Just try not to think about it.

In One Ear

Whenever I cook chili, I also bake cornbread muffins, which Younger and I prefer to crackers. So, last Sunday night, with snow falling and temperatures dropping, I had a big pot of chili bubbling on the stove and muffins fluffing in the oven.

Monday, however, as I started gathering ingredients for the muffins, I realized I had not restocked my kitchen with the paper liners for my pan. So, as Younger wandered into the kitchen in search of some leftover chili, I explained the dilemma.

“Hey,” I said. “I can’t make the corn muffins tonight, so I’m just going to make straight cornbread.” I even spelled out, “Same thing, you just have to cut it into individual pieces.”

And I pointed to the pan with freshly mixed batter on the counter.

Younger dropped his gaze towards the pan. Then he ventured to the refrigerator, tugged on the door, peered inside, frowned, glanced at the large container of chili already set out on the counter then shut the door.

“I just have one question,” he finally said. “Where are those muffin-y, cornbread-y things you usually make with chili?”

My mouth fell open. “What did I just say?” I asked, my voice hitting a few high notes. “What did I just say?”

Younger blinked at me. I stared at him.

I could almost hear the gears stumbling and stuttering into delayed action.

Then he grinned. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“Thinking?” I repeated. “You weren’t listening is what.”

“No, no,” he assured me, patting the air with his palms in a supposed soothing motion. “I was listening. But I wasn’t thinking.”

So now I know why when he wears those little headsets and listens for the beeps, he raises his hand at every single one.

But when I ask him to clean his room, he never even flinches.

Because one is apparently hearing. And the other is thinking.

In one ear…and out the other…with no chance of getting caught in between.

Moment in Time

We were down by two touchdowns with less than four minutes left in the game.

With a new coach and recovering from a losing season last year, we never expected the high school football team to play for the district championship in Elder’s senior year. But we were. And we were losing.

Which was too bad, as the game had started promising enough. At halftime, we were up, 19-7.

Then lots of things happened in the second half. Some our fault, some not as much.

Some of the kids from the team we had beaten the previous week had joined our crowd of fans, as we were playing their rival, who they hated more than us. Actually, our teams had a lot of respect for each other, on and off the field. Even Younger had only praise, and he can usually find at least one example of obnoxious behavior by the other team.

Since the young men sat around and behind us, my husband had to talk to them. (My husband has to talk to anyone within a twelve foot radius.) And at one point, he mentioned, “Number — is my son.”

“Number — ?” one of the kids repeated. “He’s a stud.”

Of course, I grinned.

And my husband had to add, “He’s not caught anything tonight. But, last week, he caught two touchdowns.”

The boys looked at him with half grins and assured him, “Yeah, we remember.” Then they laughed.

But it was cold and as we surrendered that last touchdown, they gave up their hope of watching their rival fall. Slowly, they meandered down the bleachers.

Two touchdowns with less than four minutes is quite a hill to climb, especially as part of our problem in the second half was interceptions.

I sat on the bleachers, reminding myself that Elder and his team had had a good season for their senior year. Better than expected. I tried to appreciate the blessing.

I wanted to cry.

Then, for some reason, our opponents’ coach had his boys fake a punt on fourth and long. While they were inside their own ten yard line. For those who don’t understand football, I’ll explain — that’s madness.

Elder tackled the running back at the eight yard line. We now had the ball and only eight yards to cross to score a touchdown.

It took us one down.

And just like that, we were down one touchdown with three minutes left on the clock.

Our defense stopped them in three downs. And their coach decided to stick to a real punt. They pinned us inside our own five yard line. To be specific, we were on the two yard line.

We had 1:44 on the clock.

And in four plays we had another touchdown.

Tied!! We were tied!

Our hearts were thumping nearly out of our chests. Our opponent’s rival football team wandered back into the stands. I was peeking through gloved fingers.

Our defense just had to hold them one more time for us to go to overtime.

Our defensive line showed their stuff. And we showed our appreciation.

In other words, the crowd went wild.

Overtime!

During overtime, each team gets the ball on the 25-yard line. Each has a chance to navigate those twenty-five yards into the end zone.

We were given the first opportunity. A couple run plays…and touchdown!!

Our opponents did not even make a first down. On the fourth down, one of our seniors intercepted a last, desperate pass by their quarterback.

Our boys leapt into the air. The other boys hit the field on their knees.

I’ve always found the juxtaposition of winners and losers on a championship field of play particularly heartbreaking.

But then all of the parents and fans rushed for our boys in the closest end zone. And Elder locked eyes with me and hurried to wrap me in a bear hug, holding onto me for, like, ever.

When your kids are small, those moments of connection are almost commonplace. You are their world. You are the first one they look for. You make the bad bearable and the good complete.

Those moments scatter in the wind as they grow older. Mothers are always the world to their children.  I know, because my mom was always the world to me. But the moments of pure, unadulterated connection — those moments become more rare and even more precious.

And I held this young man, who is now taller than me but is still my baby, in my arms and thanked God for my blessings.

Elder had three sacks, seventeen tackles with ten being unassisted, and one fumble recovery.

But the moment I’ll always remember is him bending towards me, my arms struggling to encircle shoulder pads, while he murmured, “I am so happy.”

Football is just a game. Win or lose, life goes on.

But those moments…

Those moments are life.

Get It?

First, I apologize for not posting last Thursday. I try to post every week, but, sometimes, as they say, life happens.

Here is a story from late 2003. Younger would have been four years old, and Elder would have been seven and in first grade…

We sent Elder to school to learn. We just didn’t understand everything he would be learning. We knew about the A,B,C’s, we just didn’t know they were Attitude, Belligerence, and Complaining. In the last month or so, I have heard more sentences start with, “Do I look like I know…” than I have ever wanted to hear.

“Elder,” I always respond. “Don’t be sarcastic.”

“I don’t know what that means,” he then complains belligerently. (He has learned his alphabet well.)

“It means hateful. Don’t be hateful.”

So then he mutters, “I don’t know what that means either.”

“What you are doing. Quit doing it.”

But, you know, I guess it’s true what they say about kids learning at home, because the other day, after hours and hours of his Attitude, Belligerence, and Complaining, I heard myself launch, “You know, I would have had a really boring day today, if you all hadn’t added just that little touch of whining and running wild and misbehaving to liven it up a bit. I just gotta tell ya, you have really made my day!”

Elder was silent for a moment. “So, what does that mean? Did you have a good day?”

“Never mind, Elder. It doesn’t matter. Mommy was being sarcastic. And I suppose I shouldn’t have been,” I gritted, my tone far from apologetic.

“That’s all right, Mom,” he told me, helpfully. “We didn’t get it anyway.”

For someone who doesn’t “get it,” he’s becoming a real expert.