Michele Weldon | February 26, 2013
Here is my op/ed that ran 2/25 in The Christian Science Monitor.
Here is my op/ed that ran 2/25 in The Christian Science Monitor.
I am proud to be a Wrestling Mom. An All In Wrestling Mom. My two sons have always been active in sports. Each sport has value and teaches its own lessons. Unlike other sports, wrestling lessons, both physical and mental benefit every sport and benefit life in general. What the t-shirts say is true, “Once you have been a wrestler, everything else is easy.”
When my sons were youth wrestlers I went to classes to receive coaching certifications every year. I was privileged to be in their corners and with them every day at practice. Now that they are older, the high school coaching staff members are much more experienced and there is not a place for me as a coach. I am involved administratively with the team and enthusiastically do as much as I can.
When my oldest son was a freshman I received a fabulous camera for Christmas. Since then I have become the team photographer. After every meet I post photos of each wrestler on Facebook. The athletes and their extended family members “friend” me so that they can celebrate their favorite wrestlers.
I am delighted to once again be in the corner for my sons and the rest of the team! Capturing “the moment” in a match is absolute magic for me. Knowing the wrestlers love them and that through my pictures, out of town family members are able to share in those moments warms my heart.
I am an All In Wrestling Mom, Coach, Administrator, Photographer. I love this sport. I hope you enjoy some of this year’s favorite shots.
Click here to sign a petition from change.org to urge the IOC to keep wrestling beyond 2016.
Wrestling helped make my sons who they are. Help save the sport.
Several weeks ago Sarah Wenger of OnlineNursingPrograms.com sent me the graphic below on the ubiquitousness of breast cancer and some key statistics so I could post it on my site. And I didn't do it right away.
Sure, sure. I will get to it. I've been busy. You know, the usual stuff that relates in some form to what every other person on the planet deals with. For me I had to pack two sons for college, work, write, keep all the pins in the air, keep it all together.
Sarah reminded me yesterday that I haven't posted yet. And then it struck me how incredibly stupid and selfish it is that I didn't immediately get the word out about fighting breast cancer in a fresh, accessible and new way. With this graphic. Thank you, Sarah.
Close to a quarter of a million women receive a new diagnosis of breast cancer this year-- about 631 per day if you spread it out over the year. I know what that feels like--the panic, the disbelief, the fear. What will treatment be lilke? And how will I pay for it? Will I die?
So I should know better. I should have thanked Sarah, dropped everything I was doing and post. So today I am.
I am going in two weeks for my annual exam with my radiologist, then crossing the hall and seeing my surgeon. Both of them saved my life in 2006. Last year, Dr. Joan Werber congratulated me that at five years out from the disease, I am considered cured. Immediately after the surgery in 2006, Dr. Kambiz Dowlat smiled and told me I no longer had cancer. At the end of this year, I will stop taking Femara and will nolonger be on cancer meds, after 6 full years.
No one in my family had breast cancer. You just don't know why you get it. But 93 percent of the women-- and men-- who have breast cancer will survive if it is caught early enough. Only 15 percent of the women survive after breast cancer has become invasive.
Do the walks, the runs, wear the pink ribbons, buy the shirts, the jackets, the headbands, the wristbands, the flags, all of it. And tell your sisters, mom, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces, lovers, friends and coworkers-- hell, even tell the women next to you on the bus-- to get a mammogram every year. Because it could save her life. As it did mine.
If she can't afford it, pay for it, and have her barter with you-- maybe babysit or clean a closet in return. If she is afraid to go-- as was the nurse I saw at my last annual exam with my internist last week-- talk her into it. Make the appointment for her. Go with her if you need to. Hold her hand in the waiting room.
Because cancer is not too busy to come into the lives of 230,480 women a year. Don't you be too busy to do what you can to help save a life. A mammogram saved my life. Tweet this graphic, post it on your Facebook page, send it to every woman you know.
As Sarah says, "Fight breast cancer before it starts." Because all of us lead lives worth saving. I have time for that.
This post is written by Caryn Brooks, mother of Sam Brooks, and a wrestling mom extraordinaire.
My son had a monkey on his back and that monkey was named Fargo.
Every year thousands of wrestlers from all over the country come to Fargo, ND to battle for the stop sign – the plaque that says you are the best high school wrestler at your weight in either Greco Roman or Freestyle in the nation.
For four years Sam has come to Fargo and he’d gotten very close six times, but he’d never gone home with the stop sign - until now.
As his mom, I have been proud of him every year and am always amazed at his grit, toughness and sheer determination. It is a grueling week especially, if like Sam, you wrestle both styles.
But this year was his final year here and I was nervous. I knew how much he wanted this, how hard he worked for it and how much it meant to him to get that monkey off his back and this was his last chance.
So when he hurt his shoulder in the first match of the three-man round robin to determine who would go for first place from his side of the bracket, I lost my breath. It felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of me. Thankfully Sam reacted differently. He adjusted his wrestling and went on to win that match and the next match to make it into the finals.
As we waited for Sam’s final match to come up his father texted me, “have you found a good place to hide?” He knows I have a habit when I am nervous for my sons of not being able to watch and hiding until it’s over and someone can tell me what happened.
But not this time. If Sam could gut it out, so could I. I sat right in front of mat 1. Sam saw me in the stands and caught my eye. I felt better and I think he did too. He wrestled a very good match, nothing fancy but enough to win.
Enough to get the Fargo monkey off his back.
Our Ellis Coleman is going to the 2012 Olympics in London this summer. There isn't a member of the Huksies Wrestling Family who cannot stop smiling just thinking about it.
Beating Joe Betterman in Greco-Roman for the 60-kilogram spot Sunday night in Iowa City, Ellis could feel the love from a large group of former teammates and coaches, along with his mom and big brother, who were there to cheer for one of the nicest young men to ever sport a blue and orange Huskies singlet.
The fact that he won is sweeter because he has had his heart set on the Olympics for years.
My sons, Colin and Brendan, were there, and my oldest son, Weldon called every few hours from Madrid to see how Ellis was faring. No fears. Ellis had this.
At 20, Ellis is the youngest member of the Olympic wrestling team and one of the most successful wrestlers ever in the wrestling room coached by Mike Powell. All of us who watched Ellis' career bloom from 2005-2009 can recall Coach Powell kissing Ellis on the top of the head before each match. And then Ellis would go out and annihilate his opponent.
As a mother who has sometimes called Ellis my fourth son-- and who treasures the Mother's Day cards from him-- I feel about his future the way I would feel about the future of my own boys. He richly deserves all great things. He works hard, believes in himself, and is a great role model for all those around him. He keeps his focus on his dreams and the goals he has for life.
Also in Iowa City this weekend fighting for a trip to the Olympics was Weldon's 2007 OPRF wrestling team co-captain Peter Kowalczuk. His day did not go as planned and hoped, but what an incredible feat to make it to the trials and to do so well for so many years, enjoy so many victories around the world. He wrestled hard. As he always has done. That both Peter and Ellis were in the same Hawkeyes arena vying for a spot at the same time to represent the United States from the Oak Park wrestling room under Coach Powell is astounding.
Nick and Chris Dardanes (OPRF class of 2011) came in from the University of Minnesota where they are wrestling to support Ellis, as did several of Ellis 2009 teammates, along with Brendan. Sammy Brooks, another amazing OPRF legend, class of 2012, was there in the same arena where he will be wrestling for the Hawkeyes starting next year.
I have watched Ellis grow into this remarkable young man, made internationally famous by his Flying Squirrel move. All the boys have the Flying Squirrel Ellis t-shirt the coaches made for the wrestling family. But he is more than that move. He is more than a phenomenal wrestler. He is marvelous and humble young man.
Over the years I would laugh when Ellis was over and in the kitchen when I would ask Brendan to clear the dishes from dinner. Brendan would usually ignore me and Ellis would always say politely, "I'll do it, Ms. Weldon."
And he did. Ellis did this one for sure. And I don't have any intention of stopping my smiling any time soon.
I have three children who all grew up wrestling. I have sat mat-side for 17 years now and my youngest is a senior in high school. With the recent senior night for the last home match I realize I will miss the constant vigil.
When my two boys wanted to wrestle it only seemed natural. They came from a long line of wrestling uncles and cousins. We encouraged and supported their drive and went to every meet we could. It wasn't so easy when our youngest came home from school and said she wanted to wrestle too.
When Katie came home from school in the sixth grade and stated that she wanted to join the wrestling team, we said, "No way, you're a girl and this sport is just too hard."
We knew what it took to wrestle and well, she was a girl! We finally consented after the coach and principal said we should let her try. That was seven wrestling seasons ago. For the last four years she has been on her high school
boys varsity squad for 119 to 126 lb. weight class! Oregon does not have all-girl wrestling teams in the schools.
Katie has had many obstacles to overcome being a girl in a male-dominant sport. Against the boys she loses more than she wins but never lets that beat her down. Every time she walks onto the mat she believes she can win. She has had some major victories too.
In 2011 she competed at a prestigious invitational tournament with her team and took 1st place! This year her goal was to make it to boys state.
She was just one place away from it in 2011.
Katie also wrestles girls, and she knows that wrestling the boys has made her one of the top girl wrestlers in the nation. Katie has been recruited by Oklahoma City University. It is the top girls wrestling team in the nation for the last four years!
All of the long days and weekends have been worth it.
I am proud to say that I am a Wrestling Mom!!
--- Sherri Eddy
If you are like me, you have been hooting and hollering about all the new viral "S---" different people say. I thought it was about time to give wrestling moms our due. I have so much material; stay tuned for Part II.
We are headed to sectionals shortly. I am hoping for a big win for Colin at 138 pounds and for each of the other 13 wrestlers on the varsity roster of the Oak Park-River Forest High School Huskies. I have Champ in the car; Champ is our stuffed Siberian Husky we bought in 2009 for Team State when we won. Champ sports headgear, an orange scarf and an OPRF Wrestling Family t-shirt.
Coach Powell is a national sensation now with a profile about him in the current Sports Illustrated.
All I hope is our wrestlers do well. And that no one's heart or nose gets broken. As we wrestling moms and dads do every week at every match, dual and tournament, we will be screaming stuff from the stands.
The team's amazing first-time ever in OPRFHS history feat of advancing 14 wrestlers on a 14-man roster to regionals in hopes of sweeping at state was a nerve-wracking blast to witness.
Thanks to all the coaches and especially Coach Mike Powell who this week is featured in Sports Illlustrated , our team is made up of young men who believe in themselves, hard work and the value of discipline. I am so thrilled to be in this wrestling family.
Stay tuned for sectionals this Friday and Saturday at DeLaSalle High School in Chicago. Fingers crossed for Colin and all the wrestlers. Go Huskies!
This post is from Wrestling Mom Lorrie Mathews of Iowa.
My son, a junior in high school, broke his radius on the second day of wrestling practice. He didn't wrestle non-stop from the time he was three, he started at the junior high level and was one of the team’s state hopefuls. It was devastating to him to watch his wrestling season disappear in a matter of seconds when the ER doctor told him it was broken and we would be seeing a surgeon. We started counting weeks to sectionals.
Hoping the two weeks prior to the start of meets plus the two weeks holiday break would give the break time to heal. During this time there have been many kind words of prayer, thoughts and encouragement. Things I have decided you don't want to hear as a wrestling mom: "Well, at least he
can now eat," "Well it's not like he was a senior," and the best "It is only wrestling."
One other comment someone made to me was: “Do you think Garett’s cutting weight had anything to do with him breaking his elbow?” I am a nurse and have monitored his diet from day one. He doesn’t do dramatic weight loss. He has learned to cut fat and carbs out of his diet.
The wait until sectionals was very hard on him, but I found that it was hard on our family, and our community. I found out from many that it was just his expectation to make it to state but a lot of fans did as well and they were devastated at not being able to watch him wrestle. I hoped through those weeks he could hit the mat healthy and achieve his dream this year.
Garett was cleared on the Friday before sectionals, wrestled off for his position, and attended a tough tournament on Saturday. He was 2-2, the two he lost were against ranked kids. It would have been interesting to know how well he would have done had he not broken his arm. I am very proud of him. He did very well for only four days of practice before this tournament.
Looking back on this year and also last year, the wrestling season of 2010-2011, the story behind that season is almost true of any wrestler as well. The 103 wrestler was injured, when he returned he didn’t want to wrestle that weight, he moved up, his experience was far greater than Garett’s. He attempted to wrestle off only to fall short. The most obvious move would have been to wrestle off for the 119 spot. Garett refused because it wasn’t his spot to take even though he could have easily taken it. Garett moved up to the next open spot. We were pouring food in Garett to get him closer to the weight. He had losses but he had wins. When he placed first at sectionals 2011 it was AWESOME.
Wrestling is a great sport and I have been involved since high school as a mat maid, my younger brother being a state qualifier in Iowa and my oldest wrestling. Garett is my baby and I was looking forward to his last two years.
It's Friday night and I am in a Coralville, Iowa hotel room, a little weary from the four-hour drive from Chicago west on 88 and then even farther west on 80, past texting truck drivers and horizontal snow winds, miles of empty ice-dusted fields and about 1,000 signs for Subway. It's comforting knowing all those Subways house all the same ingredients-- chicken cubes, peppers, wheels of tomatoes, those loaves of bread, sliced swiftly. I just finished putting six turkey, cheese and spinach sandwiches I made this morning and about a gallon of Vitamin Water in the small humming refrigerator for Colin to eat tomorrow after the weigh-ins for the Iowa City West quad against Apple Valley and Marmion.
The varsity team should arrive in a few hours, they were leaving after school. Already a few parents and some of our stalwart Oak Park-River Forest Huskies Wrestling Family fans have checked in; we passed in the lobby. The virtues of the adjacent IHOP have been discussed. Proximity was the tipping point in that restaurant review.
