[Originally written leading up to the 2017 town election, in response to a statement that the members of the Board of Selectmen — which included me — didn’t understand the concerns of families with young children. It may or may not be relevant for 2020, but I’m leaving it here because it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m unlikely to ever write anything better.]
Tell me again.
Tell me again, because I don’t know, I don’t see, I don’t care, I don’t remember, I don’t understand.
Tell me again, because it’s gone, all gone, never happened, never did, never will.
Tell me again about the Flash.
The hockey team is in the locker room before the game, waiting for me to announce the lines. A couple of players are missing today, and I have to scan down the roster, juggle some positions, make a decision I don’t want to make. I call the names. One name, originally penciled in at forward, instead is on defense.
As we file out of the locker room to the bench, I say to him, “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t think we were going to be short today, I need you to play D.”
He gives his helmet an irritated shake, shrugs a shoulder, says nothing.
This has happened before. He’s the swing player, versatile, one of our best skaters, more often playing on offense but capable of playing very good defense when needed. He’s not happy about it, more than that, he’s very angry about it, and he’s right to be. It’s so much more fun to score goals. He’d rather play forward. I’d promised he’d play forward.
There comes a moment in the game when we’re in the offensive zone, applying pressure, all of our players, including him, down (too far!) around the goal, trying to score. But the puck kicks away, and now one of their skaters is hustling down the ice on a breakaway. The opposing player is fast enough, and he’s got enough gap, and our players are leaning the wrong way. He won’t be caught. It looks like an easy scoring chance.
He crosses our blue line, starts to close on our goalie, and suddenly a blur streaks up from behind, head down, arms pumping, legs churning. Just as the opposing player is about to shoot, stride-stride-stretch-reach, the blur sweeps the puck off the shooter’s blade to the side boards, just manages to keep his balance as he angles hard to chase it, collects it, starts back the other way….
At the end of the season, we have a team party. I make an 8×10 profile card for each player, a unique and personalized capsule of the season. Years later when I happen to run into a player or parent, they will mention that it is one of their favorite mementos from youth sports.
Name. Number. Position. Regular season record. Playoff record. Team highlights. Individual player highlights: I comb through the scoresheets and my memory, tallying hat tricks, game-winning goals, critical assists, stingy defensive play, shutouts. Team awards, some of them NHL equivalents, others invented: Hart for regular season MVP, Ross for scoring leader, Norris for best defenseman, Selke for best defensive forward, Vezina for goalie, Conn Smythe for playoff MVPs. Troy Brown award, named for the Patriots two-way football player, for offensive/defensive versatility. Ironman award for the eight players who somehow double-shifted their way to two exhausting victories on a holiday weekend when the other players were absent.
Each player has good moments. Each player has accolades.
And each is bestowed a nickname: Top Gun. Magic. Masked Marvel. Energizer. Big Easy.
Tell me about saving to buy a house. Tell me about saving for college. Tell me about saving for retirement. Tell me about working long days and late nights at a startup, betting on a better tomorrow while mom is home with the kids today. Tell me about being fortunate enough to be able to make that choice.
Tell me about children when they are very young. Tell me about the agony of letting them cry themselves to sleep. Tell me about the baby giving you a contented smile after a bottle feeding, then spitting it all up on your shoulder. Tell me about how they watch, rapt, at the plastic donut you twirl on the kitchen floor, how it precesses faster and faster as it tips and wobbles, how they burst into laughter at the moment it finally settles to a stop: “Again!”. Tell me about crawling on your hands and knees, chasing them around the living room coffee table as they flee out of reach, yet scream “Daddy! Catch me!”. Tell me about how they suddenly change the game and hurl themselves at you, knocking you down and telling you to get back up so they can do it again and again and again.
Tell me about reading books at bedtime. Tell me about sitting on the bedroom floor with one child curled in each arm and another perched on the bunk bed overhead. Tell me about continuing to read out loud after they’ve slumped against you, asleep. Tell me about the Lorax speaking for the trees. Tell me about Mack toppling Yertle’s kingdom with a burp. Tell me about the devastation wrought by the invaders of Wump World. Tell me about Thomas the Tank Engine. Tell me about the Boxcar Children. Tell me about the Hardy Boys. Tell me about Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Mary Anne, digging the cellar of the new town hall in just one day. Tell me about the little boy’s brilliant solution to the unexpected problem that arises after they do it.
Tell me about sports. Tell me about standing in the summer evening heat, swatting mosquitoes as you watch a series of strikeouts and walks over six innings of contact-free youth baseball. Tell me about reaching over to catch the foul ball before it strikes an inattentive parent on the head. Tell me about celebrating with hot dogs and ice cream after the game. Tell me about the libero’s point-saving dig, the left wing’s nifty deke, the outfielder’s clinching catch, the right back’s slide tackle, the left back’s curling pass into the box, the long pole’s length-of-the-field rush, the middie’s dodging left-handed overtime winner. Tell me about the error, the misplay, the defensive breakdown, the blown assignment. Tell me about silently hoping that your kid won’t be the one to make the mistake that costs the team the game. Tell me about tryouts. Tell me about making the team. Tell me about getting cut. Tell me about being a starter. Tell me about sitting on the bench. Tell me about trying to teach team success over individual glory. Tell me about the frustration of working so hard over a long season and then being sidelined for the big game because of injury or illness. Tell me about the thrilling championship victories. Tell me about the heartbreaking losses.
Tell me about school. Tell me about the teacher who is so good, it’s a shame they can’t clone her. Tell me about the teacher who is so bad, thank goodness they can’t clone him. Tell me about attending the parent-teacher conference and hoping the news is good. Tell me about packing lunches. Tell me about heavy backpacks. Tell me about the bus. Tell me about not being dressed appropriately for the weather. Tell me about not being dressed appropriately, period. Tell me about Daddy’s Delicious Dinner at Play Pals. Tell me about glue and string and glitter and poster board and markers. Tell me about your son being voted Most Likely To Be Caught Texting In Class. Tell me about having to activate the control feature to disable texting during school hours. Tell me about the costumes and the sets and the remarkable acting and singing talent on display in the school musical. Tell me about sitting in cramped folding chairs, listening to band concerts played by musicians who are works-in-progress. Tell me about marveling at the sophistication of the science fair exhibits and wondering which parent’s project will win. Tell me about the improvisational ingenuity and entertaining wit of the Destination Imagination team. Tell me about being asked to help tonight with three chapters of calculus because the test is, uh, tomorrow. Tell me about walking the fine line between giving them enough assistance to be successful and making them do the work on their own. Tell me about grades that are very good but could be a little bit better. Tell me about the pressure to take Honors and AP classes. Tell me about MCAS and teaching to the test. Tell me about how sweltering it is in the high school gym on graduation day.
Tell me about fundraising. Tell me about bringing that box of candy bars to the office for your coworkers to buy. Tell me about having your number come up for the 50/50 raffle and quietly declining the winnings. Tell me about buying more cookies, cakes, pies, breads, auction baskets, discount cards, magazines, calendars, and car washes than anyone could ever hope to eat.
Tell me about their social lives. Tell me about Pokemon and Magic cards. Tell me about play dates. Tell me about hanging out at a friend’s house. Tell me about hanging out at the mall. Tell me about sleepovers that are really marathon video game sessions. Tell me about flashlight tag. Tell me about Facebook. Tell me about Instagram. Tell me about Snapchat. Tell me about best friends in elementary school who are strangers by the time they reach high school. Tell me about best friends in elementary school who are still best friends after college. Tell me about bullying. Tell me about peer pressure. Tell me about the threat of alcohol and drugs. Tell me about hoping your kids hang out with the right crowd. Tell me about the relief you feel when they do. Tell me about the anguish you feel when they don’t.
Tell me about the things you do, not just for your own kids, but for everybody’s kids. Tell me about constructing the Peaslee playground. Tell me about reading to second graders on Reading Day. Tell me about retrieving errant balls and beanbags on Field Day at Zeh. Tell me about volunteering as a coach or a leader or an organizer, maybe because you’re good at it, maybe because you’re not very good at it, but they’re short on volunteers and somebody’s got to do it. Tell me about skating endless laps around the rink at 3 o’clock in the morning at the Junior Prom post-prom party, picking up bobby pins and trying to keep energetic teens in ill-fitting skates from careening out of control and damaging themselves and others. Tell me about the reason you still do that, even though your own kids have graduated. Tell me about working as a member of a feasibility study committee to evaluate the condition of the school buildings; and fifteen years later, now as a member of the building committee, finally cutting the ribbon for the renovated Lincoln Street School.
Tell me about the anticipation and uncertainty you feel as your oldest child makes the first entry into elementary school, middle school, high school, college.
Tell me about the accomplishment and sadness you feel as your youngest child makes the last exit from elementary school, middle school, high school, college.
Tell me about how difficult it is to make your son play defense when he and his teammates know the glory is in scoring goals.
Tell me about how proud you can feel as a parent when your son — just a young kid, angry at you about a broken promise, unhappy with his assignment, faced with a game situation that would be easy to give up on — instead gives his best effort and refuses to be beaten.
Tell me about how a sudden, unexpected, dazzling blur can be a moment that leaves its mark on you for the rest of your life.
Tell me about these things you know, and do, and understand as a parent; things I don’t know, haven’t done, never understood.
Tell me again. Tell me. Tell me all of it.
Tell me again about the Flash.