Striking out

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Parenting can be a nightmare. I’ve had my watershed moments, sobbing in the dark in the car in the garage. Many, many moments.

My son is a teenager now. Cue the horror movie soundtrack.

When he’s acting like a complete jerk, rolling his eyes and making me feel completely useless, I want to crawl into a hole and die.

Worse, I feel utterly alone.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m vaguely aware of other moms like me, sitting in the dark, rocking themselves into a blubbering stupor, wondering where they went wrong, victims of thoughtless children who seem to think the entire universe revolves around them — and you are just their personal assistant.

I’m also vaguely aware that I have it made. My son may be an asshole at times, but he’s my son. I’ve taught him by example and in numerous lectures how to be a better person, kind, empathic, understanding, and expressive.

Say what you mean. Question authority. Believe in yourself. Help people. Talk is cheap. Be real. Just because something or someone’s popular, doesn’t automatically mean it’s good.

He was also born with an innate sensitivity. Even the nurses at the hospital noticed how observant he was, a few days old. “He watches everything,” one of them said. “It’s like he’s taking it all in.”

He is.

When James made the JV team on his first try as a freshman, we were both so happy and relieved. We didn’t have much time to celebrate. I think we went out to dinner at a favorite restaurant, but that was it, because practices started immediately and didn’t let up until the first few games.

After he partially tore his MCL the third game in, everything shut down, including him.

As soon as he texted me from practice, I knew. He didn’t know why I wasn’t joking around about his knee like I did with his broken finger a few months prior.

Because I knew. I knew. This was bad. He would see his accomplishment go up, up, up in a puff of smoke, and then, he would watch his friends play game after game until the end of the season — without him.

All of that pain and suffering, anxiety and extra hard work catching up following the broken finger and the shitty Premier experience… gone in a NY minute with one hyperextended break.

Our orthopedic specialist didn’t help. He was a bad communicator. He was a stubborn asshole who insisted James wear a knee brace meant for ACL injuries, post-op, and then offered to let him play with the same knee brace (shortened), way way too late to rejoin his JV team.

I had different people bend my ear with their expertise, from the orthopedic specialist to James’ regular doctor, to the PT guy and the coaches. His doctor said James could play soccer again so long as he doesn’t feel pain running and cutting. But his orthopedic specialist (a PA, not a doctor) warned that James could be at risk for developing arthritis at a young age if he didn’t keep that (ACL) knee brace on a little over four weeks.

None of the coaches directly told me that James needed a doctor’s clearance to even make up the practices he missed in order to play at least the last game of the season. I had to find out thirdhand, too late.

I was in the middle of this shit show, trying to salvage what was left of my son’s JV season, feeling like I failed him. Like this was entirely my fault.

So, one day, an important day when he should’ve gotten a doctor’s clearance AND a proper sports hinged knee brace to return to practice, things came to a head.

My son watched his chances disappear as this one doctor refused to go against the orthopedic specialist who wasn’t available. She would only sign off on a sports clearance, provided he keep the ACL knee brace on during practice — the same knee brace with the million pads that would fly off whenever he ran. Completely inappropriate for sports. A laughingstock.

In the privacy of our home, James allowed himself to get upset — by taking out his anger, frustration, fear, and self-doubt on me — his go-to. Then, he went into his room.

I cried and cried and cried, second-guessing myself a thousand times. Maybe I should’ve gone over the orthopedic specialist’s head a lot sooner. Maybe I should’ve insisted on getting his regular doctor to sign off on the clearance the second James had full range of motion without pain (a week after his injury). Maybe I should’ve been more proactive in asking around with the coaches about the requirements of returning to play. Oh why did I take this orthopedic guy’s word for everything?!

Truth is, I didn’t know the questions to ask. I didn’t know anything about MCL injuries, or that the ligaments take longer to heal than the bones, and that every person recovers in his/her own time. I didn’t know, so I took the orthopedic’s word for it, aka the overly cautious route — unwilling to risk re-injury and a longer recovery for my only child.

(See asthma ER attacks.)

The next morning, I woke up to find this text on my phone:

“I thought about what you said and I went over and worked on a car with Trygve and lifted some weights. I also shot some baskets without putting too much force on my leg. I acted like a complete prick and I’m sorry.

I’m just really tired of things not going my way. I know things also haven’t been going well for you too and there was no point of snapping at you while I was downstairs.

Anyway, I still will have trouble staying after school and working  out at that gym, but I will work out at home as much as I can so I can bounce back from this.

I treated you like shit today for no reason other than you trying to help me. I’m really sorry.”

—James, March 26, 2017

Yes, teenagers can be assholes. Yes, it can feel like you’re the only parent who’s doing it wrong. Yes, it feels horrible crying alone in your car in the dark.

But it gets better. If you raised him right, your teenager will come around. Your teenager will understand you’re doing the best you can, and that you would take a bullet for him.

Your teenager will write a text like this.

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