I watched him from my seat on the bleachers. Neck rolls, deep breaths, pacing, stretching… I could tell he was nervous and it made my stomach turn. At some signal I didn’t catch, he pulled off his hoodie and jogged to the check-in table. His muscles bulged and I wondered when he got so strong. Then I looked around at the other wrestlers and I wondered if he was strong enough.
Not to beat them, but to win with grace or to lose with perspective. These are things best learned on the mat.
He strapped on his head-gear and color band before stepping into the circle. There, he jumped in place and closed his eyes. I could tell he was trying to block out the pressure cooker around him. He looked up and said something to the referee, then they both laughed and I wondered when he got so brave. Then the announcer called his name, the smile disappeared, and I wondered how he was hiding his fear.
Not of losing, but of failing to take another step forward, of running off the mat and away from the stress. These are things only practiced by standing alone.
Some other mother’s son kneeled on top of mine, twisted his legs and arms, and smashed his face into the mat. He strained and struggled to get his body into position. I could tell he knew what to do, but it was a matter of patience and endurance. He took his time and I wondered when he got so disciplined and smart. Then the clock ticked under a minute and I wondered if he waited too long.
Not to make his winning move, but to decide what he wanted, to find his strength and gifts, and to notice his opportunities. These are things that can’t be rushed.
The wrestlers’ bodies shifted and I saw my son’s coach lean in for one quick word. It was a subtle sign of a deep relationship with a private language. Suddenly, my son’s hips were free and he had his opponent’s back to the mat. The coach leaned in again and I wondered what it felt like to be able to help him like that. Then I looked at my praying hands and knew.
Not of what words to say, but of what my new role is, of where I’m supposed to stand, of when I’m supposed to speak… and remain silent. These things can only be learned by welcoming others into the circle.
Each tick of the clock announced all that the match represented: team position, state qualification, senior year, healing, personal goals… The referee declared it all to be true with a quick slap of the mat and I thought my heart would explode along with the gym. I saw my son’s face and wondered if anyone could look happier. Then I saw my husband and knew it could be so.
Not just because of the win, but because of all that our son showed along the way. He demonstrated things that we could never teach him and more – things that can only be learned with us in the bleachers.
And sometimes I shudder to think… what if we had kept him from the mat because it was too hard? What if we didn’t allow him to stand alone in the circle? What if we had kept others out? What if we made too much noise or didn’t show up at all?
No. Then we would have missed seeing his strength, courage, discipline, new relationships, and a chance to prove we can all take the heat.
Parents, lean in to the pressure cooker with your kids but don’t turn down the heat. You just might miss the greatest reversal of your kid’s life.
Or worse, you could miss your own.