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Spring Ball: Football and its Families Prepare for The Grind

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and husky with the promise of rain. Clouds stack on the horizon and flit fast across fields, green and fresh and striped with the first mow of the season – along with the first paint. Spring Ball has arrived.

It’s a time of anticipation and adjustment – for a team and its coaches and their families, as well. The melanin and muscle and mercury are rising — the summer’s preparing to grind. And so are the coaches’ wives.

Spring ball is a time to stretch out those long-dormant football legs. To remember the rigor, to shift and rebalance the weight, to recondition the brain and the body for the upcoming football season.

As the coaches tweak their playbooks, the wives tweak their mindsets. As the depth charts take shape on their husband’s clipboards, the duty rosters get shifted at home. Laundry loads double with work clothes, plus practice gear. The cooking and dishes all rest upon her. Then there’s bath time and story time and bedtime and more.

The job of a coach’s wife is demanding. She one platoons their home life: scrambling and blocking and taking heat in the pocket; rushing and tackling and offering up pass protection where needed. Running offense AND defense is a fine balance. Maintaining that balance requires strength and focus, and passion and love – not just for her husband and family, but also for the game. Without passion and love of the game, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

And the job of a coach is demanding. It brings long hours, low pay, and high turnover. The weight of responsibility brings bags to his eyes and weights to his shoulders. He juggles politics from parents, school systems and fans. He demands excellence from his players, and in return the fans demand excellence from him. Stress levels rise. Maintaining the balance requires strength and focus, and also passion and love – not just for the game, but for his wife and family. Without passion and love for his family, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

Strength and Focus; Passion and Love. Without them, football will defeat you. When things get heavy (which they always do) the weight can get one-sided. It can topple you. You have to find balance. Strength and focus on one side, passion and love on the other. And then you have to maintain it.

Football families redistribute their balance in the spring. We put our bodies and our minds through the paces. We tweak our playbooks and our attitudes. As the mercury rises, our muscle memory takes over and we find ourselves ready.  Ready for the grind.

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and husky with the promise of a football reign. Spring Ball is here.

What it Takes to Be a Football Family

It is mid-June. Summer hasn’t even officially begun– the solstice hits this week – but already the father of my children is helmet-deep in football camp and has been for nearly a month.

I am married to a high school football coach. My twin toddlers have a high school football coach for a dad. He is one heck of a father, one heck of a husband, and one heck of a coach. And as another season grinds its way into gear, I’ve been thinking a lot about how football and being a football family demand a lot of similar physical and emotional commitments.

Football, and being a football family, takes teamwork. And luckily, my husband and I make a damn good team. In his football job on game nights, my husband is up in the booth — away from the field, but very much in on the action. His daddy job at home is not that much different. He’s not on the field (football keeps him away from home most days until just before the boys’ bedtime and sometimes not even then), but he’s very much in on the action. He monitors, helps make adjustments, keeps me motivated, and provides endless emotional support. There’s no way I could run this program without him.

Football, and being a football family, takes hard work and dedication. The two of us have accentuated the importance of routine and fundamentals with our twins from the get-go. Nap times and dinner times and screen times and bedtimes are established and rarely vary. The boys know and understand our expectations, which provides me immeasurable advantage when I’m putting them through their paces alone at home during the season. They are disciplined and –for the most part – dedicated to the routine. But that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong in an instant. Blitzes can still blindside me. Take downs can occur. Turnovers can and do happen. But discipline and vision can shift that momentum right back to the proper side again, just like in football.

Which brings me to how football, and being a football family, requires a solid game plan. Without one, your team will rarely be victorious. And even if you do have one in place, you won’t always get the W. Still, it is pure insanity to play ball without one. Since most of our family’s day-to-day offense is on this mama’s shoulders during season, our schemes must be solid and darn-near foolproof. I’ve come to rely on zone blocking and a solid running game. There’s no time for huddle (and no one around to huddle with even if there were time). Now most days, everything goes according to plan. But regardless of the amount of reps and hands-on instruction you’ve given, execution is rarely without flaws. Balls get dropped. Occasionally a player goes down. Penalties are accrued. Mama’s nerves get sacked. And that’s where my coaching husband and father to my children excels most.

I’m talking motivation, here. Because football, and being a football family, requires motivation. Twins can make life crazy. And when you’re going it alone for the vast majority of the season, you need both inner and outer motivation. With husband in my corner, I have the outside motivation covered. He knows how to give just the right pep talk to pull me back into the game, more energized and ready to succeed than before. But for those times when he’s not available for consult – those times when I have to get up, dust myself off and execute the game plan without anyone else around to bounce off ideas, I have to dig deep and rely on those hard-and-fast fundamentals. I have to trust the vision, to do what we do, run what we run, and believe in our teamwork and tenacity. We’ve tried to plan for every possible scenario, to account for every gap, and to have the flexibility to take what comes at us and roll with it.

