Funeral for a Friend

985a8414-2We all have that one friend, the one who brings the group together.  The friend who is the glue, the one that without, we wouldn’t be a group.  We come from all different backgrounds, yet this friend made us so comfortable, it was as if we had known one another forever.  When it all began, it was made clear that it was a terminal relationship. That friend was only going to be around for four years, and we knew it, but we all rallied in our denial and pretended that the end wouldn’t come.  And even after knowing for all of that time, the end hit us so hard, so fast, and just like that, it was over.  We said the final “good-bye” last week; farewell to Football.

Four years ago, we all came together, driving our kids to practice every day and then picking up the smelliest of all creatures afterward.  Our laundry increased exponentially, as did our food bills. We bonded over the life we had all taken on when our sons became football players because when your son joins the team, the parents join their own team. It becomes a lifestyle rather than simply an event.  We sat in the stands together, cheering on those boys through sun, rain, sleet, and snow.  Postal workers have nothing on a football mom.  We spent so much time together from tailgates to banquets to meeting at local establishments after the games. We shared our frustrations, our smiles, our tears.  We watched these boys become young men, eventually driving themselves to practices and games, needing us a little less with each season.  Still, we clung to each moment we did have, wanting it to last forever.

They were The Boys of Fall.  Those gangly little freshmen walked into that locker room that first day, scared of the unknown but excited to be a part of this great club.  Many of them did not know one another, but they became real close real quickly.  That first summer consisted of hours upon hours together on the field, and it didn’t stop there.  You’d think they would have wanted a break from one another, but that wasn’t at all the case.  Every weekend, it was pizza and poker in the basement.  Someone once asked me if it bothered me to buy pizza every single week, and I replied that no, someday I would miss it. I already do.  They went to haunted houses and apple orchards.  They went out to eat after the games.  This Band of Brothers grew.  They were like brothers, too. They fought like brothers, grew frustrated with one another like brothers, but they always had one another’s back like brothers.  They loved like brothers.  They formed bonds that will continue through life all because of that common friend, Football.

Just like that, senior year arrived.  As the season rolled by, we avoided the inevitable.  Senior night was postponed due to weather, and it was actually a bit of a relief. We weren’t ready that night. And then we realized that we never really were going to be ready. The day came, we lined up with our young man, carnation in hand, and strolled out on the field arm in arm.  We all smiled ear to ear, while inside we ached.  With a deep breath, we continued off the field and prepared to watch the game.  At least it wasn’t the last game.  We had one more week.

Then the final game day arrived. The first three quarters rolled by without much thought, but when the clock began ticking off the seconds of that final quarter, we watched the life slip away from our dear friend, the friend who brought us all together four years ago.  There was nothing anyone could do to extend the life; it was over.  The clock buzzer sounded, like a monitor signaling the ceasing of a heartbeat, and the tears began.  Parents and players alike choked back the sobs, and we forced painful smiles at one another as we exited the stadium. Our friend had died.

Looking back, though, we are grateful for what we did have in those four years.  We formed friendships we probably would not have otherwise made.  We grew to know and love so many young men and their families.  We had an opportunity to be a part of this sport, this lifestyle.  We watched our boys learn so much more than fundamentals. They learned about character, integrity, grit, perseverance, and teamwork.  They learned to never give up, to fight through adversity, and to push beyond limits they never knew they had. For that, we are so proud.

As with any funeral, it is a time of reflection. We remember the good times and everything that made that relationship great.  We smile through the tears at the wonderful memories, and we know that we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Goodbye, Football.  Thanks for everything.

Farewell, Childhood Fun

It saddens me to see the dissolution of American tradition in our schools today.  Another elementary has done away with the many-decades-old Halloween parade and party.  The powers that be claim this is in the name of inclusion, to accommodate the diverse population, and to focus on education.

First of all, I believe inclusion means to INCLUDE, share, and participate in events together in order to grow and become well-rounded.  Today, though, we keep separating groups and segregating society, and that certainly is not embracing diversity.

Some will point out that the event will still happen, that they are offering a one-hour block of time in the evening to trick or treat through the hallways of the school.  That is not demonstrating inclusion as doing this eliminates the opportunity for a good number of kids for many reasons, from working parents not getting home in time to after school athletics, lessons, and events.  By keeping it in school during the day, everyone has an equal opportunity to attend and participate with their friends.  That is how it should be.

And second, here we go; the real issue I have with this.  Education.  Get over yourself if you feel that a half day of school truly “educates” so well and is so needed that you feel compelled to abandon a holiday party that occurs once a year.  I’m all about educating these kids, but I also recognize that education does not strictly come from a book, lecture, and some worksheets.  This is what I know for certain:

I don’t remember the day I learned how to multiply by 8. I don’t recall the day I learned how to spell “coyote” or the day I figured out the formula for table salt.  I don’t remember what chapters I read in third grade or what we did for science in fifth grade.  This is what I do remember.  I remember each Halloween, my costume, and some of the games we played.  I remember other specific moments very vividly.  I remember working in the elementary kitchen at lunch time, helping cook, clean, and deliver the meals, back before it was too dangerous and doing so took away from “learning” – never mind that I was gaining life skills in that kitchen from Mrs. Munn.  I remember the contest in sixth grade for class shirt design and naming the class mascot.  I remember the morning I found a baby bird, newly hatched, on the side of the road on the way to school with friends. We wrapped it up and carried it to the principal in the hopes that he could save it.  I remember field day each year, and how we would strive to beat the school records and eat popsicles afterward.  That was back when ribbons were handed out for first, second, and third place, not just to everyone for showing up.  We actually had goals and competed.  I remember tetherball competitions on the playground and the time the bees built a nest in the pole.  That was not a fun day.  I remember my friends and our playground activities. I remember Girl Scouts through the school, and our trip to Greenfield Village.  Even today, when I visit, I sit for a moment and stare at the bridge and remember the photo taken there with a group of my friends.  One died a few years later, and I can’t look at that bridge and not think of her. I even remember some of the skits we saw, over 30 years ago, because they were powerful. I recall other field trips and specific details from each.  We went to a nature center in sixth grade with the other sixth grade classes in the district. I remember the nature paths and the edible plants we found on our three day excursion.   I remember the year my neighbor struggled with playing “Good King Wenceslas” on her violin at the school Christmas program (yes, back when we actually had that).  She was frustrated and started over several times, but both parents and students alike smiled warmly and clapped at the end as if it had been the best performance ever. In that moment, I learned tenacity, grit, and compassion.  You can’t teach that from a book. I remember trying out for athletic teams and learning what it took to be a team player as well as a leader. I remember school plays, from trying out to memorizing lines to performing.  It took hard work and guts to get out on that stage.  Again, more life lessons.  There are a great number of lessons I have listed in my short list of my experiences, and not one involved a lesson plan, a book, or a day of curriculum.

We have moved so far away from the school days I recall.  I realize my kids won’t have all of the same experiences, but I sure do regret they won’t even have a shot at some of the best memories. I regret that it is in the name of education. That is a cop-out.  So much learning happens outside of the classroom, and we no longer value the importance of these experiences. That is evident as day after day, we eliminate the events and opportunities.

Perhaps this will change. People are finally standing up to these decisions and protesting rather than simply accepting it. People are making it clear that this is not what we, as parents, desire.  I only hope our voices are loud enough.