Yesterday was a big day.
The running team moved outdoors to the open space of the Red Hook track and into the spring season.
It was cold. It smelled disturbingly of gasoline, as if there’d been a spill off a boat or truck on Red Hook’s industrial waterfront. And in all this uninvitingness, our boy stepped out of one of his “I’m-just-the-little-brother”-protected habitats: the sidelines.
Ever since Micah’s older brother Lysle joined the running team in the fall of 2012, Micah has been to every practice and every meet, near and far. He has been patient and grown comfortable in the role of supporter.
But this spring Artie and I agreed the sidelines were no longer a good place for a bouncy seven-year-old.
Micah disagreed. He disagreed for months in advance. He disagreed mightily – with arms crossed, teeth gritted, brows lowered – every body part telling us: No, I’m not doing it. You can’t make me.
In the days leading up to this first day of the spring season, Micah turned either sullen or obnoxious whenever he received a reminder: “I’m just going to walk, real-ly slow-ly!”
Still we signed him up.
We took him for his yearly check-up so the doctor could fill out the required health form. “You’re joining the running team! Good for you!” she beamed, being a recent runner herself.
All Micah gave her in response was a grunt. She looked bewildered. “He’s ambivalent,” I interpreted for her.
We dug up his brother’s shoes from his first season.
All of it met with resistance. Except the shoes.
The shoes he put on right away and wore for the rest of the day.
The shoes were one of two signs that we weren’t totally off into tiger-parenting-land.
The other sign were the New Year’s resolutions Micah had written at school (safe from our eyes until they were sent home after the March parent teacher conferences):
“1. Be a gad soccr playr
2. Be frens
3. Be a bedr ranr”
As soon as I’d read his resolutions, he backpedaled: “I don’t like that anymore.” I chose to believe his list rather than his disclaimer.
By joining the team all three intentions will be served.
Big steps are taken in seconds.
Micah was doing his thing after we got out of the car at the track: grabbed a stick, hung back, clobbered trees, slowed all the way to a crawl, as promised – shoes schmoes!
Then the coach whistled. It’s a magic whistle. And coach is a distant relative of the pied piper. Children flock to him by the dozens once he’s pursed his lips and produced that whistle.
But before flocking to him, Lysle and his running buddy made sure Micah, too, had heard the irresistible call. They brought him onto the bleachers, sat to both sides of him and had him under their wings. Now he couldn’t get away. Nor did he want to anymore.
From here on out Micah was good about it all: coach’s hand on his head as he asked his name, being sent off to do 4 (outdoor, i.e. 400m!) laps for warm-up, managing to do 3 out of 4 with the kids who’ve been doing this for years. Doing jumping jacks and butt kicks and strides.
Running brings a very simple sense of power: I’m fast. I can get away.
It’s our earthbound equivalent to the birds’ flight.
I want Micah to know that feeling, and so intimately that he can rely on it at any time: I have power. (And he already asserted it with a vengeance today – but that’s another story … how the things you want your children to learn will, of course, come to haunt YOU because who else to try them out on but YOU.)
My small boy, in gray hoodie and blue sweats, rounding that wide field made me feel such love.
Love of Lysle for reeling his little brother in so gently at the critical moment.
Love of Micah for just going with it in the end. And for proving to himself that, yes, he can do this, too. He doesn’t have to make the sidelines his home.
Love of this team where they all took him in so readily.
Love of this family. We stuck with it – against all resistance – and shook it up. Sometimes the things we most wish to do make us most afraid. And the fear can hide our desire, making it almost unrecognizable. If Micah could no longer see it, Artie and I kept an eye on it for him. It’s what parents are for.
This was just the first hurdle. We’ll take the next ones as we hurtle toward them. (Shameless wordplay intended.)