Yes, football and being a football family requires physical demands and emotional commitments from everyone involved. And not everyone is cut out for it. There are so many lonely dinners and difficult bath times. There are so many rushed labor-day cookouts and daddy-less trick-or-treats. There are so many tears from kids who miss their daddies — and occasionally from mamas missing them too. Because there may not be crying in baseball, but believe me, there is crying in football. A lot of crying.

But most of those tears are the good kind. The happy kind. The proud kind. The kind you blink away as your boys run to the fence to give Daddy a kiss during summer practice. The kind that sting your eyes with pride as you and your boys rush the field for a hug and kiss after the game. The kind you shed after your husband reads you a text sent from a player who just secured a D-1 scholarship. The kind that run down your cheeks and off your chin after a championship run that ends in success.

The kind that unexpectedly well up when you think about how much you love your football husband, your football family, and your football life – your hard, hectic, wild and way-harder-than-you-ever-thought-possible football life.

Spring Ball: Football and its Families Prepare for The Grind

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and husky with the promise of rain. Clouds stack on the horizon and flit fast across fields, green and fresh and striped with the first mow of the season – along with the first paint. Spring Ball has arrived.

It’s a time of anticipation and adjustment – for a team and its coaches and their families, as well. The melanin and muscle and mercury are rising — the summer’s preparing to grind. And so are the coaches’ wives.

Spring ball is a time to stretch out those long-dormant football legs. To remember the rigor, to shift and rebalance the weight, to recondition the brain and the body for the upcoming football season.

As the coaches tweak their playbooks, the wives tweak their mindsets. As the depth charts take shape on their husband’s clipboards, the duty rosters get shifted at home. Laundry loads double with work clothes, plus practice gear. The cooking and dishes all rest upon her. Then there’s bath time and story time and bedtime and more.

The job of a coach’s wife is demanding. She one platoons their home life: scrambling and blocking and taking heat in the pocket; rushing and tackling and offering up pass protection where needed. Running offense AND defense is a fine balance. Maintaining that balance requires strength and focus, and passion and love – not just for her husband and family, but also for the game. Without passion and love of the game, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

And the job of a coach is demanding. It brings long hours, low pay, and high turnover. The weight of responsibility brings bags to his eyes and weights to his shoulders. He juggles politics from parents, school systems and fans. He demands excellence from his players, and in return the fans demand excellence from him. Stress levels rise. Maintaining the balance requires strength and focus, and also passion and love – not just for the game, but for his wife and family. Without passion and love for his family, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

Strength and Focus; Passion and Love. Without them, football will defeat you. When things get heavy (which they always do) the weight can get one-sided. It can topple you. You have to find balance. Strength and focus on one side, passion and love on the other. And then you have to maintain it.

Football families redistribute their balance in the spring. We put our bodies and our minds through the paces. We tweak our playbooks and our attitudes. As the mercury rises, our muscle memory takes over and we find ourselves ready.  Ready for the grind.

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and husky with the promise of a football reign. Spring Ball is here.

My Championship Scrapbook

Before the week’s over, I’ve decided I must try to put down in words just how profoundly moving this past Saturday and the championship game was. It’s an impossible task.  No matter what I write, I end up deleting and beginning again. Words fail me. Poetry was what it was, and what it needs to be. Accompanied with music. With secret notes and chords that only heartbeats can create – a community of them pounding and tripping together in a giant cacophony of joy and thanksgiving. That’s what I need.

But all I can provide is a collage of images — images spliced and woven and blended into snapshots of prose.

I’ll begin with the Send Off, the team spilling out of a decades-old field house built of brick and mortar — and hopes and dreams, faith and sacrifice, sweat/blood/tears, hard work and long hours — and onto three chartered buses headed for the Georgia Dome. The morning was cold — cold like Packers’ fan cold (at least in my temperate Southern soul, I feel like it was). Family and friends puffed misty breaths and wiped misty eyes as they saw their fellas off. A drone buzzed overhead. Blue lights flashed, sirens whooped and horns answered.

And our team rolled out of the drive and into their destiny.

Next, a caravan of coaches’ wives saddled up and snaked down I 75 in pursuit. And not just wives. Whole families of Canes, with uncles and cousins. Newborns wrapped in swaddles; toddlers strapped in car seats; in-laws riding shotgun. We stopped for a fast-food lunch and an impromptu hair painting session about five miles from our destination. Purple hair was chalked enthusiastically into brunette, blonde, and ebony locks, alike. We wives wear our war paint with a difference.

