I have been watching high school wrestling perched on a lot of aluminum stands since 2003. That was the year my oldest, Weldon, was a freshman at Oak Park-River Forest High School at 119 pounds. I didn't understand the points, the moves, the weight classes, even the singlets. I didn't understand how he didn't really want me to wave madly at him and scream, "Go, honey," every 10 seconds of a match. Or hug him right after. Dutifully and gladly, I watched him wrestle for four years, with his last year winning fourth in state at 140 pounds.
I watched Brendan wrestle in high school starting at 165 pounds and about 5'5, getting down to 140 pounds, then finishing his senior year as state JV champ at 171 at 6'. His senior year the team won Team State in 2009. He's now a junior at Ohio State University, the Ohio State University I always forget to say. And his identity as a wrestler stays with him.
I have been watching my youngest, Colin, who started as a freshman at 119 grow to a varsity wrestler this year, making 138. Just today when he certifies for the season he is 138, after a good two weeks of egg whites, Emergen-C and vegetables. He has high hopes for himself, after a concussion last year ended his season in January.
Cumulatively, that's a lot of yelling my sons' names on Saturdays for a lot of years. That's a lot of time spent screaming, "Go Huskies." It's a lot of Thursdays and Friday nights in a hot, stifling gym hoping your child has his arm raised in the air at the end of the match. Hoping your child doesn't get hurt. Or too upset. Or pinned. It's a lot of laundry filled with practice clothes so soaked they would freeze solid if left overnight in the trunk of the 2007 Nissan Altima Brendan calls the White Knight.
Several of those years I drove to different high schools across town for simultaneous quads and tournaments, back to back, catching Weldon on varsity in the afternoon, after watching Brendan on freshman, sophmore or JV in the morning. Before Colin was in high school, I spent Sundays watching him in traveling basketball or youth wrestling.
Truth is, I would rather have been nowhere else.
This past Monday was the parents meeting for the wrestling team, and Coach Mike Powell calls us the Huskies Wrestling Family. New freshmen parents and us veterans with nearly a decade of wrestling behind us filled the auditorium in room 370 at the high school at 6:30, after three hours of practice for the boys.
"We're not meatheads," Powell said. "We look after our kids. We go the extra mile and openly express love for our guys and our guys' families."
Coaches Paul Collins, Jim Messer, Ryan VenHorst, Fred Arkin and Mike Boyd were there, nodding and answering questions, passing out the orange booklets filled with diet and nutrition information, strength and conditioning guidelines and tons of quotes and inspiration. "I put a bunch of cheesy quotes in there because I am a quote guy," Powell said.
Powell talked about how the team trains all year for "one four-year season," and how he expects to win a lot of matches and tournaments this year. "If the kids buy in and the parents buy in, you're going to get a lot of results. We talk about working toward a goal, giving it everything you have and making sacrifices. That's fulfillment, and fulfillment is something you take with you for the rest of your life."
Someone recently asked me what I will possibly do with all my free time after I no longer am watching any of my sons wrestle. I will paint, read more, work out more. Relax a little, wake up late, maybe clean out closets. Alphabetize my spices. Cook a luxurious breakfast, read the paper.
I am pretty sure I will not go and watch wrestling just to watch wrestling. Because it is not now and never has been the sport I love, the way that fans love football and the Chicago Bears no matter who is wearing the uniform. It was always about my boys. It was always about loving how they could do something so completely out of my realm of experience and be great at it. All I had to do was watch.
Unlike so many women I know-- and for the record, very few wrestling moms-- I am not the kind of mom who gets manicures often. I have one every five or six years, though I will get a pedicure if it is a chance to sit near one of my sisters and talk on a Sunday in one of those drop-in salons. I am not the kind of shopping as sport person; if I need a black skirt, I go online. I never spend a day in a mall. I really have never had the time. I will drop in to a shoe sale, but just one store and only because I know the owner.
In the stands every wrestling season since November of 2003 I have had plenty of anxiety attacks about what work I needed to do once I got home, what I needed to get accomplished for the house or for life, how to keep all the pins juggling in the air. But it was always worth it to go, spend most of the day in a gym wearing the orange and the blue just to see what splendor my sons could create. And it was splendid, even if the gym smelled bad and the other parents were sometimes hostile and some kids cried when they lost.
Watching your son wrestle and work that hard in an explosive show of athleticism and wit and heart is utterly splendid.
Of course my boys --men now--are stronger than me, more fit, more agile, tougher physically. And what each one of them has been able to achieve inspires me. Each one of my boys has written about how wrestling has changed them in essays for class or for a college admission application. The truth is watching them wrestle has changed me too.
Coach Powelll talks to the boys about delayed gratification, working hard and the concept of true fulfillment. But it means the same to us parents, to us moms.
I have spent every Saturday in season for nine seasons watching wrestling. But it has offered me fulfillment that I could never have garnered from any other arena of my life. Not from writing, not from teaching, not from speaking, not from anything I else I work hard to do and aspire to do well, not from anything that earns me a paycheck, bonus or royalties. Because this part, this watching from the stands part? This is priceless.
I got a chance in all those moments for all those years in the stands to see who my boys are. And the view is completely magnificent.