Driving here listening to a 70s and 80s radio station from the Quad Cities that lasted at least 100 miles of the trip, between the Stevie Nicks, Journey and Stevie Wonder, I was feeling a bit nostalgic. With a windshield view of grey ice ribbon pavement, I started to think of all the miles I have logged in nine years as a high school wrestling mom, some alone, some with Colin or Brendan in the backseat, some with Caryn or Danne at the wheel-- wrestling moms with as much stamina and vigor as any screaming sports fan I have ever seen on stadium shots on ESPN. Except we never paint our foreheads or bellies. At least not yet.
I started to write this column in my head and mull what I have learned about life in the stands of wrestling meets. Just sitting there has taught me a lot, and not just about the virtues of escape points and the gracefulness of a takedown, but about general human behavior on and off the mat. I came to be a spectator of this sport when my oldest son, Weldon, was in sixth grade in youth wrestling. He is now 23 and living in Madrid, going to graduate school.
So it has been a long time of stands-sitting, so much that I wonder why they call them stands and not "sits." With the benefit of hundreds, probably thousands of hours logged in the stands for 14 years when you count youth wrestling plus high school; Colin now in his final varsity year, I bet I have heard the shrill screech of billions of whistles. And every week, every season, some of the same scenes play out, over and over, like rendiitions of "CATS" or "RENT" in musical theaters in suburban strip malls across America.
Tomorrow all day I will be in another high school gym, this one in Iowa City. Oh yes, I have learned that all high school gyms across America look pretty much alike-- sure they have different colors and mascots and some stands even have backs to the seats-- but once you are sitting in the stands, the view is pretty much the same. The lessons I have learned watching wrestling have been not just about the sport, or my sons, but about other people, life and of course, myself.
1. Focus. If there are six or eight mats in a gym, all with simultaneous wrestling matches, you could look away, have a piece of lint in your eye or chat with the mother next to you and miss your son's match entirely. You have to pay attention. Listen for his name. Follow him to make sure you know where he will be. Then don't look away. The three two-minute periods feel like an eternity when your son is up against someone who looks like he is made of metal, but you need to concentrate, watch carefully and pay attention. Life, like a wrestling match, goes by quickly. The clock moves relentleslly forward. Daydream and you will miss the entire reason you are here.
2. Accountability. For a wrestler on the mat, it's just him. He is alone out there with all the tricks from practice, his coach's moves, his own self-talk and plans to have his hand held in the air at the end. He can blame no one. This is something he does alone. It's true in wrestling, it's true in life. Every takedown is yours, every escape, every pin, every mistake. This sports teaches humility as well as pride. There is no hiding. From the stands, every single young man looks brave. On the mat, every single wrestler owns his actions. More people should believe in that simple truth.
3. Redemption. Every match is a chance to prove yourself. Every second you can change the outcome. It's a hard sport and all of us in the stands? We are marvelling that you keep coming back to the center to try again, 20 times a two-minute period, 100 times a tournament. We scream your name because you cannot rest on your record, your record is up for erasure every single time you meet an opponent. But you can redeem yourself. Last week's loss is this week's major. Even if you are losing, you can escape, dominate and pin your opponent. Then nothing that happened before in that match matters. You won. I love that part about wrestling. At any second you can dominate and reclaim your intent. We all know this is true, but it is magnified, its importance amplified in wrestling. At any point, you can regain it all and win.
4. Recovery. At most every tournament someone gets hurt. A nose bleed mostly, a broken arm, separated shoulder or concussion at the worst. As in life, the clock stops for blood time. The clock stops for injury. You get to pick yourself up and let the trainer wipe off the blood, off you, off your opponent, off the mat. Then, nine times out of ten, go back to wrestling. You'll recover. Just go back and try again. We all will heal. From everything.
5. Sometimes you get a bad referee. Everyone who has ever had a bad boss can attest to the validity of this one. Sometimes the guy in the black striped shirt (occasionally it's a woman), is too slow to call a pin, too fast to call a stall, or won't begin to count for back points, and you can do nothing about it. Sometimes the ref skews the calls in your favor, sometimes against your team. But if you act like a jerk and argue from the stands, the ref will get mad and tell you to stop and maybe ask you to leave. This isn't professional boxing, it's high school. If the coach argues with the calls too much, he looks like a jerk and if the wrestler argues, well, that's maybe a point for the other team. The life lesson is to get this: Sometimes you are not in control and it doesn't seem fair because it's not.
6. Integrity shows. The wrestler who throws his headgear after a loss, shoves an opponent, deliberately pokes an eye or --this one kills me-- refuses to shake the hand of the opposing coach or the wrestler who just beat him, looks like a jackass. Even at 14, even after you went to your back and were pinned in the first period, you can still get up and show that you respect the other team and the sport. And yourself. Even if your father is screaming at you and you want to cry, shake the other coach's hand. The gym is watching. When you grow up, you are the guy no one wants to see outside of work, the guy no one invites to parties. Show you know how to be respectful. Because who you are shows.
7. Make the choice. On any given Saturday, or for that matter Thursday or Friday night, I am quite sure we could all find other things to do. Shovel the driveway. Put in a load of laundry. Go grocery shopping. Drink wine. Sleep late. Work. Watch one of those housewives of wherever shows. But you chose to come to the gym and to watch your son wrestle. Shout for the team. Applaud like crazy if he wins. Buy him a Gatorade. Pat him on the back if he loses. Look sympathetic. Just do not complain while you are sitting there. Choose to be present. You are not martyred by your child's participation in a sport he may love. It doesn't matter if all your parents ever did was drop you off at practice and pick you up when the game was over, with this sport, you are going to stay until it is over. And you are not going to moan that you could have gone somewhere else. It's six minutes at a time. Choose. Smile. Because it is the right choice.
8. You will like like-minded people. The kind of person who spends many hours a week watching wrestling, washing wrestling gear and agonizing over weigh-ins is probably someone you will like to be friends with. This is not a glamorous sport. This is a tough sport without cute uniforms. There are no cheerleaders. Again, my unscientific observation is that close to 80 percent of the parents sitting in the stands are selfless, kind people who would help their kid anyway they can. They like the sport. You can talk to other parents and find this common ground. You can share a joke. You can compliment each other's children. And you can make friends.
9. It's better to be prepared. Take the half-hour to make the turkey sandiwches for yourself and your wrestler to eat at the tournaments. This way you will not have to buy the pizza, donuts or old popcorn at the concession stands. Watching wrestling makes you hungry, so chances are all the weight your child has to lose in season, will find its way to your backside if you don't pack your own food. Last time I checked you don't burn many calories watching wrestling. The wrestlers burn the calories. Not the wrestling moms. Yes, some parents go overboard and bring the coffin-sized coolers filled with food. But just know that you will save yourself money and saturated fats, by thinking ahead.
10. It feels good to win. Honestly, it just does. In life, it feels good to get the raise, the promotion, the contract, the award, the applause. Imagine standing in a sweaty singlet, having been nearly crushed by another human in a sweaty singlet, with your hand raised in the air for hundreds of people to see. You won. You did it. I have a lot of photos of my boys with their hands in the air-- Weldon, Brendan and Colin. I want them to remember the moment, to own it, to know they worked hard to get that feeling.
And I want them to know I was in the stands watching.
I know we are all supposed to be above this kind of thing. We are not gloat. We are in it for the challenge and the discipline of the sport. But oh my, it is one of the 10 best feelings in the world when your son has his hand raised in victory in a wrestling match when he is giving his all.
Multiply that times 100 when he pins the guy.
Thursday Colin won big, pinning all five of his opponents at 138 pounds at the William "Red" Schmitt 51st annual Holiday Wrestling Tournament in Granite City, Illiinois. Day 1 of the tournament could not have gone better. The Oak Park-River Forest Huskies are all doing incredibly well, 46 wins, 11 losses for the 13-man roster. (We're missing a few kids.)
OPRF is winning in team points, and Colin contributed the most you can to his team. Five pins at six points each.
Not only that the weather is great-- sunny and about 45 to 50 degrees, the parents are polite, the food is OK and I am so happy for Colin. Brendan made the trip with me and we are screaming and cheering for Colin and everyone on the team. Back to the gym right now.
Wrestling Mom extraordinaire Caryn Brooks, mother of the legendary wrestlers, Max, Ben and Sammy Brooks, has this to say on the eve of the Granite City tournament: You know you're a wrestling parent when...
You walk into the doctor’s office and there’s no need for a scale, your child’s weight is written in sharpie on his shoulder.
December 31st is the day after the Midlands tournament. I know it’s also something else, but that escapes me.
Beyonce sings about all the “single ladies” and you hear “all the single legs” and wonder why Beyonce has a song out about wrestling?
The smell of wrestling shoes brings back memories of matches rather than makes you sick to your stomach (ok, it might make you sick to your stomach as well).
You know more about rashes than your doctor.
Fargo is where you go every summer instead of on a vacation.
Your first thought when you hear cauliflower is about your child’s ears, not about what you put in your mouth.
Hugs are banned. They only lead to a body lock or double unders and you’re afraid you’ll get thrown.
You don’t even notice how much your butt and back hurt on the bleachers at an all-day tournament because there are some really good matches.
Everyone who steps on the mat with your child looks so much bigger and stronger than your kid, how could they possibly weigh the same?
I know there are more ways to know you’re a wrestling mom (or dad), please feel free to add your own. Let’s see how many we can come up with.
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.
If only someone had told me….
That was the thought that kept running through my mind as I went through the recruiting process with my son Sam. So I am here to tell you all the things I wished someone had told me before July 1st.
According to NCAA rules July 1st is the day coaches can contact your son or daughter directly, though the rules about Facebook and texting are fuzzy so they might be contacting your child directly even sooner.
Coaches know what a 17 or 18-year-old wrestler cares about. They play to hopes and dreams of championships and gold medals. On one official visit the coaches were sure to take a route that passed the outdoor pool with hot tubs and a waterfall at the rec center. It was an especially warm weekend at the end of August and plenty of young women were working on their tans while wearing very little.
Of course the singlet, sweats, shoes and more that each school gives its wrestlers were on display as part of the tour.
Then there’s the charisma. Imagine how a young man feels when an Olympic gold medalist or an NCAA champion is their new best friend. I am an adult and as a wrestling fan admit to being star struck by more than one head coach. The tough part is to look beyond the promises, to take off the rose colored glasses and to see a school and a wrestling program as it really is.
Don’t be shocked by the compliance letter you must sign before the visit. This is where they let you know that there’s no drinking or other illegal activities. One school even specified “no strippers”. I don’t want to know about the incident that led to that being spelled out. I am not naive enough to think that college students don’t drink, but we talked about which schools had team members who drank at parties during the recruiting trip and that factored into Sam’s decision.
The NCAA allows five official visits. On an official visit schools pay for the recruit’s travel to and from the school (parents are on their own). They pay for the parent’s and the recruit’s hotel and meals, though at some schools the recruits stay with team members. Even though they are mandated at no longer than 48 hours, the trips can be exhausting.
But take advantage of them even if your child has a school in mind. It is good to compare and contrast. At one point Sam thought he had found the right school and wanted to cancel the rest of his visits. We persuaded him not to cancel. The school he chose was the one he visited last.
This is a high-class problem, but don’t underestimate the stress and pressure of the decision. Sam, who is a laid back young man, broke out in a rash just before his final visit. It’s the biggest decision of their young lives and they want to get it right. To that end we helped him with a “decision dinner”.
Sam, his father, his high school coach, Mike Powell and I took several hours over dinner. We made a scorecard of sorts giving points for various characteristics such as overall academics, academic support, student/teacher ratio and on the wrestling side, coaches stability, teammates likability and history of success. The points didn’t really matter but the categories spurred good discussion. By the end of the dinner Sam had his answer.
He did not pick the school that offered the most money and we are okay with that – it’s not that we’re made of money, far from it, but we want Sam to be happy and productive above all else. We asked Sam to call the schools who had recruited him that he did not chose, immediately after calling the coach whose team he will join. That was a good thing. By the time I had gotten home from the “decision dinner” word was out via twitter and then a wrestling website.
Oh, yes you’re probably wondering - Sam gave his verbal commitment to the University of Iowa. Go Hawkeyes!
Thankfully that didn’t happen on our trip to the FILA Cadet World Championships in Szombathely, Hungary, but it almost did.
Two months before the tournament I sent the schedule to my father who also came to Hungary to see Sam wrestle in his first international competition. Opening ceremonies were at 7pm on Tuesday, August 23 so my father, his friend and I arrive in Szombathely from Budapest at noon. We thought we would check into the hotel and have lunch, maybe nap and then make our way to the arena at 5:30 to get tickets and seats. My father though insisted on going to the arena just to get our tickets right away. We tried to dissuade him thinking the place might not even be open, but he was insistent.
When we arrived the arena was open and we got our tickets outside. Then we decided to take a peek at the mats and we went in. We didn’t get far before we ran into Sam’s dad who informed us that wrestling starts at 1pm and this is the only day that Sam will wrestle. Yes the wrestling starts before the opening ceremony. In fact the only thing after the ceremony is the medal round!
Boy, were we glad fate stepped in. Watching Sam in that environment was such a thrill. The wrestling was at a very high level. The arena was like any in the U.S. – three big mats on the floor, t-shirts and junk food for sale and uncomfortable benches for the fans.
No surprise, Hungary had the biggest, loudest fan contingent. I think the U.S. might have been next – not in number of fans, but in enthusiasm and volume. The U.S. team was made up of wrestlers from all over the country so there was only one other parent I knew, but that didn’t matter. We cheered for each boy like they were our own. Introductions were done after the boys were done – no one wanted to miss a minute of wrestling. Freestyle continued the next day, then the womens’ freestyle and then Greco Roman. I wished I could have stayed to watch it all – but that might have been pushing my luck after all I almost missed day one, Sam’s day.
At a fundraiser held in a bar near Midway Airport recently, wrestling moms, dads, aunts, friends and a three-time world champion shared pizza, meatballs and world-class encouragement for a quad squad of Illinois wrestlers headed to Szombathley, Hungary this week to compete in the World Championships.