We arrived in a rush of purple and gold — the cold air driving us into the Dome in waves. Security stations clogged and cleared; corridors and vestibules clumped and pooled at restrooms and concession stands.

But once we finally found our way through the maze of masses, we spilled into a vast pulsing chamber, charged with the butterflies and beating hearts of teenage boys and full grown men. Above us, the webbed Dome with its striped steel arteries. Below us, the green field with its striped, segmented planes. This was the stage where truths are told. Where legends unfold.

I spied my husband in the visitor’s tunnel. Instantly, my belly felt fizzy and my eyes blurred with love and pride. I was so nervous I could puke.

Once the game was underway, though, I felt better. Kickoff calmed my jitters.

What followed was a three-hour exercise in purple and gold dominance. Touchdowns tumbled into our hands. Forced fumbles fell at our feet. Our opponents, known for their run game built on the shoulders of beast mode running backs, met a defensive front far stronger than any they’d encountered before, smashing their feeble attempts at smash-mouth football.  By the time the clock was run down and the championship sewn up, the scoreboard glowed 58-7.

“We did it.”

That was the text my husband sent me from the box. The text that caused my breath to snag and my heart to hiccup. I love that man. As in, super very much a lot. I didn’t know it was possible to love with a love like ours. And so, to know that this man’s wildest football dream had just come true. That it had just swept into our universe on a perfect storm of Hurricane proportions, left me breathless. Left me teary. Left me humbled.

scrapbookstatechamps

How did I ever get so lucky?

Heaven has been generous to us this year. Blessings abound in merry measure. Some have been spiritual abstractions — answered prayers that heal the soul and open the heart. Others have solidified into physical manifestations – like Dome appearances and championship trophies. All have been glorious.

Remember that secret chord of heartbeats I mentioned before — a whole community of them pounding and tripping together in a giant cacophony of joy and thanksgiving? Well, I hear there is a  secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord…

But you don’t really care for music, do ya?

Well it goes like this, the fourth and fifth, the minor fall and the major lift, the baffled wife composes hallelujah…

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

 

 

We Have The Wills

championshipstage

This week feels surreal. Saturday, our team won their state title game in the Georgia Dome. Saturday, all the hard work and hard knocks of the 2016 football season paid off. Saturday, our wildest dreams as a football family came true.  I knew that today I would write about it. But now, as I stare at my computer screen, I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think  I can get all the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feels into a mere blog. No, let me rephrase — I KNOW I can’t get all the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feels into a mere blog. It’s impossible. But I will try my utmost because our players and coaches and wives and families gave our utmost all season long, and I want to at least attempt to pay tribute to their sacrifices and their accomplishments…

And so… Saturday. Saturday, Cane Nation descended upon the Georgia Dome. A swirling vortex of players, coaches, families, and fans. A perfect storm spawned in tradition, solidified by teamwork, shouldered by sacrifice and driven by character. And that perfect storm ended in victory. And not because the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes are bigger or stronger than any other team they faced – on the contrary. The other teams were almost always the bigger and stronger in every match up. But this team is disciplined. They are driven. And they are full of “The Wills” — the “Willfulness” to keep going despite opposition, the “Willpower” to make it happen, and most important of all, the “Willingness” to be coached – to adjust, to learn, to give, to change, to grow.

Our coaches and players own The Wills. We put up 58 points in a title game. We held our opponent to 7. We forced six turnovers – five fumbles and an interception. We scored seven touchdowns – one on a glorious scoop and score. We’ve been at the grind for twenty-four weeks solid without a break since July. We ended it all with a perfect season. And we’ve gone 30-0 in two perfect seasons. That’s what having The Wills can do.

And it’s not just the coaches and players who have them. The wives own them, too. We adjust, we learn, we give, we change, we grow. I could point out all the traditional sacrifices – like the long, lonesome hours, the empty spots at the dinner table, the single-parenthood, the struggles with resentment — the generally known, but not necessarily understood, hardships of being a football wife. But instead, I will show a not-uncommon, but far-lesser-known (and decidedly far-greater) sacrifice that football wives often make that truly displays their willpower, willfulness, and willingness to be part of the team. This season, our coaching staff gained three new babies – with a fourth due to arrive in the next couple of weeks. These wives single-handedly took on the tender weeks and months of their infants’ new lives while daddy was on the field or at the field house six out of seven days a week. I don’t know that anyone, anywhere can possibly fathom the mental and physical endurance such a feat requires. That, my friends, is what having The Wills can do.

Now I’m not saying it was easy on the new daddies either. Far from it. It tore at their hearts and gnawed on their consciences. What I am saying is that football is one tough task master.  If you don’t have what it takes to weather its adversities, it will chew you up and it will spit you out. It’s the nature of the game. It’s full of tackles, sacks, dog piles, and dirty calls. And I’m talking the politics of the game here, not just the game.  It comes with hard knocks.

Case in point: Six years ago, in November, my husband, my affectionately coined “tall mug of caramel coaching macchiato,” was fired from his football job. Fired after giving his utmost to his players, his fellow coaches, and his school. He and his friend and head coach had pulled a losing program out of the trenches and finished strong with four solid wins. The program was on the very cusp of a turnaround. And they were fired.

Being fired bruised him. It cut him deep inside. It left him questioning his calling.

But Mike refused to stay down. He refused to come out of the game. He girded up his soul with courage and gumption, learning and gleaning from three different programs in six different years. He fought his way out of the dog pile and back to the top.  He disciplined himself. He adjusted. He learned, he gave, he changed, he grew. He found The Wills. And, the football gods have blessed him accordingly.

Six years ago my husband and his friend were fired. This year, my husband and his friend  BOTH won their respective state title bids: one in Minnesota; one in Georgia.

Football is a tough task master. It damn near breaks you before it  grants your rewards. But if you have the willfulness to endure, the willpower to push harder, and the willingness to learn then you WILL win. It’s only a matter of time. It’s the nature of the game.

And so it goes with life.

championshiptrophy

Dig Deep

We are five days away from the Georgia Dome. It’s been a long and grueling journey. Football is a tough road. The season is a gauntlet of physical demands, mental challenges, and countless hours. The coaches and players have travelled so far and sacrificed so much. And believe me, so have the wives and families.

We’ve all suffered our fair share of battle wounds and none, more so, than this week – at least in terms of my own little, nuclear family. It’s as if the closer we get to our end game, the harder the trials and tribulations become.

The 2016 football season will close this week with a battle for that holiest grail of the high school gridiron: a state title. And here, in our household, where the energy should be humming and buzzing with promise and productivity, where we should be electrically charged with anticipation and drive — instead, we have suffered wave after wave of contagion and blight.

My boys and I savored the Cane’s semifinal win (nothing short of a storybook, come-from-behind victory) for exactly eight solid hours this weekend. Then Saturday morning dawned and the dark forces began their onslaught.

One of my favorite allegories is The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo. It’s a hero journey about a young shepherd boy in pursuit of treasure. It is my favorite, not for the plot, which becomes tedious and redundant at times, but for the message, which is profound and powerful. To reach your ultimate goal, the shepherd is told, you must dig deep. And be warned that the closer you get to your treasure, the tougher the dig becomes — the harder the ground, the harsher the conditions. There will be trials. There will be tribulations. But you must stay strong and dig on. The physical world will hurl shit your way in ever-increasing proportions. But trust in your dreams and trust in the universe. The harder things become, the closer you are to your goal.

So, here we are, days away from our goal, and suddenly the shit storms start raging.

First target: Parker.  He woke up with a whole slurry of what looked like clotted cream, curdling and gooping in his lashes. We wiped and dabbed and called the doc: Pink Eye. Getting antibiotic drops into a willful toddler boy’s eyes is perhaps as easy as getting to the state championship game. It can be done, but it requires teamwork, a constantly-changing game plan, and a solid line of defense. So that shit hit Saturday morning.

Then Tate decided to boycott sleep for the weekend. He writhed and whimpered and slapped at the bed with both feet for hours and hours on end while I rode out the storm next to him. Turns out he had an adverse reaction to prednisone, which he’d been taking for his wheezing chest. So that shit hit Saturday night.

Then, due to the frustration and helplessness of ailing twin toddlers and not nearly enough hands to deal with the deluge, Mike and I had ourselves a marital tiff, one of those stupid, husband-wife spats that is born of exhaustion and designed to wreak havoc. So that shit was Sunday.

Then, Monday brought with it a stomach virus that claimed Mike, hobbling his energy, and dimming, but not killing, his spirit. He pushed through to the other side, managing to make football practice with a thermos full of grape juice (according to one of his friends, a tried and true grandma remedy) and a boxful of Imodium tablets in his pocket. That shit – literal this time – hit yesterday.

And then, today. Today, the fates delivered the stomach bug to me. And I was not nearly as resilient as Mike.  It slung me sideways. Like, truly. I was prone in the bed – or on the bathroom floor—for thirteen straight hours. My head spun like a whirlwind and my innards parted like the red sea, heading opposite directions and leaving me completely drained. Literally. Mercifully, round about four o’clock, the wicked flux was lifted and I learned I would live. So that shit just happened.

Yep, we’re in the homestretch of our season’s quest. We’ve been running the gauntlet. And the physical world has been hurling flaming buckets of tar (well, buckets of vomit, conjunctivitis, and poo) at us, attempting to thwart our progress, to slacken our pace. But, what do we do? Well, to twist one of my all-time favorite side kick’s sayings, “We just keep digging, just keep digging, just keep digging, digging, digging…”

Because the end is in sight and the treasure is near. We’re shoulder deep, and we just keep shoveling.

