I was all decked out in my jersey and after a tiring few days it was time for some football. I’d read the scouting reports and felt very confident. A Cowboy victory seemed certain but by half-time Sunday I was already lamenting my decision to stick with my boys because America’s team was flailing. You see, I’m a struggling Cowboys fan and my loyalties in sports tend to be very fickle. I’ve been known to change teams as often as I do shoes but for years now when it comes to football I’ve stuck with the Cowboys. However, when their new stadium opened in my opinion bad coaching was now married to bad taste. Are half-naked cage dancers really necessary in a football stadium?
Still, I value loyalty and thought I have to stick with my boys but after such a miserable performance Sunday night I’m not sure I can. I haven’t thrown out my jersey yet because I’m still debating the issue. Of course abandoning the Cowboys is a decision that really doesn’t matter. This is a good thing because tennis season coincides with football season in our house and believe it or not quite a bit of emotional stamina is required. I’ve decided that boy’s high school tennis is actually more drama filled than cheerleading or at least that’s what my faded memory tells me.
Fortunately Starbucks has put the pumpkin spice latte back on the menu and armed with a cup of autumn joy I can usually handle anything the job of tennis Mom calls for. With a full day of tennis ahead last Friday I stopped at Starbucks on my way to the courts and ran into one of my fellow Tiger tennis mom’s named Ruth. After the usual bit of catching up we have to do I grabbed my coffee and told her I’d see her at the courts when she told me she wasn’t going. This told me something was up so I had to ask why?
It seems Ruth’s precious teenage boy is being less than kind to his wonderful Mom. After only a weeks on the team my friends’ son has quickly fallen into the pattern all the boys have where they are polite and nice to all the fans they have except their own parents. Yes Mam, no Sir, please, thank you and any other social grace manifestations are gone by the second match of the season. It’s completely forgotten that their parents have had anything to do with their success. How they’ve learned to play tennis, who keeps the expensive shoes on their feet, and who carts them around to all the matches is lost just like a practice ball that goes over the fence into the parking lot. Along with the loss of any sense of gratitude comes all the trash talk where the “butt kicking” of the other team gets talked about at the dinner table in terms that are not always respectable. The bravado makes you think it’s a gladiator competition not a gentleman’s sport which is what tennis used to be considered.
It gets old quickly and by about mid-season you’re done trying to use every opportunity that presents itself to have a teachable moment because you just want to survive. Apparently my friend Ruth still has a bit of stamina left, so to make her point with her tennis progeny she wasn’t going to his matches that day. She figured if her son didn’t want anyone to even see his Mom drop him off why should she make an effort to come and cheer him on? After getting the low down from Ruth with what was going on I took my latte and went to the courts inspired by her fortitude. Later in the day this would prove to be a good thing.
The morning started off well because winning is easy. Luke sailed through his first two matches to advance to the semi-finals where he came up against the most challenging player I think he’s ever faced. Playing the same game Luke does it was a slug-fest. Luke hates when I compare him to any of the greats but he and this kid looked like Federrer and Nadal locked in an epic Grand Slam battle. My head was moving back and forth like a bobble-head doll. It was some of the best tennis I’ve watched at the junior level but also the hardest.
Tough because Luke couldn’t have played better but having definitely met his match his confidence was tested. This is when the thing I hate the most started – the negative self-talk. It wasn’t obvious to everyone watching but I know this kid and all that macho tennis team bravado was gone. With any shot he missed he was flogging himself. Gone was the philosopher Luke who once said to his brother, “I can only play my best and let the score take care of itself.” He was unraveling like a ball of yarn on the inside.
This irony is always striking to me. How is it that a teenage boy can walk around with so much swagger they drive you nuts then barely remember they have any talent when pressed on the court? Trash talking is no longer about your opponent it’s all about how they personally stink. It’s maddening because all through the weeks you’re trying to survive the hubris, and then when your athlete needs the confidence of a pro it’s gone. Now your teenager who usually doesn’t care if you’re around suddenly wants you there cheering to prop up his ego and if need be, quietly follow behind when he walks off the court sulking. This is exactly what had to be done that afternoon because Luke’s opponent was just a little bit better that day and won. It was his first loss in a long time and he was devastated. There was nothing to be said because in the agony of defeat you cannot hear the voice of reason.