All of it to help four Illinois wrestlers; Matt Rundell, Darius Henry, Sammy Brooks and Zane Richards, with the costs of the overseas trip.
Organized by Mike Rundell, father of Huskie wrestler Matt Rundell, who is headed to Hungary to compete,
the party hit a high note when Lee Kemp, 54, a three-time world champion, member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and three-time national champion while at University of Wisconsin, gave the young wrestlers and the crowd words of wisdom.
"When you are there, you feel like you are respresenting your whole country," said Kemp, who is a now a nutritional consultant for Fitness Arts, a wellness company in Palatine. "With your USA wrestling uniform on, you know you have to do your best because on and off the mat, you represent the country in everything you do."
Kemp, who appears modest and humble, has a lifetime of victories to ponder, including the 1976 match when he beat Iowa legend Dan Gable 7-6.
"I started wrestling in ninth grade," said Kemp, an Ohio native. "I made varsity and then I won the state tournament the next two years at 138 and 145." From there he went to UW-Madison, where he also became a legend.
"Wrestling has been a sport that taught me about life and about disappointments," said Kemp, who went on to become the U.S. Olympics wrestling coach in 2008.
To sum up the night:
Attending the party: $50
Total raised for team: $2,000
Inspiration for life and wrestling: Priceless
This from Wrestling Mom Extraordinaire Caryn Brooks:
Team Illinois dominated when the nation’s best wrestlers gathered in Fargo, North Dakota this summer and took to the mats for bragging rights and pride. Illinois finished the freestyle tournament with 93 points. Iowa came in second with 55 points. Illinois also finished the Greco tournament with more points than any other state.
Now our state is sending four wrestlers to be part of U.S. team that will take on the world. Those wrestlers will compete in the 2011 FILA Cadet World Championships in Szombathely, Hungary August 23-29.
Sam Brooks, an OPRFHS senior this year, is one of those wrestlers. Darius Henry, a junior at OPRFHS wrestler is also going, as well as Matt Rundell, an incoming OPRF freshman and a former Little Huskies wrestler. Also from Illinois are Zane Richards from Carbondale and Mitchell Alexander from Conant High School.
The U.S. Olympic Committee pays for some of the cost, but athletes are responsible for a large dollar amount. To help defray that you are invited to the Illinois’ World Championship Party! a benefit to raise money for Illinois wrestlers competing in Hungary.
WHEN: August 13, 6-10pm
WHERE: Guides Sports Club, 5544 S. Archer Ave Chicago, IL 60638.
Tickets are $50 per person (includes pizza, pasta, salad, and open bar).
If you can’t make the party but would like to donate please make checks payable to Little Huskies Wrestling Club. Please call Mike Rundell @ 312-343-3988 or email email@example.com
I know I can speak for the athletes and their families when I say we could not be more grateful for your support.
Many of us who are members of the Huskies Wrestling Family have been watching Ellis Coleman for years, since he was an eighth grader member of the Little Huskies.
We all knew this great young man was aiming for the status of legend. And here he is at the Junior World Wrestling Championships, a 2009 graduate of Oak Park-River Forest High School, this week making this crazy flying squirrel Ellis move that landed him on the home page of Yahoo, ESPN and so many sites.
The local ABC 7 News last night called him 'this guy," but he is our own Ellis. love him. Below is his interview from 2009, before the start of his senior year, talking about life, wrestling, Coach Powell and his future.
Anyone who knows Ellis cannot help but pleased for what he has accomplished. He is a role model for young men and especially for the young wrestlers in the program looking to his tradition of excellence. And he took bronze at Junior World.
The question is not why does this happen but how can we make it not happen again?
The heart-wrenching photos of the parents surrounded by hundreds of relatives, friends, teachers and coaches from the Saturday funeral of a 17-year-old Chicago high school senior make me weep. Though I did not know Kevin Kennelley, Jr., the Mount Carmel High School athlete from the Beverly neighborhood who died following his intervention in a fight in Long Beach, Indiana, I believe I know the kind of young man he was.
Because I have raised three of them.
Over the July 4th weekend Kennelley died from injuries caused by blunt force trauma to his head, as he was trying to break up a scuffle at a summer getaway popular with Chicagoans for generations. The boys and I were just a few miles away that weekend.
Kennelley was a young man just trying to do the right thing. And his parents, like many of us, have spent our lives trying to teach our sons to do just that.
Reports say Chicagoan James Malecek, 19, a Loyola Academy graduate and athlete, has not been in trouble before and was trying to defend his sister, not from Kennelley, but from others throwing taunts. Malecek, a former high school football player, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery because of his punch to Kennelly that caused his death.
The ABC-TV show, “What Would You Do?” highlights just such scenes of emotional altercations and records the reactions and interventions of passers by. Those who step in are applauded.
As an empathetic parent, the question is not how did this happen, but is there anything we can do to guarantee it doesn’t recur?
The fact that both young men were athletes may have contributed to their behavior, according to a 2009 study of more than 13,000 male and female high school students. The study from the Injury Prevention Center at University Hospitals’ Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland showed that boys who participated in team sports reported fighting 30 percent more often than nonathletes. I believe that data speaks not to athletes being more pugnacious, but athletes being more confident in their strength and tenacity, the natural ability to prevail. I know a whole lot of wrestlers who think they can always win.
I know that I have told my sons—all athletes who have wrestled in youth and high school-- to walk away from conflict. They scoff at me and tell me I don’t understand the dynamics of male interaction. In addition to teaching them not to instigate any kind of fight, I have also taught them lessons of fairness and self-confidence. I don't know if they listen. But like many young men, each one of them is self-assured of their strength, agility and athleticism.
I am not sure that my sons, Weldon, 22, Brendan, 20, or Colin, 17, would walk away. Colin is the same age as Kennelley was. I am not certain my boys would stand by if they saw someone get hurt, jumped, ganged up on—or especially if they saw a man bullying a woman. Brendan, just a year older than Malecek, has told me he has intervened in just such a scene at his college campus.
Yes. Hundreds of teens die in Chicago each year due to senseless violence, many of them shootings and beatings, including the 18-year-old Chicago teen shot and killed on July 4th by a 57-year-old who believed he was burglarizing his vehicle. A few days earlier a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed as he walked down a Southwest side alley. Younger children die walking onto their porches. It seems each day the news has another awful story of a life cut down. Because the incidents are becoming commonplace, the horror of each death is not reduced.
Still, you don’t expect to read news of a young man dying at a beach party trying to stop a fight.
I understand how this brand of tragedy can happen and how quickly a momentary decision can change lives forever. It ended one life and changed another for the worse. The decision to fight. The decision to try to stop one.
Short of turning back time to the early childhoods of everyone involved in this one tragedy of the July 4th weekend and reprogramming each player in that event to avoid confrontation at all costs for a lifetime, I am not sure what we can possibly do to avert another similar outcome. And that notion terrifies me.
My heart cries for Jean and Kevin Kennelly, Sr., their family and all those who knew him as a baseball and soccer player, good student and loving son.
I grew up spending summers at my family’s house at Stop 22 in Long Beach, just four bus stops from the scene at Stop 26. In the 70s and 80s, Long Beach was a quiet, family retreat with a few public beaches interrupting the long, wide stretch of sand from Michigan City to Grand Beach. My mother sold that house off Karwick Road in the early 90s, after my father passed away and she had little desire to maintain by herself a four-bedroom summer getaway for six married children and 21 active grandchildren.
I know that stretch of sand in Long Beach well. I know the kind of young man like Kevin who would try to stop a fight, because my sons are the same type. And I know there is no way to look at this senseless death other than as a horrible waste of a life destined for much bigger things.
Get ready for a closeup: Just got this query this morning, from casting producers looking to create a reality TV show on super moms. Naturally they thought wrestling moms would be a great piece of the equation.
You have to have a son or daughter in youth wrestling (not high school) to be considered. Contact information is below. Not kidding. Dang. Colin is a senior in high school.
NOW CASTING: “SUPERMOMS” FOR NEW CABLE SERIES!
Do you pride yourself in being heavily involved in your child’s activities? Do you feel that your children are gifted with superior abilities in sports and/or the performing arts? Are you, without question, your child’s biggest cheerleader? Will you go above and beyond to make sure that your child can achieve his or her dreams? Have you and your friends bonded over a shared passion for your children’s activities?
If this sounds like you, and you have elementary and/or middle school-aged children, we want to hear from you!
A new television docu-series is seeking a passionate, dynamic group of Moms that we can follow in their pursuit of their children’s excellence! Raising an exceptional kid is hard work, and this series aims to capture the ups and downs, the triumphs and the losses, and the camaraderie that passionate and extremely involved mothers of gifted children share. If you feel that other parents across the country would be inspired by you, your children and your circle of friends, please contact us!
For more information and to speak with a Casting Producer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, location, and a brief summary of your story. We look forward to hearing from you!
The Supermoms Team
I am going to Hungary at the end of August.
It’s a trip I didn’t expect to make. Not because I didn’t think my son Sam would qualify for the Cadet World Championships. I naively think Sam will win every match he wrestles. But because that kind of trip is out of reach financially for me.
I was planning to stay home and watch on my computer (they stream everything now so why not this?) until my 77-year-old father called me and said, “I’d like to pay for your ticket.”
Needless to say I was stunned.
A roundtrip ticket to Hungary is more than $1,0000. Don’t get me wrong my father is a generous person who loves his children, but this was above and beyond for something that was not a necessity.
Then I asked him why he wanted to do this and the answer made me stop and think about the real role of wrestling moms and dads.
My dad said, “You have schlepped (a Yiddish word for dragged) that kid and sat in high school gyms all across the country and now he’s going to wrestle on the world stage. You have to be there, you deserve it.”
I have never thought of it that way. Yes, I have sat in gyms almost every weekend since Sam was 8 years old watching him wrestle. Yes, I have complained about the long drives, the long days and the uncomfortable wooden benches. But it was always fun to watch him and my other two sons do something they love. Their joy has brought me joy.
Of course losing hurts them so it hurt me. But as they learned important lessons in losing, I learned to help them lose gracefully. As they learned to win with humility, I learned to help them keep things in perspective. As they grew as wrestlers, I grew as a parent.
As wrestling parents we all make hard choices. My children, especially Sam, have been given amazing opportunities because of wrestling. I would like to be there as they take advantage of those things, but it’s not always possible.
Some people look forward to a trip to Florida in the winter, I look forward to the Holiday Tournament in Granite City, Illinois. Some people take a summer trip to the lake. My summer trips are either Oklahoma City (for the national duals) or Fargo (for the national individual tournament).
This year I didn’t go to Granite City or to Oklahoma City and I will not make it to Fargo. But I am going to take my father up on his offer and go to Hungary. And I will make more of an effort to get to Granite City, Oklahoma City, Fargo or wherever wrestling and life takes my boys. My dad’s right – I deserve to share in the joy of watching my children do their best and so do you.
Every time I think about Coach Powell and what a great man he is and how I am so grateful to have him and all the other Oak Park-River Forest High School wrestling coaches in my sons' lives, he goes ahead and does something Powellish. Like call from Vista, California, where he was at a weeklong wrestling camp with some of the team, and tells me about something Colin needs. And then I go and finally edit the video from the wrestling banquet that was a long time ago-- OK, March-- and I see that I am not at all making any of this up.
See for yourself. Coach Powell talks about the coaches, the Oak Park-River Forest High School Huskies wrestling team, recent 2010 grad Charlie Johnson, and how any man can be extraordinary. Listen to senior Brian Toldeo talk about how wrestling changed his life. Watch Chris Ellis embrace Coach Powell.
This is why our sons wrestle. This is why we call ourselves the Huskies Wrestling Family. This is why the experience of having my three sons listen to the advice of this coach on and off the mat has changed all their lives for the better.
Speaking of off-season work ethic, Coach Mike Powell is in San Diego with some of the team training with the Vista wrestlers for a week of twice a day wrestling practices. Colin is there and working hard. The Vista wrestlers come to Oak Park in two weeks to train here.
Powell left for California from Oklahoma City where he got to watch Team Illinois win first in the Greco-Roman championship at Junior National Duals, beating Team Wisconsin 40-17. Team Illinois was helped of course by Sammy Brooks, our own OPRFHS wrestler and a frequent visitor to our kitchen.
The young men this summer are working hard as Coach Powell requires, and are planning to win in Bloomington next spring.
I wrote an op/ed in the Chicago Tribune Friday, applauding the good fathers like my own, and urging all the fathers who fall short of their responsibilities to step up to the plate. I wrote about how Father's Day in my house is not a holiday we celebrate because my three sons have no contact with their own father who abandoned them physically, financially and emotionally years ago.
I got a lot of kudos and a whole lot of hate mail. One anonymous blogger called me a sociopath, another said I could not possibly ever have a partner. Someone else said I hated men.
Never mind the praise I have for good fathers. Never mind that I grew up with a father all six of his children adored. And who gave them all he ever could, including a role model for someone who has integrity, character and a wickedly dry sense of humor.
I guess some commenters don't read past the headline. Which is why I call this form of verbal vitriol a "blog by." And I think my father would be amused by it and he would ask me why in the world I was upset by something so ludicrous when I knew the truth.
The truth is many men need to step up to their responsibilities. It is not a class issue, a race issue or even a generational issue. It is a human rights issue.
Today my oldest son forwarded me an email from the head of a much bigger household. Barack Obama, himself raised by a single mother in the absence of a father, writing from the White House.
Good morning, I grew up without a father around. I was lucky enough to be raised by a wonderful mother who, like so many heroic single mothers, never allowed my father's absence to be an excuse for me to slack off or not always do my best. But I often wonder what it would have been like if my father had a greater presence in my life. So as a father of two young girls, I've tried hard to be a good dad. I haven't always been perfect – there have been times when work kept me away from my family too often, and most of the parenting duties fell to Michelle. I know many other fathers face similar challenges. Whether you're a military dad returning from deployment or a father doing his best to make ends meet for his family in a tough economy, being a parent isn't easy. That's why my Administration is kicking off the Year of Strong Fathers, Strong Families. We're joining with dads across the country to do something about father absence. And we're taking steps to offer men who want to be good fathers but are facing challenges in their lives a little extra support, while partnering with businesses to offer fun opportunities for fathers to spend time with their kids. For example, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Major League Baseball and the WNBA are offering discounts for fathers and their kids, and companies like Groupon and LivingSocial will be featuring special offers for activities fathers can do with their children.
