The head football coach of the school my children attend conducted football camps over the summer. Both of my boys participated in a session and loved it. They came home with t-shirts and DVD’s highlighting the previous varsity season, as well as newly gained respect for the intensity necessary for the sport. Chandler received a bonus from camp – a Friday Night Lights invitation with the coach on the night of October 15th – his ninth birthday.
This date was set back in June when Coach A learned that Chandler would celebrate a birthday on the same date as the high school homecoming game. Not only did he issue the kind invitation, but he remembered the offer almost four months later as he detailed instructions about the night in an email to my husband.
On Friday night, we dropped Chandler off in front of the locker rooms where the coach was waiting. Timidly, he walked through the doors and into a well-muscled room where there were only a few familiar faces. He gawked at shoulder pad wearing boys who looked like giants compared to his own small stature. He closely examined the rituals of the quarterback, who shared not only the same birthday date but also big brothers with the same name. He witnessed pre-game preparation, spirited pep talk, lining up of the players, all moments bigger and more surreal than he could have imagined.
But the big moment was this.
Running onto the field among the black pants and spiked cleats, through the smoke and the tunnel, through the chants of the cheerleaders and the cheers from the crowd, that nine year old little boy in his mind was as big as the players that towered over him, as proud of the team as though he were an integral part.
My heart swelled as I watched my fellow puff out his undeveloped chest, pumping skinny little arms as he ran among the giants, my eyes stinging behind the camera lens as I followed the pure adolescent boy joy that unfolded before me.
I found myself drawn to the unfiltered happiness, that maternal magnet pulling me along after my offspring. I looked up from behind the camera, surprised to find that I was on the sidelines with the team. The coaches, the players, a nine-year-old boy and me.
“Mom, it’s not your birthday!” hissed my six-year-old daughter from behind the fence where I was standing. “GET OFF THE FIELD! IT’S EMBARRASSING!”
Still discombobulated about exactly how I ended up on the sidelines, I looked around in confusion. Should I pretend that I am the team photographer instead of mommy paparazzi directed by quivering womb? Maybe I could pass as the team medic if the heeled boots and sassy pocketbook hadn’t blown possible cover.
I finally caught the eye of my husband, standing next to our appalled daughter. With an imperative nod of his head to the right, I correctly interpreted the directive to remove myself from the sidelines and off the field. STAT.
Chandler experienced a night under Friday Night lights that he will long remember. The coaches, the players, the cheerleaders, the band, and the crowd contributed to the memories of a nine year old boy who celebrated a birthday like no other.
Despite his tag-along mom, with apron strings still strongly attached to the purple and white jersey.