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June 28, 2012

Earned

Oddly, what made me decide to stop writing about my son was a piece of buffalo chicken pizza.

I say "oddly" because most big decisions are prompted by big events. This past weekend, Lucas played in a rugby tournament. I was a semi-benched coach; my still-healing knee prevented me from moving up and down the sidelines. The boys were playing Sevens, the scaled-down, sped up version of the game (seven players per side instead of the usual 15, games consisting of two seven minute halves). They were running all over the field, and all I could do was stand and yell out instructions and encouragement, hoping that they heard me. Lucas was faring well; this was his first trip to the pitch in a couple of months, he was getting tired, and in rugby when you get tired you get hurt. I was nervous. And when he went down like a sack of potatoes after being on the receiving end of a high tackle - he was clotheslined, taking a forearm to the chin - those nerves spilled over.

"Motherfucker!", I yelled (which is something that as a coach and parent you generally want to avoid doing, because that's the kind of shit that makes you a YouTube star) and hobbled on to the field. The ref, a big and (lucky for me) affable ex-forward who outweighed me by at least 50 pounds, stared at me. "Dude", he said. "You need to chill." My head coach stepped in my path. "He's fine. Go back to the sidelines. It's fine." Lucas was sitting up, crying a bit...I'd seen this before, from other kids, the first time they were on the receiving end of a less-than-textbook hit. It freaks them out, because they think it should hurt, getting put down like that, and when it doesn't I'm convinced that they get freaked out even more, because that revelation that they're stronger than they ever thought they could be is the beginning of the next stage of their lives, and who wouldn't be a bit overwhelmed by that?

The moment passed. I was back on the sidelines, Lucas was back in the game, and when the day ended, he and his teammates were sweaty, exhausted, and giddy. They'd won the tourney, beating three other teams in succession. "You OK?", I asked him as he downed a Gatorade. "Tired", he said. "But good tired." Good tired. It was a phrase I'd coined when he first started playing soccer. Was he three? Four? He'd run himself ragged, come home, run around some more, collapse into bed in the evenings. "You're good tired," I'd say. "You've earned your sleep tonight." 

"How do you feel? Anything hurt?" I was still a bit concerned - I'd been there, gotten the shit knocked out of me, and it's amazing how you don't feel any of it at the end of a game, getting stomped on or slammed into the ground. Adrenaline carries you home. "I'm good. Nothing hurts." He seemed a bit surprised. "You'll be sore tomorrow," I replied. He nodded. "Good sore, Dad." I laughed at that. Knowingly.

We stopped at our local pizza joint on the way home. "Let me guess - you just want cheese." He perused the pies under the display glass. "Actually," he said, "I think I want to try the buffalo chicken." I almost asked him if he was sure, but I stopped myself. Buffalo chicken pizza. A grown-up's pizza. My big man.

****

When Lucas sees me sit down to write, he'll inevitable ask me if I'm writing about him. "Nope", I tell him, and that's true: I write when he's asleep, late at night, early in the morning. But the question lingers - it has for a while now, ever since I told him about what I do when I sit down at the computer. And so here's where his stories become his. He's earned that. Perhaps one day, when he's older, when this site has run its course and resides in the dusty attic of the Internet, he'll come across it and read my version of his stories. I hope so. And when he reads them I hope he knows what a gift he's given me, what a gift he's been to me, in so many ways. 

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