 

Three-Ring, Four-Quarter Circus

So we all know that popular phrase, not my circus, not my monkeys? Yeah, well, I can’t say that. As a mother of toddler twin boys, I have my own little Barnum and Bailey reality show right under my feet – literally right under my feet – every single day.  So step right up! (But watch your step, please.) Come on in! I’ll give you a grand tour of our crazy, snack-filled, action-packed circus under the glaring lights and the colorful crowds of our Friday nights.

monkeys2

And by the way, tonight may bear witness to one of the most exciting, most daring, most challenging of all Friday nights. The Canes are on the road for Round Three of our bid for the State Title!

So, nope, our circus won’t happen out there on the football field. Our circus takes place up there in the stands. Up in one tiny, little corner of the stands. Where — if you zoom in tight — you’ll see the disheveled circus trainer as her two little, manic monkeys jump – no, rephrase — pound on her one and only final surviving nerve…

But before the show begins… a little backstory. The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes are travelling to Woodward Academy. It’ll be a tough match up – one that experts claim is worthy of a final match up, rather than the quarterfinal game that it actually is. Both teams have skills for days and Division 1 prospects coming out the wazoo.  Both programs have coaching staffs who know the science of  football, who have solid schemes, firm discipline, and good, old-fashioned love of the game and love for their boys.  This game’s going to be one for the history books, folks.

Which means this sideshow ringleader is already in the process of packing up Mike’s truck like a travelling circus on a long-distance tour.  I’ve got the Radio Flyer wagon loaded up in the bed already – there’s no telling how far we’ll have to navigate from visitor’s parking to stadium steps and walking in crowds with my boys – well, I’d rather swallow flames or lie on a bed of nails. It is a hazardous, torturous affair. They shuffle and shy away from each “Hello” or welcoming smile they receive. And, as twins, they get lots of them. They’re like my own little private set of circus freaks. Folks gather ‘round them and stare and point and wait for a sideshow. But the boys don’t oblige. No tricks, no performance, not even a wave. All they want to do is hide behind their mama’s legs and contort themselves in unlikely angles to avoid detection. So, I pile them in their little red wagon, and away we go, bags and blankets and snack packs galore.

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Now the snacks are the most important ingredient in our little circus.  My sideshow freaks need lots and lots of snacks to keep them in prime condition. Their diets are quite precise, and packed oh-so-carefully according dietary needs. And by needs, I mean cravings – primarily sweet tooth cravings, but we’ve got carbs covered, too. There are teddy grahams, and cereal bars, cookies and muffins, goldfish and cheerios, raisins and juice boxes — the only two semi-healthy items in the whole horde. The suckers on the other hand (oops, let me be clear, by suckers, I’m referring to the dum-dums… um, again, let me clarify — the round, candy-flavored confections on a stick, NOT my boys), but the suckers… the dozens and dozens and dozens of suckers I bring, those ensure that I see at least one of every four downs in a series. Because my boys LOVE suckers. And by suckers, this time I’m pretty sure I mean me…

Because no one but a sucker would willingly give two rowdy, sloppy, drooly, toddler boys an unlimited supply of syrup on a stick, knowing full well that her little twin acrobats keep their favorite climbing apparatus with them at all times – namely their MOTHER.  On any given Friday night, one can find them climbing up and over and under and (I’m fairly certain) through my body for the entire duration of a sixty minute football game.  And tonight – with both teams being spread teams, there’s gonna to be a heckuva a lot of passes thrown, and a heckuva a lot of first downs made, and a heckuva lot of stopped clocks, and a heckuva lot of chains moved, and a heckuva lot of kickoffs received, and a heckuva lot longer football game played than the traditional sixty minutes allotted. This sucker’s gonna go on for a good, long while. Einstein’s theory — it’s all relative. So relatively speaking, here, I’m the sucker.

Now every circus comes with music, usually involving some type of prancing, staccato-beat, calliope tune. But not this circus. This one plays Cartersville’s fight song after every touchdown, which is a spot-on rendition of “On Wisconsin,” and which I’m assuming somehow translates into “Purple Hurricanes, Purple Hurricanes something, something, something, something something … “  Maybe?   Feels like there would be a dropped syllable in there somewhere. I’m not quite sure… Anyway, that fight song plays often – seeing as how we’ve averaged forty points a game this year – and then, in between the fight song, Tate belts out his ubiquitous “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” complete with jazz hands. We are truly an eclectic show.

