It’s an early Monday morning and I’m driving my seven-year old son to his first day of Football Camp. I keep stealing glances of him in the rearview mirror, each time catching his sweet smile with the missing front tooth as he stares out his window. His legs are doing the little kick thing they do when he’s happy or excited about something. This vision confirms our recent decision to start a new chapter in our lives. After one year of homeschooling him and his sister, we decided while they were doing exceptionally well academically they were missing out on social interaction and extracurricular activities.
I bring the car to a stop at the light and steal one more glance at my son. “So, are you excited about your first day of Football Camp?” There’s a slight pause no more than seconds, but in those seconds my mind runs the gamut of all the fears and insecurities he may be feeling. I don’t know how I do it, but just as quickly I mentally line up my response to each and every doubt he may express. I take a deep breath and just as I’m about to press my foot to the accelerator I hear him say, “Are you kidding? I’ve waited my whole life for this!” My body relaxes with relief and I’m suddenly lost in visions of my little guy grinning as he catches the ball just like we practiced at the park last weekend, high-fiving his new buddies on the field. I’m startled out of my fantasy by the honking of the impatient driver behind me and quickly get back to reality.
It’s a reality I’m not quite ready to face on several levels though I’m not quite sure why. I love football! I want my son to be around other kids his age. I want him to learn what it’s like to be part of a team. Of course, I worry about him getting injured, but that’s not what is nagging at my subconscious. At the end of week one of camp, I’m hit with the answer in neon lights as only a seven-year old can present. Again, I’m seeing him in the rearview mirror keeping my eyes between him and the road ahead almost like an old VHS tape…the image skipping though you can still focus on it. He’s struggling internally with something and I’m holding my breath once more hoping he finds a way to express himself to me…not wanting to rush him but needing him to assuage my fears.
“Mommy?” I compose myself and respond, “Yes, honey?” My heart skips a beat when he softly says, “I’m considering not going back to football camp next week.” Earlier this week he said he’s waited his whole life for this. He’s been named player of the day almost every day this week. All he talks about are drills and passes, his favorite coach and some boy named Jordy. He’s been in heaven all week wanting to call his dad the minute he gets in the car to give him a full report. I’m afraid to ask why but do it anyway. “It’s just that I hear some bad words, and I’m not sure I should keep going. I love going, but I know I’m not supposed to say bad words.”
I review what I’ve seen all week when I’ve arrived a few minutes early to catch him in action. I see him making an interception and the look of shock and pride on his face in that very moment mirroring the same look on my own face as I peer through the fence. I see him as his teammates congratulate him. I see his little face as he catches a glimpse of me and smiles from ear to ear. How do I respond? He’s right. I don’t want him around that kind of language even if I know it’s part of the world of sports. I’m angry that grown men can’t control their potty mouths when it comes to sports and especially around children. Yet, I also know I can’t shield him from these things forever and don’t believe it’s fair for me to hold him back from something he truly enjoys.
“You know what buddy? I know you love football and you love camp. You’re right about the bad language. It’s not something I approve of and not something I want you repeating. I don’t believe that kind of language is necessary. Unfortunately, it is unavoidable sometimes. As long as you know it’s wrong, I’m okay with you going back to camp next week.”
As I look in the rearview mirror once more, I see my sweet innocent little boy coming to terms with a reality that is new for both of us. He gives me another toothless smile, and I can’t help but wish we could fast forward past these uncomfortable realities and leave them in the rearview mirror once and for all.
Have you been in a similar situation with your child? How have you handled it?