Tonight was my son’s last basketball game of the season. The last game he will play for the Greenwood Blue Jays as a seventh grader. As I watched the 8th-grade parents walk their sons and daughters onto the shiny wooden floor, hear their family name announced, and receive a bouquet of brightly colored flowers, I could not help but think: “Next year, it will be him.’ My son. My oldest child. My baby boy. His last year of Junior High. Cue the tears and do a deep dive into the dark recesses of my purse for the hidden Kleenex….. I’m tearfully watching my son say goodbye to 7th grade.
As the applause for each 8th-grade player ebbed and flowed between announcements, my mind wandered back to my son’s glorious childhood. His first free throw was in kindergarten. He was so excited he literally danced on the free-throw line. He looked expectantly up to the stands to be sure Mom and Dad were watching. We were. We still are.
I thought of his first day of kindergarten. He looked so small with that big boy backpack. But his eyes were dry, and he was better equipped to make that milestone walk down the long hallway toward his unknown future than both his father and I. I recall walking out of the school, feeling somewhat surprised that my emotions were still relatively in check, then looking over to my son’s father, seeing the tears glistening in his eyes, and relating to the equally painful and proud moments parents know all too well when our children hit those tender milestones of growth that inevitably lead further away from the safety of home.
I thought of the way he has always protected his little brother. Sure, there is some torture thrown in here and there. But when push comes to shove, they are ‘ride or die’ to the end. He once got angry with me for disciplining his little brother. With tears streaming down his little boy’s face, he begged me to ‘stop upsetting his Bubba!’. I cannot even recall what my youngest was up to so many years ago, only his elder brother’s fierce protection. I secretly felt an inner relief coupled with pride in knowing that my two sons would always have each other’s back, even in, especially in, my absence.
I pictured him as a little boy. Nightly reciting the words to Goodnight Moon. Saying ‘moont’ in the most adorable little boy voice. It melted my heart. And I was sad when he realized moon had no ‘t’ at the end. Another milestone. Another season of fiercely desiring to hold on, yet intrinsically knowing I must provide a tiny bit of slack to the invisible string that ties a son’s heart to his mother’s.
I daydreamed about the massive changes in maturity, social standing, interest in girls, and lack of interest in anything not electronic that seemingly happened overnight. He was still a little boy in 5th grade. And then came 6th….and he magically morphed into a young man. And then 7th. Oh dear goodness, this has been the wildest adventure yet, and the surprises, hard stops, and head-shaking, this too shall pass moments just keep coming! As do the proud moments, the realization of his growth, his interest in the world, his deepening friendships, and his uncanny ability to one day display traits of the young boy that still needs his mother while the next, showing signs that this young man is fearlessly independent and will, in no uncertain terms, do life his way.
I sadly thought of the challenges we have faced just this year in seventh grade. Growing pains, learning boundaries, hard lessons, second chances, and humbling seasons. He has made strides from a boy to the young man I see glimpses of each day. He not only stands taller than me, but he often surprises me with a depth of insight I am unprepared to acknowledge at his tender age of thirteen.
Next year, it will be my 8th grader on that hard wooden-planked floor. His name will be announced before his last junior high basketball game. Standing between his father and myself. His not-so-little brother and ride-or-die constant companion, proudly at his side. His buddies loudly cheering him on from the stands or the sidelines, standing between their own parents. I will likely tear up at that moment (if tearing up pondering it a whole year prior is any indication).
My baby boy is growing up. Reaching new milestones. Becoming more independent. He is growing away from a need for his momma toward a desire for his freedom. Once again, I vow to stay present with every major milestone. Soak it all in. Memorize the present moment, which will all too soon morph into a precious memory.
I want to slow the hands of life’s inevitable clock, constantly ticking the monumental moments away. Like the scoreboard, reminding the players to make that shot, take that chance, and leave it all on the court before the buzzer reveals a commencement to yet another exciting game. Another beautiful season I hold close to my heart.
I guess life is a little like a basketball game. It is not about who wins or loses when all is said and done. Who scored the most points. Who played the hardest. It is more about the bonding of teammates, the learning and life lessons from coaches, the enjoyment of competition, and the seasons of being cheered for and cheering for others. It is about the testing of talent, the growth of mindset, the joy of victory, and the humble acceptance of defeat. It is about embracing each season of life fully and gracefully, moving into the next with a passion for adventure, a hunger for new experiences, and a perspective from past lessons.
As one season comes to an end, I revel in the memories made, hold tight to the lessons learned, and excitedly look forward to the unwritten future, just begging to be discovered….