After my son’s wrestling practice, we had one of those “informational meetings” parents often have with their teen athletes. While he was shoving down his food and gulping an energy drink, I went through the sports agenda items quickly. He was in a good mood, seemingly more relaxed than usual, which is rare these days. This seemed like a good time to have one of our many conversations where we talk through all the things we needed to organize and plan as he was finishing up his wrestling season and entering into his club soccer season soon, and this transition is always tricky and taxing. We had a long “to do” list to tackle.
“I’ve got your singlet hanging to dry in the basement. Do you need anything else washed before the tournament this weekend? What foods will you need to start cutting weight? I’m going to the store today, so let me know what you want. And your club soccer schedule came out yesterday, so we need to put the practice times and games/tournaments on the schedule by the end of the week. I know you’re really busy, but please make that a priority because the spring season is just around the corner as we wrap up your wrestling. Also, you have two more indoor soccer games for the winter session coming up, check the schedule on those. And you have clearly outgrown your soccer uniform, so make sure to talk to dad about ordering you a new one. Do you need new soccer cleats too? Try yours on and see if they still fit. And don’t forget to write thank-you notes for the coaches before the wrestling banquet and I have money for the coaches’ gifts you need to bring in. Are you lifting this week?”
My son nodded in response to my questions with a few grunts of “Okay” and “Yeah, I know.” And with his classic-teen-boy-style talking, offered me the limited information I needed. Then he added, “After wrestling season, I’ll be bulking up so I’ll need lots of protein and I want to make protein shakes. Can we get some protein powder?”
I told him to look into which protein powder he wants and we can figure out a good bulk-building meal plan together. I look forward to him eating more, after watching him go through the grueling sacrifices he makes to keep his weight maintained through these hard months of wrestling.
He gets up from the table and puts his dish in the sink to soak, assuming as always, I’ll clean it later. I’ve let it go, trying to be gracious and flexible because I know he has so much going on right now with his sports and he’s pretty stressed about school too. He mentioned he had an AP test tomorrow so I know he still needs to study after a long day. But he still has other responsibilities like his weekly chores and picking up after himself and keeping his bedroom in order, which he respectfully does with the occasional reminders from me. I want to teach him that no matter how busy life gets, no matter how tired he is, he will always have responsibilities at home he needs to complete. This is a good practice ground for when he is grown and on his own. But there are some things I just let go of from time to time and this is one of those things and one of those times.
“Good talk, kiddo. Lots to do. It’s like I’m your sports manager and it’s been a full-time job all these years. But funny thing, I have yet to see a paycheck!”
And as I laughed at my own little “mom joke”, my son gave me a sly smile and said, “The payment is love, mom.” Then he reached out to give me a consoling hug.
“Ah, yes, that’s exactly right honey.” As I leaned into his muscular frame and soaked in this rare moment with my growing young man. Oh, how I love when my boy melts his guard and shows his tender underside.
This athlete I adore, this baby I’ve raised, I’d do anything for him. Although being a parent of a teen athlete is exhausting and time-consuming, demanding, and stressful, it’s the best job I could have with no pay. And once in a while, I’ll get the best of my boy, as he gives me his gratitude and love in return. I realize that despite his bad moods, despite all those phases and stages where he grows distant from me and dives into his own world, he’s a great kid and I’m so proud of him. Of course, there are tense times full of eye rolls and heavy sighs, demanding tones, and irritated “whys?”, from the both of us (ahem). But we have a bond that lives in the depths of our love, sometimes hidden under the functional to-do lists and strained schedules. I do what I can to help my teen athlete because he’s hard-working and respectful, disciplined, and committed to giving his best. I’ll always support that all I can.
A whole lot of life with this kid has been consumed with his sports, and as every parent of an athlete knows, we show up and do all we can for our kids so they can embrace this extraordinary season they’re in and reap the many rewards of it all. There’s nothing better than watching your son grow and transform into a strong, dedicated, and responsible young man. All sports teach these kids so many life lessons and will prepare them to succeed through hard work and tough losses, through sacrifice and determination, and all they endure in the heat of competition. Our athletes mature into men of integrity, as they learn perseverance, acceptance, and commitment.
And I know how fast it all goes. I know these hurried days and blurry years will fly and I won’t be getting up at dawn and packing food. I won’t be driving countless miles and doing endless loads of laundry. I won’t be freezing in stadiums and sweating on the sidelines, spending hours upon hours in indoor sporting venues to cheer on my son. I only have a few more years of this crazy ride and I will hold onto every moment of it, knowing I will miss it when it’s all over.
Parents of athletes recognize the incredible benefits sports have for their kids. It takes a lot of our time and energy, our dedication, and our financial investment to give our kids these amazing experiences. It’s a sacrificial life we’re willing to live. And as my son would say, “The payment is love” for all that we give.