There are so many good men my boys have the grace to be around. Coach Powell most of all. I wrote about Powell's influence on my sons in an essay in the new book, This I Believe on Fatherhood. So I won't be redundant. But the news is that Coach Powell, Coach Paul Collins and Coach Mike Boyd returned on Friday from a trip to Zion National Park. These men volunteered their time for the young men who are seniors on the Oak Park-River Forest wrestling team.
I grew up without a father around. I was lucky enough to be raised by a wonderful mother who, like so many heroic single mothers, never allowed my father's absence to be an excuse for me to slack off or not always do my best. But I often wonder what it would have been like if my father had a greater presence in my life.
So as a father of two young girls, I've tried hard to be a good dad. I haven't always been perfect – there have been times when work kept me away from my family too often, and most of the parenting duties fell to Michelle.
I know many other fathers face similar challenges. Whether you're a military dad returning from deployment or a father doing his best to make ends meet for his family in a tough economy, being a parent isn't easy.
That's why my Administration is kicking off the Year of Strong Fathers, Strong Families. We're joining with dads across the country to do something about father absence. And we're taking steps to offer men who want to be good fathers but are facing challenges in their lives a little extra support, while partnering with businesses to offer fun opportunities for fathers to spend time with their kids. For example, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Major League Baseball and the WNBA are offering discounts for fathers and their kids, and companies like Groupon and LivingSocial will be featuring special offers for activities fathers can do with their children.
It sounds corny and cinematic, but Colin is different since he came home. He acts more like a man. He is calmer. He is more polite. He is more helpful. I saw a similar transformation in Weldon and Brendan after their senior trips, both of them also with Coach Powell.
On this Father's Day, I acknowledge that because of the stellar life examples of the men who have mentored all three, my sons will know just exactly how to be a good father. And they can look to the White House and see that a man without a father can grow up not only to be the leader of the free world but a good father as well.
And I am more grateful than you can ever know.
It’s Saturday night and I have the rare opportunity to do whatever I want. My three sons are all young adults and elsewhere at this point in their lives. You might think I’d pull out that romance novel I’ve been looking forward to (yes, I know they are trashy, but I love them) or put on a chick flick I haven’t been able to watch.
But no, I have a better guilty pleasure in mind, wrestling. Not just any wrestling, the 2011 U.S. World Team Trials streamed live from Oklahoma City. In Greco Roman and freestyle our country’s best wrestlers put on a great display, but the most anticipated matches were in freestyle at 84 kilos or 185.5 pounds (coincidently the same weight at which my youngest son Sam wrestles).
Cael Sanderson, Olympic gold medalist, NCAA champion and head coach of the national champion Penn State Nittany Lions, was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame one day and took to the mats to make his comeback the next. After 6 years away would it be too late? Just days shy of his 32nd birthday would he be too old?
Not Too Late, Not Too Old
Cael Sanderson won a mini tournament. He would have to win 2 out of 3 matches against World silver medalist and 2 time NCAA champion Jake Herbert to get a spot on the World Team. Herbert is 24 years old. In his corner is Coach Sean Bormet, a man I have seen in the corner for Sam since he was 10 years old.
The matches were high energy, lots of action and great scrambles. This was experience versus youth, David versus Goliath, the legend Sanderson versus the up-and-coming Herbert. This time experience prevailed and Sanderson will represent the U.S. with the other World team members in September in Istanbul, Turkey. When he does I will put down that romance novel and watch.
I say I watch because I can’t help myself, I love wrestling and I do. But maybe deep down I have an ulterior motive. Sam wants to compete at that level one day and I want to support him. So I watch to see what it takes, how good you really have to be. Sam will get his first chance to wrestle on the world stage in August when he represents the U.S. at 84K in freestyle at the Cadet World Championships in Szombathely, Hungary. Thankfully Cael Sanderson is too old for that tournament!
For a few years when the boys were small I went out to eat on Mother's Day with them, paid the hefty brunch prices and basked in the boys' adoration, even if they did keep asking the waiter to refill the bread basket so many times he was deeply annoyed. I felt as a single mother-- since the year Weldon was 6, Brendan was 4 and Colin was 1-- that I deserved a great meal I didn't create on one day a year anyway.
But I was always more than a little sad watching all the other father-present families (I never did like the term intact, because the opposite is unglued?), jealous, yes, and reminded of not just what was for our family, but what wasn't. For our family anyway.
So I have chosen for the past 10 or 12 years or more to have Mother's Day at home. Either the boys cook or we get carry-out Chinese. Egg foo young to be exact.
This Mother's Day, Weldon, at 22, is finishing up his finals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and won't be home.
"We'll celebrate next weekend," he said. I'll be in Madison to watch him graduate with honors, with a triple major. I am burst into flames proud of him.
Learning from my other mom friends that I had to get a hotel room in Madison a year in advance, I circled 5/14 on my calendar in 2010, and at 9 a.m. that morning a year ago called the hotel near his apartment and a block from campus to make my graduation weekend reservation. Though the room prices nearly quadrupled from the rate during the rest of the year, I booked instantly and eagerly.
Now I see that choice is making me choose.
Next weekend is Greco State for Colin, and I need to be there as well. It is a big tournament for him and for the OPRF team, as we host it at home. Coach Mike Powell sent out an email that he needs all of us on deck, for concessions, check-in, anything, everything we can do to help. I had to choose Weldon over Colin. College graduation trumps a big wrestling tournament, and Colin is a junior. He has next year. I just can't do both.
I am lucky Brendan, 20, is on the quarter system at Ohio State (same as me at Northwestern University) and this is not the weekend I have to drive to Columbus, pack him up and move him out. Brendan said he is sending me my Mother's Day present and will make me a fantastic meal when he gets home.
The Thursday and Friday in June I drive to retrieve Brendan, I am missing the ACT test for Colin (not that he needs me much, I just would like to make him a protein-filled breakfast). The next day I am working at a day-long seminar and I will miss the send-off for him on his senior trip with the wrestling team.
For Weldon and Brendan's senior trips, I was able to drive a group of wrestlers to the airport each time. That allowed me to get a few hugs in at curbside from my sons as well as my caveats and last-minute reassurances that yes, each indeed had his drivers license, sleeping bag and money.
It seems for the past 15 years as the only parent I have been choosing one child over the other out of sheer logisitics. When they were all on Little League baseball teams, each son played on a different field in different teams in our suburb, and some games, unbelievably were scheduled at exactly the same time. I drove like a crazy woman from one field to another, often missing the perfect play from one son while watching another son wait for his at bat from the bench.
Many, many times I had to choose work over the school assembly or the in-class presentation, many I found aggressively scheduled mid-day. But as the only income in the household, I seriously had no choice. I still have no choice.
As a mother I have always been trying to make the right choices for them, for their futures, for their presents. I know, I know, I know. I am not perfect. I am not the best mother in the universe. I yell. Though definitely not as much in the last few years. Perhaps I am just too tired.
I have many recurring dreams about my sons. The one I often have is they are waiting downstairs in our house for me to get packed; we are scheduled to board a plane, I don’t know where we are going but it is an international flight—and I cannot execute the simple process of getting my clothes and shoes packed, and then I cannot remember how to get to the airport and I am worried if the boys themselves are packed, if they have everything they need.
Sometimes I wake up in that beginning part of the dream, where I am in my bedroom with an open suitcase, clothes, shoes and books thrown on the bed and the floor, and other times I wake up when the dream has moved to the airport—Chicago’s O’Hare—with me screaming to get through security, the boys (they are always small in the dream) tagging along behind me and me shouting that we cannot miss the plane.
The dream does not include the details of three-ounce bottles in plastic storage bags or pat-downs, but my heart is always pounding and I wake up sweating. There is never, ever a happy ending to this travel nightmare--when we are on the plane or have landed somewhere beautiful safely, you know, the postcard dream. No, we are always unsuccessfully en route, thwarted. We never arrive.
I listen to other mothers tell stories of their growing children – happy stories—and I wonder if that can possibly be true all the time. Or if they are delusional or deliberately skipping the less than optimal parts. Truth is it is difficult to be a mother, a parent, even when you have a partner who holds up his half of the house.
Does no one else have a flip side to the framed family photographs?
We have a not so old washing machine that may be on its last legs. It is my third washing machine in this house in 16 years. I know one washing machine is supposed to last that long in total, but in our house they just don’t—none of them do, no matter the brand, no matter the type, no matter how much they cost. I do about three full loads of laundry a day when the boys are all home—one full load a day when it is just Colin and I in the house—his workout clothes, towels, my workout clothes.
I am currently in full-blown denial about the washing machine and that it should be replaced. It does not spin. Let me revise that, it does not spin without an intervention.
It stops on the dial at the spin cycle. It only took me one or two loads of dripping wet clothes to see the problem. So to dry the clothes past dripping wet, I have to open the top, manually turn the basket with one arm, with the dial set to spin and one finger pressing in the hole where the top should be, so the basket will move at all. It takes three, four, five of my Fred Flintstone starting the car turns to get it moving, then fwack, I lift my finger and let the top of the machine come down. I pray the spinning continues and I have tricked the basket into spinning. I watch the hose in the cement tub to be sure water is coming out to prove the spin cycle is working.
Most of the time it does. A few minutes later, when the spin cycle stops on its own, the clothes are dry enough to hang or throw in the dryer (which also could stand to be replaced because it can only take a small towel, some socks and underwear at one time). No appliance in our home is in peak shape. You would never know, looking at the clean clothes in our closets or on our backs, smelling the clean sheets, admiring the clean guest towels in the bathroom off the kitchen, that the spins are not automatic. I intervene.
I can’t change the way it has worked out for my sons. I wish I had chosen better for a husband, I wish that their father had been the man he said he was and the father I imagined he would be, long ago in my 20s when he was young and handsome and full of promises. But that was an old choice. What I choose now is to move forward.
My good friend Susy emailed me recently that her life has been going extremely well personally and professionally because a while back she decided to choose to be happy.
I agree with her. Except I tell my sons all the time that being happy is not the goal of life, it is a byproduct of doing what you are here to do, finding your bliss by fulfilling your broader dreams of where you fit in the world. You can be happy eating a cheeseburger. Taking a nap. Watching “Jersey Shore.” Life is more than that. There is happy from immediate pleasure. And then there is lifelong happy that sometimes hurts along the way.
The choices I make do not make my sons happy all the time.
Yes, I am trying to do what is best for them. Often my choices are not optimal, only the best I can do. But I do know this: from now on, for me, for them, as Susy suggested, I choose happy.
Of course I go see "Win Win," the only wrestling movie since "The Wrestler," except this one is really about high school wrerstling. "The Wrestler" wasn't. I go with, of course who else but another wrestling mom. It's off season and we haven't watched wrestling live in weeks. We kind of miss it.
Bottom line is this is a great movie, but for a wrestling mom or dad, well, there just isn't enough wrestling in it. We wanted a wrestling movie. Bring it on.
The good news is the star of the movie, or at least the wrestling moms thought he was the star of the movie, is a real wrestler. And it shows. Alex Shaffer, a former New Jersey state champ at 17 in real life, is Kyle, the kid from the complicated family who ends up changing the team and the life outlook of the coach who ends up being his new fake dad.
It's all fine and dandy and true-feeling from the bad coaches and kids who are horrible in practice to the skinny kid, Stemler, who is terrified of wrestling, to the entire team on the bus en route to their own pinning crucifixions. We also loved the brief scene with all the wrestlers piling up the stairs and out of the Flaherty basement in a blur of muscular adolescence. And Kyle's tatoos. A lot of wrestlers have tattoos.
I won't bore you with a dissection of character and plot, but Paul Giammati is good, Amy Ryan as his wife is also great, (she's Holly on "The Office,") and she delivers one of the best lines of the movie. When asked what she would do to Kyle's drug-addicted mom who abandoned him, she says, "Go to Ohio and beat the crap out of her." Every mom in the audience cheered.
We didn't take a poll so I am not sure how many wrestling parents were in the audience, but if there were any, we would all notice the dilapidated high school gyms were real, the matches were real, the pins were real.
But Kyle's bleached blond hair wasn't. All wreslting parents know some teams have their wrestlers all bleach their hair for regionals, sectionals or state-- our team at Oak Park River Forest High School often has the boys all shave their heads. It's an intimidation thing. So is the bleach.
The problem is Kyle's hair never grew out; he had no roots. Maybe that was because in real life he had no family roots; OK, I am reaching here. The continuity editor missed that one, even though there is a clear passage of time from in-season to off-season. Just give me a scene of Kyle bleaching his hair in the sink.
The weights were off too. The only one who looked 119 was Stemler, tall and skinny. Kyle didn't look 125. He looked 135 or 140 to me. Wrestling moms can usually tell by looking at a kid in a singlet what he weighs. Oh, and to that point, Kyle ate in season. Ha. Pizza even. And not just after he made weight and won his match, but during the week.
We laughed, we cheered, we even teared. But we wanted more wrestling. Good news is there is real off-season wrestling to watch featuring our own sons quite soon.
An entire week plus has passed since the IHSA finals in Champaign, Illinois where I was proud to be part of the Huskies Wrestling Family and witnessing a lot of parents, coaches, family and friends cheering and inspiring the wrestlers they came to support from all over the state.
The friends and relatives of 125-pound state champion Danny Sabatello (a cousin of our own Coach Sabatello) from Stevenson High School made the entire Assembly Hall smile with their day-glo yellow t-shirts and matching coaches' dress shirts at the championship match.
