Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Salvation for a Football Agnostic

A few weeks ago, Jack borrowed my iPhone and returned it with new wallpaper. Apparently in order to shield me—or perhaps himself—from ridicule, he took down the cute photo of our cat and installed an image of an Arkansas Razorback. I honestly think he'd prefer telling his friends that his mother is Buddhist than admit that I just don't believe in football. Yes, in a state where folks are defined by their denomination in the church of SEC,  I am a football agnostic.
   It's not that I don't appreciate college football, I'm just not sure it exists for me. For example, when crisp, fall weekends roll around, I'm more inclined toward attending pumpkin patches and fall festivals than watching match-ups on ESPN. Last weekend was no exception.
Finding common ground with  Jack
becomes more of a challenge every day.
Just getting him to pose for a photo with his
Mom proves difficult enough!
 Image taken by Stacey Allen
   On Friday evening Jack invited his friend, Joe, to sleep over on Saturday night. He's almost 12 now and at the age when kids generally make plans to get together and then ask their parents. This is somewhat of a shift in power from the good ol' days when parents made playdates with other parents and then informed their child of the event. I like Joe so I didn't give it much thought. I texted his mom and we made tentative plans for him to come over the following afternoon. Jack was happy and I felt like a "good mom."
     But the next morning I began to regret my compliance. Jack would spend the day anticipating Joe's arrival, counting the minutes until Joe got there and the fun could begin. Once Joe got to my house, he and Jack would hole up and play video games, occasionally emerging to ask me to make Rice Krispy Treats or popcorn. And that's all fine and good. I really like being the Mom who makes warm chocolate chip cookies at a moment's notice. I relish being the cool Mom who lets her son have a friend over and doesn't interfere with their time together, but this weekend, I realized I didn't want Joe to come over on Saturday night.
   Jack's dad and I share custody, shuttling Jack back and forth between our homes throughout the week. But over the past two weeks, I hadn't really spent a lot of time with my son. Weeknights are now filled with after school activities and homework assignments, and the previous weekend was the middle school homecoming dance, and Jack spent the night with Joe.
  I was happy that Jack had friends and a social life, but in the process of trying to fit into the Super Mom costume I set aside my feelings and needs—and perhaps shortchanged Jack's as well. I'm so willing to please, that I often forget that being Super Mom also means saying no and doing what's best for both of us. It was only 10 a.m. and there was plenty of time to reverse my decision. As much as I don't like to disappoint anyone, I picked up the phone.

   "Change in plans," I announced to Jack after I called Joe's Mom and cancelled the sleepover.
    "Aw! Why can't Joe spend the night?" Jack asked, peering over his Kindle game of Angry Birds.
   "We'll have him over next weekend," I said.
   "Okay," said Jack.
   And that ... was that. No drama. No fits. No outrage about what a bad mother I am.
    "I thought we'd do something together,"I said. "Your choice."
   "Anything?" Jack asked.
   "Well, within reason," I said.
   We talked about going to see a movie or going to the zoo, but then Jack mentioned the Georgia/LSU game, which—of course—I had no idea was on ESPN later today.  Jack is a Bulldog fan. Sure, he pulled for Auburn and then Alabama when they took their turns at the BCS Championships, but his loyalty lies just east of the state line with the state of his birth, Georgia.
   "It's no big deal," he said, knowing my lack of interest in the sport—and my lack of cable television in my home. "But I sure would like to see that game."
   "Okay!" I said. "We can make that happen."
   Jack was happy, and, strangely, so was I.   
   "But we'll have to go somewhere to watch it," Jack said, dubiously.
   "No problem," I said. "Sounds like fun."

   We decided on a family-friendly pub within walking distance of my house. It was a beautiful fall day, warm but without the oppressive southern humidity. By the time we arrived at the pub, the game was already in progress. We sat down at a table near a large TV and settled in to watch.
   Jack brought me up to speed on who was winning and how much time was left in the quarter. He explained to me what it sounds like when a stadium full of Georgia fans starts barking like their mascot. We shared a cherry cola and Jack ate chicken fingers while I enjoyed a fried green tomato sandwich. And during the commercials we talked about all sorts of very important things; How we preferred thin, crunchy french fries to thick, steak fries; about the homecoming dance and the girl Jack asked to meet him there;  about his friend, Joe, and how he might move out of town next year because of Joe's mother's job. Mostly, Jack taught me about football.
  The game was exciting. First Georgia was in the lead and then LSU scored. Jack told me what the penalties meant and he accurately identified whether the LSU quarterback would pass or run it before he made the play. I liked watching football with my own personal color commentator.
   In the fourth quarter when LSU pulled ahead by four points, Jack groaned but did not give up hope. Then the Georgia quarterback drove the ball down the field and threw a perfect pass for a touchdown that put them back in the lead. With less than two minutes on the clock LSU took possession of the ball and I found myself holding my breath and covering my eyes in anxiety over the outcome. When the clock finally ran down, Georgia had held their lead. Jack and I leapt to our feet and cheered.
  During our walk home, we recounted the most exciting moments in the game. I realized I had more fun watching that game with Jack than I'd ever had watching sports on TV, except maybe when I watched the World Series with my Dad. As we strolled home, enjoying the cool fall evening, Jack's hand swung down and grasped mine. I smiled. If I done the easy thing and let Joe spend the night as planned, this afternoon would not have happened—this moment would not have happened. And if I hadn't given myself over to Jack's love of the Georgia Bulldogs, we would not have shared this wonderful time together.
   "That was an awesome game," I said. "I really enjoyed watching it with you."
   "Yeah," said Jack. "Can you believe Georgia won? Oh my God!"
   We walked for a while holding hands.
   "Hey, the Alabama/Ole Miss game is on now," Jack said. "Do you want to meet Jason at the Mexican restaurant and watch it together?"
   "Sure," I said. "Sounds good."
    I had to laugh at myself. I was willing to watch not one, but two college games concurrently in one afternoon. "There's nothing like a convert," my Dad used to say about those who joined the Catholic church later in life. Yep. Just like that, it was a conversion—and one worth a lot more than two points, at that. I found the best reason ever to believe in football.

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