It was clear Luke didn’t want me hanging around at that point so after I’d made sure he had whatever he might need for the rest of the afternoon I left. I got home and started to work on a dinner that would cheer him up. It wasn’t long before he was home and as he came around the corner I started to congratulate him on how well he played when I was abruptly cut-off. The monologue started and now he wasn’t just taking the loss out on himself he was taking it out on me.
By this time the pumpkin spice latte booster shot from my morning chat with Ruth had worn off and I was not happy. Granted, I’m not the athlete in this scenario but every parent out there knows it is not easy to weather the emotional rollercoaster ride of winning and losing. This is when I unraveled a bit. I took my cue from Ruth and said hey if you can’t appreciate how I’m trying to support you then I’m not going to bother. I’m not going to talk about this with you and I’m certainly not going to compliment your fantastic playing since you counter everything with a negative comment. With his next argumentative statement I said, “Okay I don’t think I can come watch you play tomorrow because I can’t take this.” His head dropped like a serve that hits the net and walked off.
Doesn’t that sound incredibly mature and reasonable on my part? Not so much. Ruth had to put up with far more than I did and she wasn’t going to any of the day’s matches whereas I was essentially saying to Luke you lost and handled it poorly so I won’t show up anymore. There’s a difference but it took me a while to see that.
Thankfully, Luke went out with his teammates for dinner and I got to eat in peace. I put a movie on which distracted me even more and then Luke was back. He came in the door plopped down on the couch and with great poise said, “Mom, I’m sorry. I really appreciate all that you do to support me and I shouldn’t have taken out my frustration on you. Tennis is everything to me and if I didn’t have tennis I wouldn’t have any friends. I would have no life and all I would do is sit home and play video games and nobody would care about me. Please don’t ever take tennis away from me. I know I got upset but I’m passionate about this and sometimes I just get carried away.”
Wow! With that kind of self-awareness all I could say was, “I know bud, its okay. I’m not ever going to take tennis away from you and I’ll be there tomorrow”. I patted his back and then listened to his narrative about all the team’s antics at dinner after which we reviewed the schedule for the next day. He’d be playing for third place and I’d be front row center to cheer him on.
Later that night when Luke was in bed I stood in his doorway for a few minutes watching him sleep. I thought about how crazy everything gets in your head when you’re a teenager. I’d never told Luke I was going to take tennis away I’d simply said I wasn’t going to come to his match if he was going to take out his frustrations on me. That’s not what he heard though. With his identity all wrapped up in the team and winning or losing he couldn’t connect with what I was trying to say. At the same time I was upset and couldn’t understand what he was saying with his lamentations. On his team the philosophy is that you don’t play for yourself you play for the team. Luke wasn’t just losing his match he was losing a match for the team and the pressure felt enormous. To tell him I wasn’t going to be a part of his team if he didn’t treat me right only added to the intensity.
I’m thankful he went out to dinner with the guys because together they all let off the steam they needed to. That’s the beauty of a team you don’t have to go it alone. I’m even more thankful for the fact that after his wounds had been nursed by French fries and milkshakes Luke was able to come home and talk to me. I think I learned more from his loss than he did and that’s the bigger win.
The next morning I headed to the courts minus the pumpkin spice latte because I didn’t need it. Ruth met me there and before the match we sat and talked about the push and pull of parenting. One minute it’s go away and the next minute they need you very close. We agreed that it’s at those times when they are at their ugliest that they need us the most.
I couldn’t help but think about my heavenly Father and how many losses He’s patiently loved me through. While I don’t know that I’ve chased Him away with words I’m sure that I’ve grieved Him by putting Him at arm’s length. At my ugliest moments He still is willing to stay with me and he never fails to help me get back in the game. His mercies are new every morning. He will never leave me or forsake me. This is what I need to remember when things get lumpy with Luke. He needs my unwavering loyalty when he unravels far more than he needs my coaching. He needs that like I need God’s steadiness when I’m shaky.
As for the Dallas Cowboys they probably need both my loyalty and my coaching but that’s another matter entirely. Those boys have Mama’s of their own to console them so for now I’m just going to focus on huddling up with the team under my roof. When tennis season is over I’ll reconsider especially if they’re winning!