I saw some remarkably poor sports, too. But I don't want to dignify the behavior by posting it, but it was there.
I also saw so many injuries-- young men stopping the match because they hit their heads, or being carried off on a body board on a stretcher or in a wheelchair. Perhaps I was extremely sensitive because of Colin's recent concussion and all the concussion news that has been secretly horrifying me. But my heart sank for all the young men out there whose dreams were shattered because of injury.
At this year's 2011 individual state finals, five of our OPRFHS wrestlers competed-- Darius Henry, Cameron Harris, Michael Woulfe, Chirino Watson and Sammy Brooks-- with Sammy coming home with the second place medal at 171 pounds.
The Grand March was thrilling, especailly seeing Sammy's name in lights while sitting next to his parents, Caryn and Charlie.
But an unsettling part of the video that played before the Grand March was the glorification of the MMA, which for me is not at all why my sons wrestle. It is not at all related to the sport that so many college-bound athletes engage in. Not one of the highlighted coaches or players was one of the hundreds who have gone on to scholarships and careers at great colleges, universities and junior colleges across the country. It was a skewed view for many of us, and exactly the violent, meathead, gangland stereotype we try to shift away from when we tell our friends our sons wrestle.
It takes a certain kind of young man to wrestle competively in youth, high school and college. It is not at all the kind of bleached blond, Mickey Rourke brand of ruthless, butt-kicking mayhem glorified in MMA. I was waiting for the video interviews of the young men, like our own Chris and Nick Dardanes, to talk about what it is like to wrestle at the University of Minnesota, after winning titles at the IHSA. But no. It was about MMA-style wrestling.
I am hoping that Colin makes it to state next year, his last opportunity. He was cleared by the concussion specialist just this Monday to go back to practice. He is coming on strong for the off-season. And yes, I will be terrified every second thinking he may get another head injury. So I will be praying.
I have been to five IHSA finals in Champaign to date; when Weldon competed at 140 in 2006 and 2007; and then when I went with the team in 2008 and 2009. I missed 2010 because Colin was out with MRSA after being hospitalized. I have my fingers crossed for 2011 for him.
When my friends and sisters ask me why I spent the weekend in Champaign when Colin wasn't competing, I can't explain it fully. They just don't understand the concept of the Wrestling Family. Perhaps you do. The first night after competition, we had tables pushed together for 25-- plus two more moms at another nearby booth-- at Applebee's in Champaign on Friday night. Coaches, moms, dads, siblings, wrestlers.
But, really, given all the options of what I could have done with my weekend? There was no other place in the world I would rather be.
It's an art of parenting and coaching. Be tough when you need to be. Kind when it counts. And everything in between at precisely the right time in the right tone and with the right message.
Watching Coach Mike Powell coach the seven qualifying OPRFHS wrestlers at Sectionals this weekend was a lesson in sharpening your intuition to deliver the lesson that is needed at exactly the right time. Delivering what needs to be said and making sure it is heard and felt immediately. And knowing your words will be heeded.
It's what I have been trying to do as a parent for 22 years.
When Cameron Harris won the match that would grant him a ride to the state tournament, I watched him jump into Coach Powell's arms in an embrace of gratitude and pure joy. I cheered as Powell looked as happy as Cameron was, saying to him exactly what he needed to hear right then.
I have watched Coach Powell reprimand a wrestler so strongly that I wondered if it was possible I ever could have that same kind of instant impact on my sons just with my words. He is never demeaning, but he is direct. The wrestler listens. Can I ever have those same results?
This past weekend I saw Coach Powell do what he did years ago to my oldest son, Weldon, at the state tournament in 2007. Powell reminded Weldon after losing a match, in extremely strong language, that Weldon did not make it all the way there to lose. He came there to place and to win. And he needed to get it done. Weldon took 4th.
Colin was at the sectionals this weekend as a spectator. He is still not cleared after his concussion until hopefully this coming Monday. The plan is after our morning doctor's visit for Colin to begin moderate exercise. I know how much Colin wanted to be there as a wrestler making it to the medal stands. Just not this year. And I watched as Coach Powell hugged him hello as soon as he saw Colin. And told him what I know he needed to hear. And later when I asked Colin how he felt, he said, "You can't change the past." I heard Coach Powell in that line.
No matter what I do as a mother, I can never be the mentor or guide Coach Powell is to Colin, or any of my sons. And maybe it would be weird or odd if I was. A mother is not a coach. We have different roles. I have been there since the very beginning.
But to watch how much the boys respect and heed Powell is stunning. I can be stern, sure, but I don't quite speak the same shorthand as Powell does to them. Or any of their great coaches. It's their code, the way they speak about wrestling and life and doing what matters when it matters.
I have taught all my boys to read, ride a bicycle, drive a car, heck, even eat with a fork, make a bed or a sandwich, fold clothes and study for tests, plus 10,000 other life skills they need to know to be able to get from Monday to Tuesday and from kindergarten through college. Sometimes I yelled when I probably didn't need to. Sometimes I was too soft when they took advantage of the situation and my weariness and then made mistakes I warned them about anyway.
You do what you can as a parent. And then you do more. You pray you say the right words at the right time and never too harshly. But there are times, plenty of times, you have to be hard on them, you just do. We have all seen enough examples of kids who went another route because no one was able to say the right thing, perhaps, or was strong enough to stop them from making the wrong moves again and again. And you hope in their lives there is someone, maybe if you are lucky, plenty of someones, who will say what needs to be said when it needs to be said and that the child will listen.
We have five wrestlers headed to state this weekend: Darius Henry, Sammy Brooks, Chirino Watson, Michael Woulfe and Cameron.
We'll be cheering them on, for sure. I'm even bringing along Champ, the stuffed Husky we dress in the OPRF Wrestling Family t-shirt and headgear. But from our place in the stands, our wrestlers on the mat won't be listening to what we have to say. And it will be fine.
You would think that good sportsmanship is a given, that as parents we are old enough to know better than to boo a young wrestler, a coach or a team. We want to teach our kids to be respectful, play fair, respect the referees and the opponents. After all, every match begins with a handshake between the opponents. And it is supposed to end with a handshake to the opposing team's coach.
I have watched wrestlers so upset with a loss they throw the headgear, stomp off and ignore the ritual of shaking the hand of the other coach. On occasion, some of our own wrestlers have behaved this way. And Coach Powell lets him have it. I think I have seen it happen a handful times since Weldon was a freshman in 2003.
But for some teams, astonishingly, not shaking the hand of the competing coach is the standard practice. It is what the coaches endorse. It is a statement that the other team does not deserve respect. I find that sad.
And a terrible lesson to teach young men.
Graciousness and humility in the face of loss is what makes any one of us strong. Mat rage and stand rage-- parents trash talking, booing, shouting obscenities to wrestlers and other parents-- is what makes us small.
It takes a conscious effort on the part of the parents to decide what kind of parents we will be and how we will behave. We cheer for our kids, not against someone else's. Even when the parents behind us boo other teams and other parents' sons. It is what we hope our kids see. That this is how we choose to be.
The sign of a strong person is how he or she faces adversity, upset, disappointment, loss. A measure of character is how you behave when you have no control. I have been taught those lessons often.
This was an extremely tough week for Colin, who suffered a severe concussion two weeks ago and was not cleared by the doctors in time for regionals. He was hoping he would be; he wasn't, and I was surprised at how deeply I felt disappointed for him. I know how much it meant to him, but I was tied up in it too. I wanted him to be with his team, helping them move ahead, but I also wanted to see his hand in the air in victory again this season. I really wanted to be in the stands with my good friends screaming Colin's name as well as their sons' names. I wanted us all to win. I love that feeling.
Even without Colin competing, I was there with our team in the stands, cheering on the Huskies. It was a good day, we came in 2nd, not first, so there will be no chance for Team State, when Colin was hoping to be cleared in time to compete. But seven of his friends and teammates are going on to sectionals, a huge group of victories. There will be more chances to be with other parents, as the stakes get higher, the tensions increase and parents can be seen behaving badly. Not all, actually, only a few. But it is enough.
Which brings me to the Ten Commandments for Wrestling Moms and Dads. No disrespect meant to the original Ten, this is just a light-hearted parody. Here is a set of rules to follow so that more of our kids can be proud of who we are and the examples we lend.
1. You shall have no other team before your child's.
Of course you can attend the events for your nieces, nephews, neighbors and friends' children. But never forget where your real loyalty lies and cheer for the child you came to cheer for, and never cheer against your own team.
2. You shall not display any high school team likeness or logo in your home, on your car or person other than your own team's. Of course when your other children go to college, you can wear those colors, and the colors of your own alma mater. But do not under any circumstance show up at a dual or tournament with the logo of an opposing team on your person.
3. You shall never boo at any tournament, meets or matches. Simply unacceptable, this is high school sports, not professional sports. Save your hate and your venom for the pros. These are in some cases 13-year-old kids. Know they have feelings. Know the impact of your vitriol on their well-being. Shame on you if you boo and if someone on your team ever boos another kid, coach or team, pull them aside and tell the parent to just plain old stop acting like a jerk.
4. Remember to keep the weekends of Individual and Team State free of obligatons and book a hotel room early. If your child makes it this far, for goodness sake, you don't want to have any other entanglement in your way.
5. Honor your child's coach and coaching staff. They may see your athlete more during the day than you do. Know it is a tough job. Be kind. Do not tell the coach what to do, do not tell the coach how to do his job. Respect the bond between your son and the coach; do not be jealous of it, but supportive.
6. Thou shalt not use mean words against your child's opponent. As bad as a boo, encouraging your son to "kill him," ""pin his ass," or "wipe him on the mat," makes you look foolish. No cussing, no derogatory remarks and for sure no death words. These are kids.
7. Thou shalt not make huge delicious dinners while your child is making weight. Grill some chicken, steam some vegetables, chill the Gatorade. It is just plain cruel to have the house smell like lasagna or apple pie on a Friday night when your son is trying to make weight the next day.
8. You shalt not steal or shortchange the other team's concessions. It gets busy back there for the volunteers, and they may forget to charge you for the hot dog. Do not walk away with a smirk. Leave an extra dollar. They do it to raise money for their team. Help them out as you want to have your team helped out.
9. You shall not inflate your child's wrestling record. Don't say he is undefeated (unless he is and for goodness sake if so, then get a t-shirt that says so), don't turn a close match into a tech if it wasn't. All the stats are online anyway, so you just look like a blowhard.
10. Thou shalt not covet your wrestler's team gear. Sometimes their warm-ups would look fabulous on you. Don't cop the t-shirt or the sweats. Get your own. It helps raise money for the team. And every team needs as much financial help as it can get.
And remember to scream your son's name, your team's name. And never, ever, ever boo.
I wouldn’t say that I am prescient, no, not that I can see what the future holds or what will happen, but I do have a knack for imagining outcomes—vividly and visually in grand detail. If it involves my sons, I can tell you that generally, I imagine the worst. I understand a lot of mothers do.
When my mother was alive, she always called me at my apartment or later my house and asked me what was wrong, because she knew, she just knew, and damn if she wasn’t right pretty much all the time. If something was wrong, my mother felt it, no matter where I was. Or how old I was. I did a l ot of denying in college, not so much years later.
So I understand this may run in the family, this sense of something awry. I listen to my instincts and I also visualize what can happen as a scene unfolds. I am not a hovering helicopter mother who routinely predicts horrific scenarios for my boys so I can swoop in and save them, but sometimes I am afraid and rightfully so. And I see it before it happens, even if it doesn' happen at all.
It was Saturday, January 22, a home OPRFHS Huskies tournament, 14 teams competing and Colin was pumped to place hopefully, perhaps even to win. He knew the competition was steep, several wrestlers at his weight were ranked – he had earned an Honorable Mention on Illinois Matmen-- and he was just back from a shoulder injury and three different trips to the orthopedic specialist for checkups to make sure he could go back to wrestling. The night before he beat the 130 pounder from Glenbard West at the Huskies home dual. That night in the stands I cheered like a crazy woman and my nieces Katie and Maggie did too.
We were back in the fieldhouse and Saturday morning Colin pinned his first opponent in the first match. I texted Weldon and Brendan. It was going to be a good day.
Now it was noon and he was up against a ranked wrestler from Minooka in the semi-finals. Just a minute into the first period, Colin was trying to escape-- get his one point, you have to get your one point-- when the other wrestler took him down and slammed him backwards on the mat. The back of his head took all the impact, it thudded loud and thick and solid like a bag of sand onto the shore. His body went instantly limp.
I was videotaping his match from the sidelines, kneeling 30 feet from him, and the mother of the other wrestler was shouting, “Oh god, oh God,” and I almost asked her to shut up, but I knew she was only trying to be nice and I was grateful she was empathetic and not gloating. Because sometimes the mothers of sons who obliterate other sons in a wrestling match smirk. Honestly, some of them even trash talk about your son. No kidding.
From where I was now standing , I could see Colin unconscious, completely immobile, out. In my mind’s eye, in that future scary place I go to and have gone to since they were daredevil toddlers, I saw him paralyzed. Forever. I saw him in a wheelchair, 30 years old. I saw me pushing him, I saw his life changed from this very second.
I didn’t take my eyes off him or the two trainers trying to resuscitate him with spiral motions to his sternum. He didn’t move. I watched as the coaches surrounded him, all desperately attentive and Colin still did not move. All my peripheral vision was erased, I saw only this circle with Colin as the center as if it was spotlighted on the stage and the rest of the world went dark. I waited; I said the Hail Mary over and over and held my hand to my mouth so I would not scream. I wanted to scream. Oh my God, I wanted to scream and my head and my chest felt like they were in flames and my hands got so hot and wet but I just stood there, waiting.
I did not rush the mat; I knew Colin would be upset if I did. On top of everything else, i could not humiliate him and be the crazy wrestling mom on youtube rushing the mat for her baby boy. Coach Powell, who had gone to Colin’s side, turned to me and mouthed the words, “He is alright.”
Parents were mumbling, wrestlers were pointing. No one wants this to happen. No one wants anyone to get hurt. A brain injury least of all. It felt as if the entire gym morphed into a hole void of all animation; only the trainers working on him were in slow motion and all I could see was Colin lying on the mat, face up, not moving, his legs sprawled, and his arms at his side, like a Raggedy Andy doll. I thought it was two minutes until he came to; the trainer says it was less than that, honestly it felt like an hour and a half. The first part of him to move was his left knee. I breathed.
“He’s moving,” a father said behind me.
The coaches and trainers helped Colin up, he wobbled. The gym erupted in applause. He looked dazed. Coach Powell walked him to the side where I was and I scooped up his sweatpants and headgear, carried his water bottle. He knew his name. He knew where he was. He knew the date.
“Get him to the ER now,” the trainer said.
“Someone will help him get his coat and backpack from the wrestling room. Call me,” Coach Powell said.
The trainer gave me more instructions. I listened as best I could.
I drove deliberately and calmly to the hospital. I was good in crisis. I handled enough of them alone. Seriously, I have had a lot of practice with the three boys in 22 years. I had been in so many emergency rooms with the boys so many different times that I knew how it went; I had good insurance, this hospital emergency room where we were headed was usually great, the staff did not make you wait long. No matter what, it did no good for anyone for me to be emotional, it did no good to be upset or distraught or even demanding, you just remained calm.
You don't want to be the screaming lady on the life boat. Chances are somehone will push you out of the boat altogether.
That sense of lucidity helped when Brendan nearly severed his left index finger in shop class his senior year of high school. When the school nurse called me on my cell phone, I was driving down Sheridan Road into work and she was more unnerved than I could afford to be.
“Brendan’s hand was severely cut with a blade saw,” she said, trembling.
“Is it attached?” I asked, thinking for goodness sake they must have ice and a cooler and I can be there in one hour and if they need him to go sooner, for sure, Coach Powell would take him or I could call someone who might be at home today and I can meet them at the hospital, and it will be fine.
I actually pictured Brendan with four fingers and thought it would be OK, I mean he still had nine, so I pictured him telling the story to his grandchildren, and then I also pictured it being reattached in surgery, so I have a slew of movies playing in my head at the same time on different screens. I mean, he didn’t cut off his whole arm, right? It would be OK.
And she said yes, it was attached and I started to be able to breathe and I knew I just had to keep driving because getting in an accident with the car would be worse, and I could call Sue, my nurse friend and she would call ahead to the ER and it would be Ok, it would just take hours and then there would be the recovery.
OK, as long I was not the hysterical mother, everything would go as well as it could. I can stay calm. I only have Colin to worry about today. He is moving, he is talking, he is acting OK. He will be OK. He is not paralyzed. He ate two sandwiches on the way to the hospital from the cooler he brought to the tournament from home.
Guess he's not nauseous.
Colin was talking, he was even mad. "I could have won that match," he said, as if everyone was just stopping him from finishing the period for no reason. I guess it was a good sign.
We spent a few hours in the ER. There was no brain bleed, he was respondiong well. We would go back to the sports medicine doc-- a sports concussion specialist on Tuesday. Give him time to rest. We would go back again on Friday --today--and he would be even better than he was Tuesday, in answering all the questions that determine the state of his brain recovery. And we are going back again Monday for him to be cleared. The doc said he thought Colin would be fully recovered and able to wrestle then.
Because Colin is hellbent on regionals. And I will go along with the doctor on this because I trust him. And I do see that Colin is better. Just not completely today.
Like every other turn of events in the last 22 years of being a mother to sons, this was not the worst it could be. The fears I see before me like a movie on a laptop did not play out in real life. The nightmare did not come true. Still, I understand quite somberly it could have. It could have. So many mothers are no this lucky.
Those bad thoughts? The worst will not happen here. Colin will be fine. I can have my mother terrors, but the bad dreams do not have to come true.
Note: I made sure this was OK with Colin before I posted.
Not that I want to jump into a controversy or anything. But a whole lot of media time has been spent dissecting Amy Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. If you by any chance have not heard of it or her, the journalist mom is/was very strict and borderline mean. And because she is/was very strict, her daughters are aiming to be fabulously successful.
They play the piano incredibly well for goodness sake.
Weldon did play the violin in grade school and middle school, that is until I switched from renting to the purchase of one such requested $300 violin. He decided then to quit and bought a guitar for himself, the one he left under his bed for 10 years. I sold the violin to a friend. Brendan played the trombone quite briefly, likely because I asked him to practice outside. Colin played the saxophone, until he got exceptionally nervous before his first recital in fourth grade and became ill in and around said rented saxophone. I cleaned it of course before I returned it to the rental place. I could never afford a piano in the house.
So no matter how much this best-selling author mother swears by her demanding, yelling, screaming, pushing and otherwise engaging in strict Chinese parenting, this is not how it goes-- and has gone in my house. And that is not likely just because I am not Chinese, but Irish and German, though the chicken egg foo young I absolutely adore from New Star is my second favorite food of all time. And to torture me as the youngest of six in seven years, my brothers told me I was adopted and sent to our house in a crate from China and I could not tell mom or dad I knew the secret. I didn't say it was politically correct. OK, right, egg foo young is second, spinach dip is first. I did eventually figure out there was no crate involved in my arrival at our home.
I have been called very strict, but the boys now 22, 20 and 17, have participated in sleepovers since they were 6, and even if I do shout directives at them quite often, not much happens as a result. I am just not intimidating. My boys have been taller than me for years. All the boys are 5' 10" or taller, and I have not grown since college, stopping at 5'6. They are respectful, sure, but selectively. Sometimes if I get mad, real mad, they laugh. No one is scared of me at my address. That is not to say that I err on the side of gentleness. I am no pushover. Just ask Brendan about the speeding tickets.
I am not a Tiger Mom, I am a Huskies Mom. The Siberian Husky is the mascot for the wrestling team at Oak Park-River Forest High School and as you may have noticed from this site, I spend a lot of time cheering my sons in wrestling tournaments. And let me say unequivocably, it is wrestling that has helped me be a better parent. It is wrestling, and quite specifically, Coach Mike Powell, who has helped shape my sons.
Coach Powell has taught them lessons far beyond the mat. He has taught Weldon, Brendan and Colin about physical and mental discipline, respect, the need for good health, nutrition, accountablity and integrity. It is not that I have ignored these subjects at my house, it is that a lot of times, my sons ignore the lessons when they come from me. They just do.
It takes a big parent to admit that her reach is limited. It takes a realistic mother to understand that it is not optimal to have your influence over your child be so enormous that it shapes everything the child does or hopes to become. That is why your children grow up to write memoirs. I do my best. I strongly suggest. I mandate. I insist. But I do not believe parenting is meant to be a battle. And the battle hymn we sing as parents should be a song that is inspirational, uplifting and not just noise in the background. Our children hear a lot of songs and we can't possibly be the only voice in their heads. I don't want to be. I am grateful for the chorus of influence. We just hope and pray they can at least hum our tunes when asked.
The boys are not yet fully out in the world on their own. Weldon is close. Brendan has two more years of college and Colin is a junior in high school. So the jury is out on what kind of job I did as a mother. Perhaps Amy Chua is laughing at the rest of us whose children are less than 4.0 students without the accolades, scholarships and awards her daughters have won. Weldon has won his share, but like I said, no one can play the piano.
I do have something in common with her. I have spent a whole lot of time yelling. But outside of the curfew and laundry reminders, mostly mine was in the stands. Screaming their names as loud as I could watching each one of them wrestle. And I am as proud of that as a Huskies Mom as any Tiger Mother could ever hope to be.
A disclaimer. This is nothing like the twisted, complicated, cinematic brother- training-brother relationship in the fascinating movie, "The Fighter," . This is real and their relationship is cleaner. And I am nothing like the chain-smoking mom.
But the movie had it right in a basic way. Wrestling is not just about mothers and sons, fathers and sons, but brothers. My oldest son, Weldon-- in from college for holiday break-- has been training and coaching his youngest brother, Colin at tournaments, in practice in the wrestling room.
True, they have been wrestling each other in the basement, living room, family room, hallway and stairs (can't make that up) since they could all walk, but this is different. This is an older brother passing down his expertise to help his youngest brother shine.
My sons are not alone in this. Patrick Woulfe has been helping to coach his youngest brother, Michael, while Patrick is home from college.
It's a refreshing sight.
No one takes the place of their beloved Coach Mike Powell. He is the heart, soul and fire of the Oak Park-River Forest Huskies team, and his words matter more to them than anyone's. That is a guarantee. But I feel it helps enormously to know you have more people on your side as you walk through life-- whether it is in a sport or any moment of every day. And brothers matter enormously.
It takes a wrestling family to raise a wrestler. We were all there to cheer Weldon when he was on the mat, his hand so often in the air for his victories. We were there to cheer Brendan when he was competing. He just told me he could hear me screaming over the directives of Coach Powell.
Brendan says I screamed, "Up, up, up," a lot. And "Oh yeah." And "No, no, no, no." He said he could tell how he was doing not only by his movements and his opponent's, but by my screeches from the stands.
For this upcoming year and the rest of this wrestling season, I wish for Colin continued success on and off the mat. Because the whole family will be on his side. It's his turn.
The quarter just ended, the grades are in. And looking over the grade roster, I can't help but notice how enterprise points made a difference.
I teach the fundamental reporting and writing course at what everyone who works here likes to call the best journalism school in the country, Medill at Northwestern University. When I worked to redefine this course and its multimedia storytelling companion course, I initiated a system of extra points, giveaways for the earnest students who tried hard, put in the effort. Enterprise points. They are not automatic. You earn them. This is for the student who interviews 10 sources when six are required, who rewrites stories on time, participates in discussion and is in general hardworking, cooperative and diligent.
This is not just for the stars, those students for whom this is natural, comes easily, and they are working for a grade, not for improvement. They can earn the points most definitely if they move beyond the requirements. But this is not for those who do what we used to label as "phoning it in," but could now be called "clicking it in."
Enterprise points reward a student who may struggle with concepts or execution but who tries very hard, who seeks help, who needs reassurance. Who improves. I feel if a student tries his or her best, he or she should get all the points.
This is not so different from life. Like I said, enterprise points are not awarded to everyone. You have to earn them.
Which brings me to happiness. And how enterprise intersects with happiness.
I was at a fancy holiday cocktail party on Sunday, with --no kidding-- about 150 women. It was an elaborately delicious and festive event and I was thrilled I was included.
A friend was talking about her kids; we all were talking about our kids-- how sports are going, school, what schools they applied to, what schools they are coming home from on break, jobs, activities, girlfriends, boyfriends, funny stories, a few honest stories.
"I just want my kids to be happy," she said. The mother continued, "That's my goal in life; for my kids to be happy. Whatever makes them happy, makes me happy."
What I responded pretty much shocked her out of her pinot grigio.
"I don't think that's the point and I don't think that's my job. If my kids only did what made them happy, they would eat, sleep and play video games."
She pushed me, "C'mon, you only do what makes you happy, you wouldn't do it if you didn't."
Apparently she does not know me so well. I do a lot of things that don't make me deliriously happy. Laundry, grading, cleaning, driving, polishing a story, dishes, grocery shopping. But doing them results in a true sense of accomplishment, which is a close relative of happiness.
I believe happiness is a byproduct of being productive, contributing to the world, even if that contribution on that day can only be measured at your address. I believe happiness is the result, not the goal. It's the afterglow of accomplishment, the joy of doing something well, whether that is being a good friend, parent, partner or colleague.
"Happiness depends upon ourselves," Aristotle wrote. I love the quote so much, I painted it in fancy script on the breakfast room wall.
A lot of elements can make us happy, and it is not my goal to make my sons happy. I want them to be joyful, but I want them to figure out a way to find joy in doing something larger than themselves.
I know Colin is working very hard to win wrestling matches this season, to improve as a wrestler and I know it makes him happy. He makes himself happy. I did not do it for him. He is not happy cutting weight, he is not happy when he comes home from a hard practice sore and bruised. But contributing to a winning team makes him happy, being with his teammates makes him happy. Learning from Coach Powell makes him happy.
Watching Colin makes me happy. Having Weldon and Brendan sincerely care how Colin is doing at wrestling every week makes me happy. It's about more than me.
Which brings me all back to the point. It is not to be happy. If that was my goal, I would be asleep right now.
Some of us feel compelled to define our missions clearly. Some play the mission out publicly, like Elizabeth Edwards, who was buried this week. Like me, she is a mother who loved her children in extraordinary measures, who had a loss of love, who still worked hard and kept going. Like her, I had cancer. She did a lot that did not make her happy and her goal was not to make her children or her husband happy-- and I will not even go there.
Her goal was to live with integrity and resilience, what I try to do. Elizabeth Edwards' death hit me hard because I am really scared sometimes that my breast cancer will return with a vengeance, as it did with her. As it did with another woman I know, whose son was in grade school with Weldon, who passed away this week following a long battle with cancer. She would have been at that cocktail party in earlier years. And like more women I know than can count on both hands, she is not here.
I do not want to look back on my life and say, "I made my boys happy."
My goal is for my boys to make themselves happy by doing something with their lives that is beyond the immediate, something that makes the world better because they are in it. I want them to be men of emotional and spiritual strength, who each knows what it means to be reliable, accountable and kind. A side effect can be happiness, but not the goal. And in the meantime I want them to know what it means to earn the enterprise points, even if they are not articulated so distinctly. I want this just as clearly as I want my students to know that how they behave and how they present themseves completely matters. Just do that, try, and you will get the enterprise points. You really will.
I try to live my life as if someone is always passing out enterprise points. Be a better parent. Friend. Sister. Partner. Professor. Writer. Mentor. I fall short a lot. And I don't now want to dwell on the legacy I leave behind. I want to be clear about what I do in the present and how absolutely enterprise begets happiness. And live the lessons like someone somewhere is adding up the points.
