Yesterday, I braved rush hour traffic, a near-empty tank of gas, and an atypical Northwest cold front to watch a friend’s JV game. I was also there to give Austin my son’s $314-$199 Nike cleats.
My son James wanted these cleats for the longest time, tracking the price for almost a year, trying to find any pair in his size 9. He finally found one available a few weeks into JV soccer season, after making his first tryouts.
I remember bringing them to his second, pre-season game. On the way, a part of my fan belt flew out, preventing me from getting to the stadium in time to hand over the cleats.
They waited until the first game of the season. He enjoyed the hell out of those cleats, proclaiming them as “comfortable” as he imagined — an important asset on the soccer pitch.
Two days later, the day before an even more important game against a rival high school, my son was at practice — 30 minutes left — going for the ball in a scrimmage when he felt his knee hyperextend backward and heard a pop.
He’d badly sprained his MCL, causing an avulsion fracture of the ligament. Two doctors told him he’d need to stop playing for six to eight weeks, effectively cutting my son out of his first season playing JV.
It’s been about three weeks of resting that knee, starting PT, and trying to keep the hinged brace on. About two days ago, I talked him into letting someone borrow the new cleats, someone who can still enjoy playing soccer this season.
James pushed back a little, talking about the cost of those precious cleats, how hard it was for him to find a pair in his size (most kids his age have larger feet), that there aren’t any other pair like it. He could still wear them to practice or even the last game if he somehow healed faster.
“But they’re just sitting in your room. Don’t you want someone to get some use out of them?”
“I like to look at them, mom,” like a trophy or something.
Finally, he gave in. “You’re right. I’m being selfish. I need to let them go.”
After going back and forth with his orthopedic doctor, another James, about wearing the hinged knee brace, we received this message from the office:
“I understand that James does not want to wear the brace. He should wear it for as long as was discussed. He should wear it until I see him again. Healing takes time. Bone healing takes less time than ligament healing. The last thing he wants is a loose, floppy ligament in his knee. That would set him up for arthritis at a young age and likely further injuries like ACL tear. And it bears mentioning that these would prevent participation in sports.
I’ll be seeing you in about 10 days. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
For a kid, it really sucks to sit at home while friends are outside having fun. I know, it’s happened to me way too many times, because my parents always had dinner an hour earlier than everyone else on my block.
My son had already received back-to-back rejections at soccer Select/Premier tryouts last spring and had to make-do with basically a throwaway team.
When he called to exuberantly say, “Mom, I made JV!” it was the happiest moment of his life. Pride and vindication. He couldn’t wait to play real, competitive soccer with his high school friends.
Now, he must turn his back on the game, the crowd, the cheering, the action, and focus only on rehabbing his knee. He must ignore the thrill of immediate gratification and glory to heal and recover, on the sidelines, a helpless spectator. He must tune out the noise and quietly go about the lonely process of healing.
He must watch his friends have the time of their lives, knowing he can’t go in there with them.
I like to quote the Tom Hanks character, another Jimmy, in one of my favorite movies, “A League Of Their Own.” In a scene with Geena Davis that still gives me chills, he tells her why baseball is worth all the sacrifice and suffering:
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
That’s life, James. Only those who aren’t afraid to tough out the hard times get stronger and grow to appreciate the good times. You’ll appreciate the good times even more, because you’ve earned them, every last one.
If success came easy, it wouldn’t mean as much. Honest to god, that’s true.
That quote isn’t just for my son, who has had to face so much disappointment in his young life. That quote’s also for me, a mom who’s had to watch her only child go through so much sacrifice and suffering, and hates that he only got to play one game in those special cleats.
We both need to let go.
And when we reach that light at the end of the tunnel, we’ll never forget what we’ve been through, so we can help the next person who finds himself in a similar situation.
That’s the real reason we’re here.
His precious cleats won’t go to waste.