For the first time in many years I am sitting at my counter on a Friday morning without even the tiniest pang of anxiousness in my stomach. This is how it is when your son no longer plays football on Friday nights.
I had been told Nick would suit up for varsity four years ago…my 125 pound 5 foot and a half foot more little boy…and I kind of scoffed at the idea until I was standing on the sidelines in LaCenter on the opening play of the opening game of the season and #25, in a white jersey, streaked by. My #25. My Nick. I did what any mom who saw her fourteen year old son diving headlong into a scrum of stinky sweaty bearded men who had already registered for the selective service would do. I screamed. And I screamed a little louder than I probably should have in public. But still, I screamed. Two words. Oh shit!
Suddenly my season of just hanging out in the stands with friends while I watched the backside of my son stand next to his manly-men teammates on the sidelines on a Friday night shifted and I was forced to be engaged wholly in what was going on inside that 100 yard long rectangle.
Not long into that same game our starting quarterback, a junior, left the game with an injury. Our backup QB? Nick’s buddy Jess, a fellow 14 year old on a field of men. I didn’t actually see it but I can guarantee when Jess’ mom Monique saw her son walk on to the field to take his first varsity snap her reaction was exactly the same as mine. Oh shit.
We lost. 45-6
The following week Nick and Jess suited up for varsity again to play Prairie. Again Nick streaked by and Jess took the snaps.
We lost. 54-21
The Hawks played Tacoma Baptist the next Friday night. How hard could a private christian school from 2 hours north hit? Apparently hard enough to shut us out.
We lost 23-0
This losing streak kept building, one game after the other. Mark Morris. Tumwater. R.A.Long.
After every game I would wait for Nick by the locker room door. He was too young to drive. He didn’t know any of the upper classmen to hang out with so I waited for my little boy to come limping out of the locker room and I would drive him home. After a shower he would crash on the couch and we would talk about the game and then settle into an episode of Ghost Adventures where he would fall asleep exhausted about half way through. That was our routine on Friday nights four years ago.
The losing got to Nick and Jess. I know it did. It also got to me. But I think it especially got to Monique. There is a sense of responsibility when your son is in charge of executing the plays on the field. Its a lot of responsibility for a fourteen year old to bare.
Homecoming was the next game. Woodland was our opponent. Our Hawks were 0-7 on the season going into this game and it was a battle to stay out of last place in the league. We had a chance against the Beavers. A slim chance. But a chance, none the less.
The Friday morning of Homecoming I got a call from Monique. It was a quick call because we were both getting our boys out the door for yet another team breakfast before the big game that night.
“This is kind of crazy, Julie, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“What do you mean?”
“I sprinkled Holy Water on Jess’ jersey this morning. He doesn’t know it. You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
I remember pausing, thinking, and then reacting.
“THAT. IS. BRILLIANT!”
I think Monique was a little taken back at my supportive reaction but the truth was I was watching my son take the hits and the defeats right along her own son. First and foremost every time our boys walked out on the field I was scared for their safety. They were still boys in this game of legalized assault among men.
We made a pact. We wouldn’t tell our boys we were doing this. It was our own private mom way of coping. A few years earlier Monique had gone to Lourdes and brought my family back a bottle of Holy Water. I pulled if off the mantle and while Nick was showering I stealthily crept into his room and sprinkled his jersey. By the time he had put it on it had dried, the Holy Water absorbed into the fabric.
That night, under the halo of lights, I watched in complete amazement through all four quarters as our team held on desperately for their first victory of the year.
We won 14-10.
I caught Monique’s eye at the end of the game celebration huddle in the end zone and together we mouthed the words to each other, “Holy Water.”
Not quite in the habit of sprinkling Holy Water on my son’s jersey, I forgot to do it the following week when we played Washougal.
We lost 36-0.
For the last game of the season our boys travelled north to Tenino. And so did their uniforms sprinkled with Holy Water. Very few parents travelled the distance on that cold rainy November night. But I did. And so did Monique. We sat in the weathered lumber stands most likely built by trees fallen on the spot during the timber heyday of the area. And we watched them play their hearts out in the last game of their freshman year on varsity. A blanket of fog descended on the field and enveloped our boys in the fourth quarter. We hardly saw any plays from where we sat but in the end it didn’t matter.
We won 21-14
Now, our Holy Water plan wasn’t perfect. Not by any stretch of the imagination. There were loses. And in truth after a 2-8 record that first year, there really was no where to go but up. I have to admit though, at the end of Nick and Jess’ high school career Holy Water had posted a decent winning record. 20 wins. 12 loses. But even more impressive? Nick and Jess made it through just about every game without serious injury. And in the end, if you ask, that is why I found Monique’s Holy Water plan brilliant in the first place. It wasn’t about the wins and loses. It was about needing just a little something more to add to my already heartfelt prayers for our boys health and safety each and every Friday night during their high school football careers.
For me? A little sprinkle of Holy Water did just that.