So we’ve got the sideshow freaks, contortionists, circus monkeys, acrobats — all of whom are the same principal characters in our diversely talented ensemble. But of course, there’s one key member I haven’t truly addressed yet.  The Ring Leader.

Every circus has one. At least, that’s what I’ve always observed.  But I must confess that this particular circus ring leader is not necessarily cut out for her job. She seems to have zero control of her monkeys, the staff appears to run over the top of her quite regularly, and I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain that if you look closely, you’ll find traces of sucker stains on her clothes and in her hair. Which, I guess is better than the muffin that the day care found buried in in one of her little monkey’s heads this week. The director kindly extracted the said blueberry treat, but not before sending a picture and some thinly-veiled laughter in a private message. I am enclosing the picture as evidentiary proof that this ring leader is definitely not up to the challenge of such a daunting and daring occupation.

mufffinhead

Be that as it may… she is still an exuberant supporter of her crazy, careening circus and of her talented, ravishingly handsome coaching husband, as well as an enthusiastic and loud-mouthed Purple Hurricanes fan. Therefore, she’s readied her caravan and she’s geared up for her three-ring, four-quarter circus.

Oh, but she has one sweet feather in her big top hat, her best, bestie is riding shotgun tonight, offering moral support and monkey-training skills. She’s a pro. She teaches sophomores non stop daily. So there’s that.

So I’m the Ring Leader and these ARE my monkeys and this IS my circus. Step right up and come on in! For the greatest show on earth — the Georgia High School 4-A football quarterfinals — oh, and my little, three-ring sideshow.

 

The Physiological Effects of Football on a Coach’s Wife

fridaynightlights

Football gives me chills. And chest tightness. And tachycardia. And tremors. And hypotension. And breathlessness. And Fatigue. But it’s all good. I promise.

Let me explain…

Yesterday, just after 1:00 PM, I kissed my husband goodbye and watched him head off to the football war room, a scenario we’ve repeated every Sunday afternoon since early August. He strolled purposely down our sidewalk, his bag full of notes on this week’s opposing team’s tendencies slung over his shoulder.As I watched him leave, my chest tightened with pride. It’s Week Two of Georgia High School playoffs. The competition is getting fiercer, so Mike and his fellow defensive coaches burned the midnight oil preparing their game plan.

It’s a mysterious process to me, the deconstruction of an offense. In my fiercely romantic brain, I imagine it’s an exposition closely akin to the annotation and explication of metaphysical poetry. I picture the guys huddled around their Hudl screens, marking up schemes with dexterity and determination, scrutinizing pistol formations and pondering triple options with the same respect and gritty fortitude that I scrutinize syntax and ponder paradox, searching for the key to decipher the cryptic code and whittle it down into chewable chunks.

I’m sure it’s a formidable feat, arduous and time-consuming; always open to interpretation; and painfully exquisite– if that’s your thing. And it is absolutely, positively my guy’s thing. For the past decade, I’ve watched him light up like a Hurricane scoreboard when he talks shop with fellow coaches. Football powwows with people in the know is one of his most intense pleasures.  And I love that he’s found his niche within this fine group of coaching fellows. Perhaps I’m biased, but I truly believe they may be the most amazingly gifted and gracious crew ever to be assembled in the history of high school football.

Watching them from the stands as they interact with their players on Friday nights, tremors of excitement run up and down my spine.  It starts with pregame. I love seeing the boys clustered around their position coaches, going through their drills. The bursts of whistle and muscle; the blur of footballs and footwork; the thud of shoulder pads and practice punts. Pregame gives me shivers.

And then there is the moment at the beginning of every game, just prior to kick off, when the boys and their coaches march evenly out across half the field and kneel. One-hundred-twenty-plus boys of one-hundred-fifty-plus pounds – they all take a knee and give the Lord a moment of silence and respect.

It leaves me breathless.

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Then the world speeds back up again. The crowds gather; the cheerleaders chant; the bands play; the lights hum; and the stadium pulses. But just before it all goes down, just before the band plays Amazing Grace and The Star-Spangled Banner, just before the team runs through the tunnel of swirling white smoke and takes the field, just before the scoreboard sounds off and the place kicker blasts off, Mike climbs the stadium steps on his way to the box. And he always stops off to deliver a kiss to me and our boys. Seeing him approach, his chocolate eyes smiling, his caramel skin glowing, his wide, warm shoulders swaying, my heart swells and my knees go weak. I am truly a blessed woman.

Yes, Friday nights give me goosebumps. Good old-fashioned, puckered-up chicken skin. And not because I’m lucky enough to get a pre-game kiss from a tall mug of coaching caramel macchiato. (Although that helps, too.) But because boy, can our boys play some ball. And man, can our men coach ‘em up. There is nothing like a good, crisp, spiral-sliced Friday night.

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And now we’ve been blessed with a second week in our playoff run. And I’m praying for another three after this. Another three-and-a-half weeks of single parenthood and lonely bedtimes. The boys and I have this routine down pat. It’s old hat. And we’re in it for the long haul.

Oh, but the playoffs have introduced one new formation in our family’s weekly playbook:  Chili Night Wednesday Night.

Every Wednesday of postseason play, the coaches’ wives make chili – pots and pots and pots of chili (along with every imaginable fixin) – which we then ladle up for the players in the field house after practice.

The football field house is a far cry from a five-star restaurant. It’s a dusty, moldy, and well-seasoned (pun intended) athletic facility (and even that sounds too fancy for what it actually is). But there, amidst the battered tables and scheme-riddled white boards, the buzzing fluorescent tubes and the lingering locker room funk, we wait on a team of amazing young men who have willingly harnessed themselves to the merciless gridiron grind – who sacrifice their bodies and their egos for the good of the team. Teenagers who are stronger and more dependable and more faithful than I ever would have been at their age. Young men who are winning – not just at football, but at life.

And one of the reasons these players are winning is the cadre of coaches in their corner.These men are their mentors, their overseers, their champions. They invest time, energy and love. These boys become their boys. And  because of the dedication of their coaches, these boys soon become the community’s boys, too. Everyone’s boys. The boys of fall. Because in Georgia, football is legendary.

So here’s hoping and praying for another four weeks of Sunday War Rooms, Chili Night Wednesday Nights, Friday Night Lights and everything in between. I’m ready for the run. My heart can take it. My body is addicted to the thrilling, physiological effects of really good football. And it’s all good.

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My Baby Girl: a Golden, Gleaming Mommy Goddess

This weekend, we celebrated my grandson Bentley’s first birthday. I can’t really believe it’s already been a year since I spent three days in labor and delivery helping Boop stay as calm and as comfortable as possible after eight, yes EIGHT, epidurals failed to give her an iota of relief. There is nothing that can knock a mother’s heart around her chest like a rickety roller coaster ride more than seeing her own child struggling through the frighteningly fragile, yet tenacious and powerful process of giving birth. Bethany is a true warrior, and so is her little lad, Bentley — otherwise known as Nana’s Little Acorn.  They weathered an incredibly long and arduous journey.

I got the call on a Thursday night. I was just sitting down to dinner with the boys and Mike’s parents when Boop explained that she was going to be admitted for preeclampsia and that the docs would be inducing labor in the next day or so.  As you can imagine, there were several incredible stressors within this single phone call.

#1: Boop had preeclampsia.  I had just gone through it myself the year before. I knew how very dangerous the condition can be to both mother and baby. Bethany was having extreme headaches and swelling. Her blood pressure was up and her urine was throwing protein. Bentley would need to be delivered no later than the weekend.

#2: Nana’s little acorn was to arrive nearly six weeks early. Again, I had just been through that scenario a little over a year before. Luckily, Boop and Bentley had reached the 34-week gestation marker, so we knew he likely wouldn’t need any oxygen, but he would need practice eating (preemie boys are notoriously lazy feeders) and maintain his body temp. I knew there was a probable two week stay in the NICU in store for my Bentley and an unavoidable hornet’s nest of raw, stinging emotions ready to take up residence in Boop’s chest – a chest that would already be crowded with the honeycombed sweetness of milk from her mammary glands. There was an emotional perfect storm circulating just off the horizon.

And #3: The call was on Thursday night – in football season. That meant the next night was a Friday. Friday Night Lights Frenzy.  And no mama. Shit. What would I do with the boys? Double shit. But as fortune would have it, my in-laws were here when I got the call so I had extra hands on deck. Friday night would’ve been a near-impossibility if not for his mom and for my ever-dedicated and most beauteous best friend. Of all the besties in the world, my Queenie is nonpareil.  There’s a vocab word for ya. I would say look it up, but there’s no need because I’m telling you that the definition is: Tammy Bramblett Queen, the incomparable, generous-hearted best friend of Heather Peters Candela. Between my mother-in-law and my bestie my boys were fed and nurtured and entertained on a very busy and very stressful Friday night. So that was one less thing I had to worry about.

And finally #4: Weaning the boys. Not only has it been a year since my sweet little Acorn came into this world, it has also been a year since I last breastfed the boys.  I pumped until February of this year, but it was a year ago in October that I physically nursed them for the very last time — in the English department storage closet on Friday afternoon before I headed up to Knoxville.  Mike had brought them by for that express purpose. He knew how hard it was going to be on me. I wasn’t ready, but I knew that being gone for at least three days would as good as wean them, and it would be downright cruel to start them back up again, only to wean them all over again later.  So there, surrounded by a bevy of beloved classic literature, I breastfed them one final time. One final time, I felt the tingly, pinching ants of letdown. One final time I felt the sweet pull of milk filling their bellies. One final time I felt the flush and bloom of sweat on their necks as they grew warm and content. It’s funny, but just before they emptied my breasts entirely, they began to play patty cake — something they’d never done before. They clapped and clapped, Parker’s right hand pressing Tate’s left, a nipple clenched in each of their smiles, as if applauding this passing of a milestone — this one step closer to being grown. I won’t say I didn’t cry.

