Our son turns 18 this week. To celebrate, we’ll have cake and candles, we’ll give him gas money, and he’ll unwrap a really cool travel mug that looks like a camera lens.
As mothers do on these days, I’ll remember moments like this one.
Cooper’s played football since he was in second grade. By the time he was in high school, he was on the offensive line and getting a bit of playing time. At the football banquet his sophomore year, the coaches said a few words about each player.
Here’s what a volunteer assistant coach said:
“Cooper doesn’t have athletic ability, and we haven’t expected much for him, but he tries.”
I gripped the edges of the table to keep from lunging across the room for the man’s throat. I asked the mom sitting next to me if I’d heard right, and she said yes. And so when the banquet adjourned, I made a beeline for that nitwit of a coach and, for the first time in my life, loudly and publicly confronted someone on behalf of my child. I likened his comments to what a careless principal might say at an honors assembly: “This next student is stupid, but he shows up for class every day.”
Driving home that night, Cooper was quiet. I hoped he would lash out at the coach, calling him the jackass that he was, reacting to the public insult by punching back.
You wanna know what Cooper said?
“I guess this means I have to work harder – to get faster and better for next season.”
My friend Tina has a young son who was a gymnast – among the best his age in the state, and his dream was to be an acrobat in the circus. Last month, the boy broke his back; doctors told him he would have to give up gymnastics, the sport that had been his life.
Tina said he was quiet on the way home. Once there, he went to his room and closed the door. An hour later, he emerged, and this is what he said:
“I guess I will just have to get better at juggling.”
I was going to wait until next month to write about a son’s coming of age, when he and all his 18-year-old friends graduate from high school. But the awful events in Boston this week have put the birthday in a new context. Among the frightened reaction to the bombings were comments from some parents.
“I dread the future my children and grandchildren will face,” they said, and, “Everything’s ruined now.”
I think we all share that fear. I’d hate to think my grandchildren will have to wear bulletproof swimsuits or avoid public pools altogether; or never try a marathon, not out of fear of failing to finish but out of fear of the finish line. But I don’t feel completely hopeless.
Our kids are tough, partly because they were born that way and partly because we raised them that way. When they were little and fell on the sidewalk, we helped them up and brushed the gravel off their knees and told them to go back and play. Why are we surprised they’re so resilient?
Along with the birthday cards came the letter from Selective Service, the one asking that Cooper register for the draft. I pray there never will be one, nor another war, nor any more terrorist attacks.
But the older I get the less hope I have that things will ever be easier for our children than they are right now. It’s good that we have such tough kids.
Just two years after that night at the banquet, Cooper lettered in football. He was named to the state’s all-conference football team. He told us he would improve, and he did.
So maybe we needn’t worry so much. We raised them to be good and strong, and they are. Cooper and his friends are headed out into the world now. They are proving the nitwits wrong. Becoming better jugglers. Getting better. Finding a way to live happily, no matter what.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej.aol.com.