Yesterday I went out to share Thanksgiving with my brother and his family. The day started with my nephew’s intra-city football game, the Turkey Bowl.
Let me just say to begin, I’m not a football fan. I never have been. I ‘get’ football, as in knowing how it works and understanding most of the rules, but what I know about football I learned by playing one of those early handheld video games that moved little ovals around the field to represent my players. Anyway. I find actual football distressing, pure and simple. From my marching band seat on the sidelines, I watched as our quarterback’s arm was broken in two places my junior year in high school. We could hear it snap. I don’t have words to say just how wrong that is.
So, not a lover of football. And then you take my beautiful, intelligent, funny, sweet nephew and put him into the mix … really not loving football. Big bruiser guys in pads like cast iron should not be slamming into his five-year-old adorable self. Just plain wrong.
Oh. Except that he’s not actually five years old. That’s just how old he is in my heart. In another month he’ll be 16. Today he’s already taller than I am and a little bit of a big bruiser guy himself. See for yourself. That’s him, out in front, about to block for the quaterback:
Not very five years old. I know.
Apparently, he’s something of a football wunderkind. When he started high school last year, he became the first freshman to make the varsity team at his school in more than 20 years and all that. And he’s first string. And he makes all these yards rushing. And he makes touchdowns. It’s all good.
Except. All that “he’s so good” meshegas means that all those big bruiser guys on the opposing team always want to be jumping on his head. And no one has thought to clear this with me.
If he didn’t have that helmet on, you’d see that he still has the baby face of the five-year-old I cringe for with every hit.
Ok, but here’s the thing: I love to watch him play! No, seriously. My brother sends links to videos of his games online, and I watch, just sit here and watch whole high school football games. And I get all puffed up with pride because my nephew is good. He’s so good, the announcers can’t shut up about him. He’s so good, he seems to be on the field at all times. And I shout at the computer screen, even though I already know the outcome of the game. Yes, I cover my eyes half the time when my nephew gets tackled, but not for too long because I already know he’s fine, that he’s able to get up and walk away no matter how awful it looks in the moment.
Saturday’s game was a lot of fun. Our side lost, but only by a touchdown and a handful of very biased-seeming calls from the officials. No one had to be carried off the field, which pleased me enormously. It was great to be there in the stands to watch him play, to get to yell and clap and not feel like a crazy person doing that alone in front of my laptop. And, broken quarterback’s arms notwithstanding, how could I forget how much fun it is to be in a big crowd shouting out cheers and pounding the bleachers with our feet?
There was far too much piling onto my nephew, but he walked away hale and whole at game’s end, so there was no need for me to go down to the field and smack anyone around for hurting him. Happily, yesterday marked the end of the season, so no more holding my breath … until training starts for next year.
How old will he be, I wonder, before my heart stops seeing only this boy: