Day 11 is my breaking point, I texted to my best friend. I put down the phone, reached across to the passenger seat for my purse and fumbled through it for my big sunglasses. I could feel the tears were moments away. I wanted to hide them from all the other parents.
I didn’t have time to prepare. I didn’t have time to worry about it or plan. I had started my morning in New York, spent my day in my office in North Carolina and when I got home from work that night, my husband was already en route to Florida.
In those 11 days we had seen our first trip to the emergency room that ended with two stitches in my youngest son’s tongue. We saw our first soccer practice (where I learned the 2 year old loves balls so much he wants to run into the middle of the practice field to steal them). I had a work dinner, illness struck my children’s caregiver, and I was sporting a busted lip from my two year old pistol whipping me.
Those first 11 days also saw my three boys insisting they all needed to sit on my lap at the exact same time. I watched my oldest, at 5 years old, understand the gravity of a situation and use his influence to get his younger brother in line. There was the creation of a soon to be hit song about where hands don’t go, lots of hugs and kisses and many more amazing moments
But on Day 11 it felt like more than I could handle.
It was my 5 year old’s first soccer game. The morning of the soccer game resembled a small obstacle course to get everyone dressed and then out the door.
By the time we got the game, after dropping the 2 younger boys in childcare, I was tired. I was ready for my 5 year old to play soccer and for me to sit and watch.
But that wasn’t his plan. As we walked towards the field, his pace slowed, “mommy – there’s so many people here. Are they going to watch me?”
He was right. There were a lot of people. It was between games so the parents, spectators and the kids from the previous game, plus the current round of games were all present.
As I gazed at the crowd and back at him, I told him it was ok, but he wasn’t buying it.
We continued toward the field. I focused on being my best parent self: staying patient, asking him why he was scared, listening to his responses, dispelling his fears and encouraging him that he could do it.
Period after period (they play 8 at his age), I tried my best to no avail. Loving pleas turned to frustration and desperation.
Finally, in the last period, thanks to patient coaches and the promise of the after game snack, we got him on the field. Albeit, I was on the field too and he was holding my hand, but we got him on the field.
The game ended. He quickly grabbed his treat and he wanted to run to the car.
I wanted to run to the car too. Away from the game, away from the feeling of being an incapable mom, away from my failure to get him on the field by himself.
As we approached the car, I could feel the tears beginning to well behind my eyes. They were ready to start their part of the show.
But when the car door closed and I put my sunglasses on – signally to the tears that it was their turn – they didn’t come.
I urged them to show themselves, Do it now! I pleaded. I’m ready. We’re safely in the car. My sunglasses are on. Let’s get this over with! A lump formed in my throat, but the tears refused to flow.
I glanced back at my phone. My best friend had responded to my SOS: You are doing great and don’t cry. Or cry if you need to. But this is going to be hard. You are doing great.
While her text was exactly what I needed to hear, the lump in my throat lingered and I still felt like I failed my son.
As I read her text, it became clear that I needed to do the only thing I know will hit my reset button.
I still had about 30 minutes of childcare. Instead of picking up the other two boys, I dropped my oldest in too. With all three boys safely cared for, I made my way to the outdoor track.
There, I ran fast laps. My music blaring through my earbuds into my ears louder than my normal running volume. My breath fast and heavy as the beautiful blue skies engulfed me and the bright sun lit my way on a perfect September day.
Despite my short legs I lengthened my stride. I drove my turn-over to be faster and quicker, trying to figure out why I didn’t cry.
As my adrenaline pumped and my mind cleared, the best I could come up with is that I couldn’t cry because it was just me. I was it for the moment and I had to keep it together for our three boys.
I remembered this feeling from when my first born was three weeks old in the NICU. Per the medical team’s instruction, I pinned down his barely 5 pound body as a nurse and radiologist scoped his lower intestines. I watched his body wiggle wildly and madly in discomfort. He screamed as loud as his little throat would allow, yet I kept my grip constant and firm.
I remembered wanting to cry as I watched him twist his body in pain. Knowing for now and forever: his pain is my pain and my strength is his.
But I couldn’t cry. I needed to be strong for him then and would have to be again and again and again in his life.
Breathless, sweaty and the lump and tears no where to be found, I returned to childcare re-energized and reminded of my strength regardless of the result.
“Mommy!!!!” my boys yelled as they ran towards me. I knelt down. I soaked in their enthusiastic hugs, grabbed their backpacks and told them how brave their older brother was to play on the field with his teammates.
I led to them back to our car to try again and again and again.
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