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pig skin and under armour

I woke up early on the day of the big game. I had to fulfill my Football Mom duties for this boy one last time. Do you have everything? Do you need anything? Will you eat something? He and his team had fought through three previous seasons without a single W, and now they were off to the Provincial Final, to face the only team they’d lost to all season. It was quite an incredible story and I was so very excited for all of them.

It was a blustery winter day (perfect for playoffs) and we had to travel a busy stretch of highway known for its aggressive drivers and heavy truck traffic, to reach the team bus. So if I’m being honest with myself, I also woke up early that day so I could spend time centering myself for that drive (I strongly dislike winter driving and I dislike it even more on that stretch), and of course to make sure we left in plenty of time to travel for the conditions.

As I was sipping my morning coffee and contemplating the day ahead and his journey with this sport that he grew to love, I came across pictures on my phone. Then I naturally put them into a little collage as any contemplative mother would do. A friend teased me later in the day, “Why would you do that to yourself today of all days, doesn’t it make you so emotional to see that?” Ummm, ya. Ya it does.

In the picture on the left, he was 13 years old and in Grade 8. His first year of football with the Junior program. He had tried other sports and plays some of them still…but football is his “true sports love”. In the one on the right, he is 17 years old and in Grade 12. His final year of school, his final football season. So much finality and my eyes were a little misty as I looked at the two side by side. My son had grown and changed and learned so very much in that space of time (plus he’s 17 now so he officially knows everything)…and our collective lives had also morphed in major ways.

His younger brother also joined football that first year. He in Grade 6, his brother in Grade 8. It also happened to be the first school year since their parents had separated. The end of a marriage does that…it makes a marker on your timeline like any major life event. Things then get sorted in your mind’s files into the times Before and the times After. Football was an After. What strikes me about this photo is of course the changes I see in him. The growth, the difference in his look from a boy to a young man. I also see something that makes me giggle.

The junior coach had suggested the players could have some type of garment to wear under their equipment. It didn’t have to be actual Under Armour, of course…just anything that offered some protection if they needed it. A little warmth when they’re cold and a little sweat wicking action for those hot days. So on the way home from a visit with dear friends, I took my kids to a huge mall north of Calgary, so we could pick up said items.

I was eager to go pick out the cheapest undergarments I could find. I still had the new “single-parent smell” coming off me (it’s like new car smell but less desirable, though it gets better with time.) I was very conscious of money. Or the lack of it, to be exact. There aren’t many “discount” stores in that particular mall but we happened upon a Sport Chek. Well there’s always something on sale at Sport Chek, so it’s worth a shot. Plus, it was back to school shopping time and the mall was absolutely frantic with people so I was quite happy to find what we needed and get the heck out.

I managed to keep the kids fairly focused…13 and 10-year-old boys and their 7-year-old sister. We found the aisle we needed and the boys found what they were looking for. We checked the sizes and I checked the prices. Ugh. This is so not in the budget. But I resigned myself to this purchase…every other piece of expensive football equipment had been provided by the team, so I reasoned that this was a small price to pay for entry into the sport. My younger son found black items in his size. My older son was a little bigger and there were fewer options for him. The only choice for colour was grey camouflage with bright green piping down the side. He said it would work fine and wasn’t the least bit concerned about the colours not matching with his uniform. So we were off. Goodbye crazy mall!

Take another look at those photos and you’ll see the grey camouflage with the green piping. On the left in Grade 8 and on the right in Grade 12. That’s what made me giggle on that blustery winter Playoff morning. How on earth had he managed to make that stuff work all these years? He is most definitely not the same size he was when he started playing football. My mind works its way around strange little things like that and loves to find analogies for life. I came up with a couple thoughts through my misty eyes on the morning of my son’s final high school football game.

1. You get what you pay for. I laid down the money for the quality stuff that year and it was sure worth it. Those little boxes in that stupidly busy Sport Chek turned out to be an amazing investment.

2. Sometimes you’ll outgrow things in this life…but every once in awhile you’ll find a keeper. Something that grows and stretches with you through all your changes and new experiences. Maybe it’s a career, a hobby, a friendship or a habit that you develop. Maybe its a sport you'll always love to play. Whatever it is…it’s there for the long haul.

They won the game that day. (with an extra under-layer for the bitter cold) It was a hard-fought battle and both teams wanted it badly. The score went back and forth, never more than a few points spread. In the last minutes, we were ahead; I looked at the clock and did the math and felt reasonably assured of the win. I glanced onto the field from where I stood in the snow along the sidelines and sent up a great big Thank You. Thank You for this sport and everything it’s given my boy and my family. It was a fun and productive anchor for all the times “After”. Thank You for all the drives to practice when they would tell me about their day. Thank You for the friendships with all the other football parents. Thank You for the lesson in perseverance and hard work that came to these players in the most organic and lasting way. Thank You for every chance to cheer with wild pride from the sidelines.

(And yes...Thank You for quality sweat-wicking undergarments that last.)

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