Whenever I attend a school function I am reminded of Goodbye Mr Chips where the teachers grow older and the boys stay the same. Year in and year out, the school calendar remains unchanged. Academic programs are maintained, swimming galas come and go, rugby and hockey seasons pass, athletics days come and go and in a flash yet another academic year is over and the next hundred odd boys enter the school to repeat what just past for some.
I spent some time alone this morning at a little coffee shop in Hilton and easily remembered exactly how I felt on the morning of Athletics Day. My sleep the night before was always a little compromised, I woke earlier, I could barely eat, that empty, hollow feeling prevailed all day. I was aware of peripheral noise as my non competitive friends enjoyed a day off school and the pitch became noisier and noisier before the chanting of war cries. My palms were always clammy, but somehow I managed to pass off as cool and calm, and I know instinctively this is just how my child is feeling this morning. He has to sit through two and a half periods before the bell calls for the games to begin.
The background noise that is sports day, the whistles, the flags, the starter gun. The tea tables for the parents, and the idle chit chat that accompanies these events as eyes dart in all directions hoping to catch your son’s eye in the crowd. The boys commotion as they shout for a team mate, the camaraderie as the slower competitors run past in the longer races. The anticipation palpable among the parents watching. Many of us are part of divorced families and there is some inherent awkwardness that can accompany school outings when not only are your two parents there, but also a step-father, a step-mother, and a Grandmother thrown into the day and the pressure to please and perform can be overwhelming.
I see my beautiful boy, he stands out among men, not only because he is taller, there is just something about him. He appears to be advising a younger boy. His chiselled face is white and strained looking. There is no time to talk, there are too many of us, his first race is a difficult distance.
The starter gun explodes, the vibration of their feet can be felt in the earth. Legs and arms pump in unison. This first event is not his race to win today, I feel the loss for him and know the disappointment. From where I am sitting I can see his chest still heaving, I see him graciously congratulate the winner, I see the slight slump in his demeanour, he doubles over to catch his breath. He then begins to make the long walk towards us and I wait to connect. In that moment when our eyes do meet he knows absolutely that his best is adequate, this is unconditional love, he knows I came to support and see him, not expectant of wins or dependant on them. This love is unparalleled. His eyes soften, his shoulders relax. The pressure is off. He is instructed to “go and have fun”. He does, and many medals later he is the gold of his age group.
I write this article not as a brag, but as a reminder that the gift of love is so precious and tenuous. As Mothers we are given the power to make or break a spirit. Be gentle with your love. No matter how old your little boy is, he needs to know that he is enough.
I was blessed with this gentleman who loves every member of his family fiercely, he shows respect to both of his ageing Grandmothers. He is quiet and unassuming and goddammit the boy can draw too.