Exit to Knoxville: The next three days were a wild and whirling pain-fest of Pitocin and pointless epidurals. Poor Bethany! She’s just one of those individuals whose body just doesn’t chemically interact an epidural. In eight attempts, the block was never more than patchy and poor, at best, so my poor baby girl felt a whole lot of agony (remind me to tell you a little story about Bethany and the “agony” in a bit) for a whole lot of hours. As in, thirty-two. Active labor hours. With no epidural. That’s super very much a lot, thank you very much.

Boop progressed super slowly, stalling out at 4 centimeters dilation and staying there for over 24 hours. The Pitocin pumped and pressured and prodded and her uterus clenched and cranked and contracted, but her cervix was noncompliant. The nurses and docs tried some tricks to help her along, from a foley bulb catheter to a birthing ball. Neither contraption worked. She lived in raw, primal, animal pain for well over a day. I used to boast that I was in labor with Caitlin for twenty-six hours with no epidural, but those bragging days are gone. Boop’s got me beat, let me tell ya. She is the grand champion of marathon labor. My baby girl is one tough mother.

But tough as she is, Sunday afternoon around 4:00 found Boop begging for a c section. Hell, we were all begging for a c section — her best friend Maggie, her cousin Lauren, her man Bradley, even her big sis the surgeon (who felt helpless and far-far away — 843 miles away, to be exact) — we were all begging for a c section. Boop was writhing in pain and wrung the F out. Her energy was gone. Her enthusiasm was gone. Her patience was gone. There’s only so much that ice chips, cheerleading, small talk and back rubs can do to keep you going when it’s day three and you haven’t eaten or slept and the waves of pain are smashing your body like a… like a… like a squirrel in agony.

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So now for that “agony” story I promised you… Bethany was around four and the cutest, wide-eyed, hat-wearing, little fart blossom (my Grandmother’s favorite term of endearment) on the planet.  We were a block or so away from picking up Caitlin from school when we rounded a curve and came upon a squirrel that had just been hit by a car. It was thrashing around in the throes of anguish when Bethany saw it and gasped, “Oh, no!”

“Bless its little heart,” I said. “The poor thing is in agony.”

“What’s ‘n agony?” she asked.

So I explained to my precocious girl that it was in extreme pain and suffering. As we pulled up to the pickup line at the school, I finished with…  “so that little squirrel was in agony.”

“Oh, it WAS a squirrel?” she squawked in confusion, “I thought you said it was an agony!”

Fast forward to twenty some odd years later, and I’m at Bethany’s bedside as she writhes around in an agony that I’m fairly certain was closely akin to that of the pitiful little squirrel back on Mission Road so many years ago.  I wanted her out of her misery, and I was steeling myself to do battle with her obstetrician when the charge nurse offered to do one last check…

And… a 6! She’d progressed to a 6! Finally her cervix and her uterus started working together! An hour after that, she was an 8  — and within thirty minutes after that, it was time to push.  Hallelujah and cut the cord! Well, we delivered the baby first, of course…

Somehow Boop mustered the energy to push and push hard.  I took one of her shoulders and Bradley took the other. We counted off each push – cheering her on toward that bloody, brazen end zone. The little guy came out like all babies do, covered in birth juice and clotted cream and truly, truly scrumptious.  He bore one battle wound from his epic birth journey: a tiny cut on his nose from the monitor leads.

Bentley carries that hairline scar across his nose to this day… along with all of our hearts (from mine, to his Aunt Cay Cay’s in the Big D, to his little uncles Parker and Tate, eighteen months his seniors), he carries all of our hearts wrapped tight around his little finger. Because he is the most beautifully perfect little Acorn you ever did see.  He has green glass eyes and an open, hearty smile. He’s his mama’s perfect clone. Her spittin’ image; her carbon copy.

And Bethany is the most beautiful mama I ever did see.  She was born for motherhood. She is breathlessly incandescent. She is luminous. She glows. She has always been a bright and beautiful light in this world, but now her light is softer, warmer, deeper, more soulful. She radiates maternal perfection.  I’d like to say she’s the spittin’ image of me as a mother, but that would be a lie.  She’s got me beat. She is a master of maternal prowess. My baby girl is one tough mother.

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