Colin has been doing well so far this season, 6-2; had some tough matches, won most, lost a few. I saw them all. And I was screaming like a maniac at every win.
I like to win. I like my sons to win. Of course it isn't everything. But it's pretty nice when it happens, and you win the medal, the prize, the award, the hand in the air. If it wasn't so universally appealing, we wouldn't watch Donald Trump's "Apprentice" or even the Olympics on TV.
I try not to be an obnoxious winner and I sure try not to be a bad loser. Unlike some parents who smack talk in the stands or make remarks about your son or your team, I try to keep it all civil. I just can't keep quiet; I scream Colin's name a lot.
All of my sons have had moments of victory in wrestling and in life and I know how it fills them up. I see the transformation. How they look after a win is as if they have been filled with helium or the wattage in the lightbulb just increased; they look like themselves, only lighter and brighter and more full of their potential. Everything is possible.
We all want those moments of shining glory for the people we love more than air. We want those moments for ourselves. It may seem shallow, but I admit it. It feels way better driving home following a victory than it does following a spanking-- or shall I quote Obama here-- a shellacking.
When it is about me, mostly I talk to myself after a loss, whether it is professionally or personally. I try to discern the reasons why, what I could have done differently and what I could not control. I find it easier to absorb disappointment when I plan my next move immediately, then when I have to admit I could not have changed the outcome and have to stay in my failure for a while.
I have had a fair share of failures, big and small, and I know I am supposed to say I am a better person for all of it, but frankly, you could keep some of the heartache and the lessons. I would have rather won. I guess I have not mastered humility.
Coach Powell is right there with each one of the boys whether he wins or loses. Sometimes his reactions surprise me. He is sure to congratulate the wrestler, but he goes right away head first into what he could have done better. Colin is becoming a better man because of him. And oh my, it is absolutely amazing to watch.
This is a wrestling story…but with a twist. I won’t pretend I “accidentally” got involved; wrestling is a way of life for my town; the town of Grundy, Virginia. Not much of a town is left, the Army Corp of Engineers decided to move our town so we are left with a huge rock cliff and a fancy new “four-lane” as we call it. Grundy is small and nestled in the southern Appalachian Mountains in the southwest part of the state, population of 1,200, and we wait patiently on a Wal-Mart. It will be a multi-level one-of-a-kind and the only one within 40 miles. Our high school, where I taught for 21 years has an enrollment of about 400 students.
In spite of these obstacles, Grundy Wrestling is well known throughout the country. We have won 12 state titles, been ranked nationally, honored by the VA House of Commons, been the subject of documentaries and most important to me, helped me to raise two fine young men. The story starts with the disintegration of my family in 1995.
I was a high school teacher with 2 children expecting a third. My oldest child, a daughter named Mackinzie was 8 and had been recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She was immediately sent to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis; an 11- hour drive from Grundy. I was 8 months pregnant and stumbled while packing for our trip. I needed surgery on my knee, but would have to wait until the baby was born. My husband of 11 years decided that he no longer wanted to be a part of our family. He chose alcohol over us.
My middle child, Kaleb, had been wrestling since he was 4. He was 6 at the time his sister was diagnosed and this is the time that wrestling became my family instead of just a sport. Grundy Wrestling gave Kaleb a place where he could be a boy, and later the man that we needed to make our family work. With 3 young children, one who was sick and I in a cast for almost 2 years, wrestling became a way of life for Kaleb. While I was with my daughter at St Jude’s. or caring for a baby….wrestling was there for Kaleb.
Without a father, and a mother who was struggling to keep it all together, Grundy Wrestling Club became Kaleb’s salvation. They provided all the things we needed at the time that money couldn’t buy. They were my friends to cry with, they were fathers to my 2 sons, they were support throughout my daughter’s illness. They filled holes and voids in our lives; often ones that we had no idea even existed. They provided transportation to practices and matches for Kaleb. They provided experiences, learning and opportunities for travel all over the country. They provided male role-models. They taught difficult things that moms struggle with…how to deal with girls, how to become mentally tough, how to take care of their bodies, how to succeed with pride, and how to fail with honor. Dedication, tenacity, strength, caring, respect and loyalty came with the title of being a “Grundy wrestler.”
During Mackinzie’s illness, wrestling showed it’s ugly side, a variety of serious injuries to Kaleb. A torn labrum, a torn bicep, torn ligaments, and broken bones that resulted in a total of 5 surgeries in three states. My insurance company had to wonder what was going on in my home!
The twist recently happened, I realized that the pattern is happening with my son Trey; the baby who I carried through my Oprah-worthy crisis. I not only see it occurring with Trey, but with other boys who are on the team. Over a period of years it became clear that Grundy Wrestling does this as a standard operating procedure, not just for a familbe y who is having a tough time. They do it for all wrestlers. The voids that are filled may be different than they are for my kids, but they are always filbe led. The needs are always met. It may that someone may need dental treatment. It may be that someone’s mother is dying from cancer. It may be that someone just needs a substitute “dad”. No matter what is needed, the wrestling club is there. It was there for me, it’s there for my kids and its there for every single wrestler.
Today, I travel all over the Eastern US to support Grundy Wrestling. I am the head scorer for tournaments sponsored by the team. My daughter is cancer free, healthy and happy as a senior in college. Kaleb is a college junior, majoring in athletic training; sports and recreation. And Trey, he’s a freshman on Varsity for Grundy Wrestling Club. He has been in the Virginia Middle School State Finals 3 times, and placed second each time. While frustrating, these second place finishes still make me happy. I’m happy that our family made it through some serious struggles and with the help of wrestling… I know we have finished first!
Weldon said he could never hear me anyway. Brendan said his friends were amused. Colin said he likes when I scream during his matches as long as I don't use any nicknames.
Wrestling moms are loud in the stands. We try to be positive and not use the death words. No "Kill him, crush his face," any of that. We just scream. As you see here, in a short clip from Preseason Nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa last month, I am not the only one who believes a good mom scream goes a long way while watching your child wrestle. Cover your ears if you can't take a good cheer.
We start a new season with wrestle-offs on Saturday. Great time to look back on what Coach Mike Powell said at the April 2010 banquet.
The five and a half hour ride to Cedar Falls, Iowa for the 2010 USA Wrestling Preseason Nationals was not anywhere near as much fun as the ride home. On Friday, October 29, Coach Mike Powell drove four OPRF wrestlers in his SUV, while Caryn Brooks and I followed with four more wrestlers in her truck. Her youngest son, Sam, and my youngest son, Colin, were with us. They're best friends, both juniors at Oak Park-River Forest High School.
Everyone was starving; the eight of them-- Chris, Darius, Cameron, Matt, Donald, Linear, Colin and Sam-- each needed to make weight at 6 p.m. Colin was to make 135, Sam 171. We packed turkey sandwiches, fruit and Gatorade for the instant each wrestler had his weight checked. No one talked too much. They chewed a lot of gum.
On Saturday, 25 wrestling mats bustled with more than 1,500 wrestlers in youth and high school matches. Colin lost his first match to Joey Munos out of Minnesota, who ended up taking first place for the tournament. Colin won his next match 14-1 and a third 8-2. He lost the fourth match 8-1. After two losses, you are out.
But Sammy was still going strong.
To keep the boys' energy going through the morning, afternoon and evening, we smuggled in apples and oranges, Clif bars, grapes, whole wheat bagels, all natural peanut butter, granola and tangerines. We would have loved to get more inside, but our pockets would have given us away. I put the jar of peanut butter in my camera bag. The security guards checked bags and purses for forbidden food, confiscating homemade offerings from anyone they caught and pointing us instead to the food stands with $3.50 Gatorade bottles, $3 water and $5 walking tacos. The concession stands featured pizza and bratwursts, hot dogs, popcorn and nachos. Not so great a diet for a wrestler who stays put in an arena for up to 14 hours and wrestles as many as five or more matches.
Sam's was a 32-man bracket and he injured his thumb in the first match, thought he broke it. But with ice and tape he kept going.
Finally Sam was up against Jake Waste for first place; Waste is a familiar competitor from Apple Valley, Minnesota. And Sam, who won 1st in Illinois's individual state in 2010, is a four-time All-American and the Fila cadet national champion in in 2009, won over Waste in the last few seconds.
As they say, the crowd went wild.
"I actually didn't know I was going to win, but I felt different," Sam said later. "I was just going to stay in his face, and then I noticed there were only seven seconds left and for some reason, I didn't panic. Usually I panicked and this time I didn't. I just knew it was going to work."
His mother, Caryn, almost missed his win.
"It's funny that I spent all day looking forward to it, with two days leading up to it, and the very moment that the championship hinged on, the moment I really wanted to see, I missed because I was distracted by another mother talking to me, " Caryn said.
Sam headed to the awards stand, and after he posed for his photo with the other placers, the seven other members of the OPRF preseason team stood on the stand with him.
As he said he would, Coach Powell treated the 171 pound national champion to a milkshake at IHOP, while the boys ate pancakes, chicken sandwiches and burgers and laughed.
We left early the next morning for the two-lane trip out of Iowa, across the Mississippi River and past the postcard-perfect hills of Galena, Illinois and into Chicago. What a fun ride home.
The basement is finished. May not seem like a lot to you. But even FEMA helped out. I had more than 100 photos ready for the inspector who really didn't care to see them. I filed a claim online, he phoned for an appointment to see the basement. He was polite, stayed about 20 minutes, took photos of his own and within a week I had notification of a reimbursement. Fair, fast and efficient. It covered about 15 percent of my loss, but it covered a good chunk of the repairs.
Six weeks after the flood that destroyed all the furniture, walls and floors, the basement at our house is an operational space. Thanks to a tireless handyman, plenty of paint, DuraRock, wood, vinyl tile, plaster and patience, the basement is a destination, not a disaster.
To inaugurate the space, two downstate wrestlers are staying there for a tough three-day, two-practice a day wrestling camp organized by Coach Powell. The boys from Washington, Ill. declared the place "awesome."
Coach Powell dropped off the two young men Saturday night, while Colin was at Homecoming. When I checked on them an hour or so later, they were already asleep. The Huskies practices, especially twice a day are tough, or so I am reminded.
They had two practices today already, two more Monday on Columbus Day. It reminds me that we're in pre-season and we're about to get our wrestling mojo on. Looking forward to cheering on Colin at 135 or 140. At least he no longer has to wrestle at 119. That was excruciating. I'm loading the cabinets with Clif bars already and eyeing all my Huskies gear in the closet, ready to wear every week at the tournaments.
I miss the wrestlers I don't see often outside of season. I miss every weekend and a few nights a week in the stands. I have had my Saturdays off to do work, errands, whatever I needed to. But I miss the craziness of in-season. And I am looking forward to coming home.
After midnight a week ago Friday my middle son, Brendan, woke me as I slept in my room.
“I have bad news.”
Half-delirious, I thought he did something to the car, hit someone, damaged someone’s property, anything; I wasn’t thinking logically, otherwise knowing had I been fully awake that if it was truly catastrophic, he would not be standing here telling me. But I have learned from parenting three sons that bad news to a 19-year-old is truly bad news.
“The basement is kind of like a lake,” he said.
Together we went down the second floor stairs to the first floor in the power-outted blackness by the light of his opened cell phone. We stood at the top of the stairs to the basement and carefully made our way down one step at a time.
Brendan shone his phone in front of me. As I stood on the second stair where the water began, I could see that this glistening, moving darkness was not in this corner or that, but everywhere. Deep and foul-smelling, the water moved silently until a plastic trash can tipped over or something else on a low surface upended and fell with a splash. It was still raining hard outside, but there was nothing to do until morning. Without power, it was useless to start cleaning it all up.
The next morning after the flood, my brother Paul brought over a case of bleach, flashlights and a roll of garbage bags; my sister Maureen took several garbage bags filled with the once-clean laundry that had been waiting for me to fold, but was now floating in baskets near the washer. My sister Madeleine drove her van to my house and instructed the boys to fill it with the salvageable plastic bins I could store in her garage until the basement was put back together. My sister Mary Pat brought over breakfast and lunch the third day and drove my oldest son, Weldon, back to the airport to catch a bus for Madison, Wisconsin where he was working for the summer. He came home to help when I called him. He worked one day for 12 hours, the next for 18 to clear out what was in the basement. My wrestling mom friends Caryn and Paula sat with me in the laundromat and assisted with the half-dozen loads of out-of-season clothes that were soaked from sitting in thin plastic bags on the floor of the closet. Paula made me bruschetta.
On Monday the flood damage cleaning service I called Saturday morning at 6 a.m. arrived.
Two men sawed my mother’s yellow floral couch in half. It was the one that reminded me so much of her, with its butterfly pattern; the one in her den on Ashland Avenue, the house where she last lived. It had mahogany claw and ball legs, a sturdy back, broad arms and a full shape. It was significantly nicer then the rest of the furniture in my basement, like the sleeper couch with the turquoise and mauve Southwestern print that I bought in 1988 when Weldon was born so guests could sleep on it, since the guest room was now a nursery. Mom’s couch was nicer than the other hand-me downs and flea market finds I camouflaged with slipcovers and pillows hoping to hide their vintage.
The whirrrr of the chain saw, the smell of the wood, damp and fetid, the hustling blur of seven crew workers filling shiny black contractor bags with tiles, paneling, baseboards, carpet: all of it a full-on endorsement that most everything in our basement was contaminated with blackened sewer water. And had to go.
Without expression, the men quickly carried the pieces of my mother’s couch leaking its thick, beige stuffing, coils exposed, to the curb in front of my house. There they heaped them onto a pile that eventually grew to 30 feet wide and 10 feet high before it was hauled away.
“It’s not Mom they sawed in half,” Madeleine reminded me. “It’s just her couch.”
During the torrential rainstorm of more than seven inches of rain in a few hours that resulted in one of the worst floods in Chicago’s history, the west suburban basement of our house filled with a foot of soot-thick sewer water.
