Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Football and Life and the Big Picture

"This is a defining moment," I told my son, Peyton, as I took his hand.  "You will have a million more of these as you grow up. It's important that you take some time and think about this. Think about how you are going to handle yourself. Are you going to stay down and upset or are you going to work through it and figure out how to move on."

We had just gotten home from the neurologist's office where my 13-year-old son had learned he couldn't play football in the upcoming season, he was devastated.  The trauma from a concussion earlier in the year was preventing his return to the game he loves.

When we arrived at the doctor's office, I had a list of questions prepared.  I had spent time researching concussions on the ultra scary  WebMD.  I watched Dr. Oz and talked to friends and gotten input on Facebook from almost everyone. I felt prepared.  But when we sat in the doctor's office last Wednesday, surrounded by machines and posters detailing every little detail of the brain I was speechless.  My mouth felt dry and my throat was itchy. When the doctor asked if we had any questions, I might have touched my throat dramatically and mouthed "Waaaaterrrrr."

After we got the news from the doctor, it was my job to be wise and calm and not show my relief that the doctor agreed football was off the table and/or my fear about the blood clotting issue the doctor ordered more testing for.

It all got very real, very fast.

Peyton was upset, but holding it together barely.
He is almost 14. Football with his friends is a big deal. I get it. I remember being 14. 

Sitting in the doctor's office, grabbing my throat, wishing I had water, I tried to think of the right words to say. I summoned every episode of "The Brady Bunch" or any other show or pop culture icon from which I always summon great wisdom and parenting advice. But nothing prepared me for "you got a really bad concussion in gym class that tipped you off to a possible deadly blood clotting disorder and made your parents totally freak out and think about losing you and the whole fragility of life and woah at least one of your parents is kind of going through a mid-life crisis and feeling all vulnerable and prone to depression and fucking afraid because they don't want to think about you or anyone dying but especially you because YOU are their kid and their true love and THE thing they did right in this life and holy woah life is deep and fragile and beautiful, and wear a helmet everywhere and who EVER thought football was a good idea? but they want you to be happy and defining moments are hard and you know well, it's tough."

Yeah, defining moments, man, they are tough. So is football though.

Football has always been part of the deal.  When I met my husband I knew he loved football. He played football in high school and college and became a high school football coach.  His three brothers played football in high school and college. It was more than loving the sport, it was sort of family lore. Four brothers playing football and being the first generation to go to college with football scholarships. It is a pretty incredible story.

I knew if I had sons they would be encouraged to play football. I just didn't bet on having three sons.

All the boys after one of Peyton's game last year, including Tim and his dad.

When Peyton first started playing football and falling in love with football, I cried and worried a lot.  But then I started enjoying watching him play and ultimately cheered him on and even encouraged him to hit harder a time or two.  I loved the organization he played football with, an organization I had resisted for years because I had heard they were too intense and the moms were crazy (as sports moms can be, I mean seriously they can be worse than dads, I've seen it firsthand).  But while this organization had a couple crazy moms and an over-yelling coach or two, overall it was superb. The coaches cared about the kids and teaching them the game. They taught the best parts of football-- teamwork, loyalty, friendship, competitiveness, how to win and lose graciously and how to work hard for something you love.  And they had fun.  Peyton loved the whole program. He loved being with his friends.  I loved hanging with the my friends in the stands watching the games every Saturday or Sunday.

It was so fun to see how the boys bonded through football and cheering each other on and watching JT look up to Peyton.

All of the good stuff almost made me forget that it's a really rough sport and I'm scared of the hitting and there is a new story seemingly everyday about how dangerous football is. Somehow because Peyton is a really big and tough kid and surrounded by really nice people, I thought he'd be okay.  And he was during the last four years he played football. Peyton got his grade three (aka the worst of the worst) concussion in gym class at school. 

Since his concussion last May, he's been really lucky and had no lingering symptoms. After a month of mild panic attacks right after his concussion, I thought I had no lingering anxiety. But sitting in that doctor's office unable to speak, it all came back--the fear, the unknown, my lack of coping skills and the fact that I needed to parent my kid through a defining moment. 

The doctor told us that the trauma was so intense it wasn't a good idea to play football this season, that his brain needed time to heal. Then the doctor mentioned a blood clotting issue that "concerns" him because he's never seen it in someone so young that didn't have a pre-existing condition. At that point, I wasn't only speechless, my heart was racing.  I forgot about football, but Peyton didn't.

Peyton is almost 14, football with his friends is a big deal.  I get it, I remember being 14.

So yeah, here we are with appointments with specialists and hematologists lined up, having big talks about fear and coping and learning how to not get too down about setbacks or too worried about all the unknowns and how to wait for test results without going crazy. 

It's not just Peyton having a defining moment, it's sort of me too. I'm worried about my boy being healthy and actually find myself hoping he can return someday to a sport that makes me crazy nervous. I am hoping I say all the right things and do all the right things to parent him through this.  I feel like I'm sort of paving my own way, there's no Brady Bunch episode for this situation (I mean, I'm open if anyone knows of a very special Brady episode that could help!).  

Yeah, defining moments, man, they are tough. So am I though, I think.


  1. You absolutely are tough. You HAVE this, the parenting part of it. I don't know what the medical part of it will bring, but you love him fiercely and advocate for your kids fiercely, and you don't need Carol and Mike to help you through that part of it.

  2. I freeze up in these moments. But I've heard you make enough sense and give me enough advice that I have no doubt you will be able to guide him with compassion and optimism. Also, how IS there not some kind of show that covered this topic?