A swift flow rushed in from a back basement door, filling every inch of the area where my sons often played video games and their friends slept over. The basement was also Brendan’s bedroom with his bed, dressers and clothes. On the other side of the stairs was the laundry and storage area, plus the treadmill that I vowed to use more often than I did.
Drenched and dripping were hundreds of my newspaper clippings from the 1980s pulled from metal file cabinets; the fake Christmas tree—crammed into a plastic bin turned sideways, its thin opening at the seal quickly filling with water so that inside my favorite burgundy and forest green velvet tree skirt was ruined. Brendan’s box spring and mattress were soaked through, plus the seats of two other couches, Weldon’s twin-sized mattress and box spring from college, three end tables, three bookcases and the built-in wood bar, original to the house constructed in 1934.
Because they were stacked in higher book shelves, saved were 32 photo albums, every framed photo of my parents, my brothers and sisters, plus all the boys’ grade school art projects—including Weldon’s fourth grade laminated menu for his “Holy Cow Hamburger Restaurant.” Saved were the report cards, Sunday school papers and art treasures of all the boys, carefully placed in sturdy bins stacked high off the floor. Saved were the birthday party posters I made for each son, the baby blankets, the toddler sized sweatshirts I handpainted with nursery rhyme figures for each one of the boys. The “Hey, Diddle, Diddle” sweatshirt, size 4T had a cow jumping over a yellow moon. Saved were the comforters for the older two boys’ dorm room and apartment, my favorite books from college—including my annotated yellowed copy of James Joyce’ Ulysses and a copy of Henrik Ibsen plays. Saved was the Rubbermaid bin marked "Colin's Wrestling Stuff."
Sometimes the message the universe sends is not so subtle. My life was being rearranged whether I wanted it to be nor not.
But I saved what was important. Everything else can be replaced.
I have two teenagers at 16 and 19 and a post-teenager at 21. But any therapist or any book on parenting will tell you it is part of them growing up, creating autonomy, achieving their independence, separating from you. And you from them; it is a reason so many empty nesters move to condos with small bedrooms and little storage space.
Even in families you assume have no internal friction or cause for upheaval, there are private moments in that household when the ride is bumpy. And if you are a single parent, there is no other shock absorber available.
In the past 15 years of raising three sons by myself, there have been plenty of nights when I cried in my room after the boys were asleep, saying over and over, “I can’t do this alone.” And there were miles upon miles driving alone in the car when I cried, fresh from an argument over the phone with one of the boys over curfew or chores or whatever.
And when I got home, I would read a son’s apology in a text. “Love you,” is how each one signs off. I text back, “2.”
There were nights, weeks, years when I was depleted from conflict over homework or groundings or even just attitudes; that I was angry their father chose to leave them, to disappear physically, financially and emotionally. It is such an egregious, aggressive, unnatural act of omission.
Mostly I was astounded that any parent would think such a decision was even an option from any menu of choices. That it was deliberate, that it was planned, that after more than six years of complete absence has not yet woken up and said to himself in the mirror, “What have I done?” and try to right his wrongs.
But then I remind myself that he left his sons because he knew I could do it all. And that the boys would always come first for me. And he was right.
Lately I cry more, most likely it is because of the Femara I take now after my breast cancer and the Tamoxifen I took before that, before my last surgery. The side effects of those cancer medications are mood swings that can turn me into a hormonal witch’s brew of sensitivity and vulnerability. A distinct brand of bleakness happens when I am overtired. Things look worse then; with some rest and perspective, I can bounce back, see more clearly, be more positive, more like myself.
I know I could not have weathered the boys’ high school years without Coach Powell, all the boys’ high school wrestling coach, in their lives. I simply could not; he is so much to all of them—mentor, friend, role model, confidante, father figure-- not just to my sons, but also to scores of young men from all brands of families. His mark on my sons is permanent.
The other day Coach Powell called to see how I was, knowing from Colin that things had been rough at work and that my relationship of six years with a man I loved deeply had just ended.
“Just checking in,” he said.
It is the outside support for my sons that keeps me afloat as a mother. Whether it is from Coach Powell, the other wrestling parents or my brothers and sisters, this family knitted together by circumstance, chance or relation has circumvented many sidesteps and welded a bright future for each of my boys.
No matter how many books or articles I read on raising boys and young men, it felt that no matter what I said or did, I didn’t have it exactly right. From birth they were always boy-boys, alpha males, rough and tumble, igniting new energy every second, acting first, questioning later. What came out of their mouths and popped in their heads most of the time never occurred to me. I wondered why they couldn’t sit down and relax, why they always had to be in motion. And why they would need to go, go, go, go, run, run, run when I wanted to relax. Why couldn’t they be more like me?
Because they can’t. Because they aren’t. Part of it is gender, a lot of it is gender; I am different from my sons in the ways they act and think and behave. And it is part of many reasons why I adore them.
When the boys were very small—under 5-- I used to put at least two of them in the bathtub at once for the evening ritual; it saved time. Bathtime was never a calm affair; they were always jumping up, flopping down, throwing rubber ducks and squeeze toys, making beards of the bubbles and belly flopping to see who could make the biggest splash. But I loved it. I loved how they smelled like rain and lavender and chamomile depending on the shampoo; I loved touching their smooth, small arms and shampooing their perfectly shaped heads. They were so happy at times the perfection filled me.
When I watch them now as they compete or even as they stretch in the hallway at home on the way out the door, they are men, their arms and legs sculpted and muscular, swoll, Colin calls it. Though the time I have known as their mother has not gone quickly, it renders me awestruck that I have been gifted the privilege of being a part of and witnessing them become such strong men from such small boys.
So many moments I would not trade for any experience, no really, not even for something like a trip to Paris on an expense account or a gorgeous pair of shoes that don’t hurt.
It wasn’t until I was handed a cancer diagnosis and so selfishly and fearfully imagined myself erased that I saw the full picture of who is around me and whose arms are around my sons. There are my doctors I was lucky enough to have treat me, who save lives as a career, and who make it their duty to treat the whole patient with kindness, diligence and understanding.
My parents, though they have been gone for years, are still with me every day. I live in the house my mother bought for us, sit on the raspberry silk couches from her home, pray for her help and feel her hand on my shoulder so often I can swear it is a physical weight. My father, too. He is there in Weldon’s stretches of gentleness, Brendan’s dimpled smile and Colin’s hug good night. My brothers and sisters provide emotional support and even financial bailout at times, and always a clearer path through.
Your children can make you cry, yes, but they can make you humble. They can broaden your existence, and inflate even the most narrow moments with lessons of surprise and laughter and yes, tears. I am not raising my sons alone and I never was. I just couldn’t see it so clearly before. But I see now; it is crowded around us.
Happy Mother's Day. Though only Colin will be home (Weldon is studying abroad and I pick Brendan up from college on Monday), they are all with me, as they are every second of every day.
In March 2010 Ellis Coleman, a 2009 OPRFHS graduate, won a bronze medal at the Junior International in Bulgaria as part of the USA National Greco-Roman team. The three-time Illinois state medalist talks in this interview about the impact Coach Powell has had on his life, this sport and his family. With an overall high school record of 166-9, or 95 percent wins, Ellis was a two-time national Greco-Roman champion. He now trains at the U.S.Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
By Amy McCall
My 14-yr-old son, Evan, is one of those kids you just can't help but
liking as he's always smiling, never has a cross word, gives 115% and
always wants to do his very best. His middle school wrestling Coach
saw all this and more and has helped Ev develop a love for a sport he
was born to do.
Evan started wrestling 1.5 yrs ago, at the beginning of 7th grade. He
weighed 103, but wrestled at 119 so he could get mat time. We didn't
keep track of his season since it was mostly a learning period and
let's face it, when you're wrestling 15 lbs over your weight for the
first year, it ain't gonna be pretty.
We hung in there and came back the next year weighing in at 119 and
ready for business. I didn't watch any practices so imagine my
surprise after our first match when my Evan took to the mat and looked
as skilled as any choreographed dancer doing a performance. My jaw
literally dropped!! Where was the kid that wasn't sure where to place
his hands? The kid that did nothing last year but scurry around to
keep from getting pinned. That kid was long gone and what was forming
was a wrestler - one that you could tell got it. One that had a desire
to learn it and do it right. As the season progressed, Evan developed
quite a following. The parents cheered when he came out, this time
instead of grinning ear to ear worrying about getting a hot dog after
the match, he was focused and determined. He wanted this.
Evan ended his season in Jan, 2010 by winning the North Florida 119
Weight Class championship. He had a record of 22-0 with 18 of those
wins being by pin. His sweet spirit never changed and he always
portrayed the ultimate display of sportsmanship.
While waiting for his final match at the North FL tourney, I was in
the stands and happened to look over and found my boy off by himself.
I watched for a few minutes and then the tears started when I saw the
calmness and sincerity he carried on his face (yes, I know there's NO
crying in wrestling!). Whether he won or not, he was my champ for
having evolved into this incredible competitor.
After he won the match and we were on our way home, I showed him the
pic and asked what he was doing during that time. He said, "I was just
praying that I would do my very best because I wanted this with all my
Whew...ok, so there's crying in wrestling.
(Mom of Evan McCall, currently wrestling for the Fleming Island
Wrestling Club, Jacksonville, FL)
The team's athletic trainer called me at work about 3:30. I needed to get Colin to the emergency room as fast as possible. On the Tuesday after sectionals, what was initially thought to be a shin bruise, was now a dark purple, hot, swelling, gross mass, the size of a mango, or a small eggplant. And it was quickly spreading past the circle in indelible black marker the trainer drew on Colin's right leg with the time: 3:00 .
I left work within minutes and got to the hospital an hour or so later. We waited a while with the other dozen or more patients, including the 8-year-old girl encouraged by her mother to practice her recorder in the ER waiting room. Anyone who has had a kid in elementary school has had to listen to the scales crucified on the beige, plastic, cheap flute. Every sick person cringed. No one had the nerve to be direct.
But Colin asked the mother politely to have her child stop.
"No one wants to hear that right now," he said.
"It's beautiful, but everyone in here is sick."
The little girl remained silent and a few others thanked Colin for his bravery. We were ushered in to an ER "room," and soon after the doctor saw Colin, who explained he was a wrestler, he was admitted for overnight intravenous antibiotics and observation. It turned out to be MRSA. It was very dangerous. In small amounts, MRSA is manageable. It's in your nostrils, it's on all the wrestling mats. Every sport battles with the contamination. Some sports more than others. Wrestling is one of them.
The quick version is the doctors lanced the wound, it was extremely painful for Colin, in spite of the morphin and the local antisthetic shots. The doctors extracted about 10 cc's of yuck, and yes, Colin took a video on his phone. He just might show it to you if you ask.
The best part is Coach Powell came to visit him. About 9 o'clock that night, after he had a long day of teaching and coaching. He had time for one of his wrestlers.
"You have to get better, Colin, you're a key player."
Colin didn't get better quickly. While he didn't qualify for individual state, he did not get to go with the team to Champaign, where his teammates, Chris and Nick Dardannes and Sammy Brooks, each won first place medals. Benny Brooks took third. Charlie Johnson and LaQuan Hightower were contenders. Colin had to keep his leg elevated with warm compresses. Sitting in the cramped stands for two days would make him even sicker.
Colin missed wrestling in team sectionals on Tuesday, where Oak Park prevailed. He was hoping he could be well enough to wrestle at Team State in Bloomington this last Saturday. He wasn't, he could never have passed a skin test. By the time team state rolled around, it was scaling and still red.
But he wrapped the wound and went to Team State on the bus with the team. We lost to Minooka. But Coach Powell talked to the boys, many of whom were extremely distraught. And like he always does, Coach Powell gave them perspective.
I drove home with Brendan and Liam's mom, Danne. Brendan was on the phone with one of his teammates from the 2009 team.
"What did Coach Powell say to the team?"
"I didn't get to hear it," Brendan said. "But I bet it was really great."
It was a very good year. I put the sheet cake I brought with me to Bloomington in the freezer. We won state last year and I bought a cake for that too. We ate it as champions. This year I was careful with the wording, not wanting to be arrogant, presumptive.
"Congratulations for a Huskies style year."
The cake will stay in the freezer until the end of the year banquet where Powell acts like Powell and shows all of us why we belong to this wrestling family. It will be in a few weeks when all of us can look back with a little distance and completely agree on why this all means the world to all of us.
Caryn emailed me the photo.
I didn't see it until I had already landed in San Francisco, a trip to visit three undergraduate students on media internships from the Medill School of Journalism.
Colin is absolutely glowing. He won first place at 119 pounds. I left for the airport from St. Ignatius High School at 2 p.m. to catch a 5 p.m. flight out. I saw him get his first two wins. I knew he would be the champion. Still, I didn't see the smile in person.
There is very little I can do for my 16-year-old son in his life to make him smile that widely. His favorite meal after a tournament--maybe-- a joke, a small gift, a verbal reminder that I love him immensely. But he is responsible for that moment of intense pride. It wasn't handed to him, he didn't inherit it, it didn't land on him when he opened the window. It certainly did not come from me. And I get chills witnessing the satisfaction he reaps from the fruits of his own determination.
Colin won regional champion at 119 pounds last week. At noon, his older brother Brendan, called me on my cell from his college dorm room in Indiana to see how Colin was faring. Just then a "restricted call" clicked in on my call waiting. It was his oldest brother, Weldon, calling from Madrid, where he is on study abroad, seeing how Colin was faring. Odd to say, but it was a wonderful family moment.
Some families go on cruises. Some families have picnics. Some families play board games. Mine is a wrestling family. My sons compete on the mat by themselves. Perhaps the other two boys are there watching from the sidelines. Along with all the other mothers, I sit in the stands. Sometimes I take the brothers' calls asking what is happening on the mat. And everytime I am in a warm high school gymnasium somewhere in the Midwest, I hope that on this day, one of my boys has a smile that reaches from here to the end of the world.
That day it was Colin. And yes, it was a very good day for me.
Watch a video of the wrestlers at Oak Park and River Forest High School as they work out in the weight room.