We walk through the metal gates of the middle school football field, the seven of us. Over my shoulder is a fold-up chair, a cooler bag filled to the brim and a giant purse with all the necessities for the day—sippy cup, diapers, wipes, little toys and candy for bargaining good behavior. In my other hand I grip a little one. To all the other littles, who trail along behind me, I have doled out helmets, pads, water bottles, blankets. We stop to count heads and pay our entrance fee, and I realize with a frown that it’s chilly out. And really wet. I had woken at 5:30 am to be here and dressed in 85 degree weather clothes. I am not amused by chilly and wet.
We trudge slowly across the field, freshly cut grass collecting on our flip flopped feet and legs, before settling our blankets, toys and snacks somewhere around the 50 yard line under an overcast, misty sky.
Two hours later I am sweaty, my white shorts are dirty on the seat, I have given up my chair to Ma (my grandma) and am on the ground with Legos and trucks spread all around me. One of the littles is crying and snotting for no other reason than that I had woken her before the sun was up, the other kids are huddled under umbrellas in an effort to hide from the hot sun, I can’t keep enough water in the bottles to satisfy all the thirst, I have already pulled out my secret candy plus some, one little has fallen on the wet bleachers after I told them all not to get on the bleachers (after which a cry erupted, I almost lost some cool and half of the team parents turned to look at our scene), and I’m texting my husband, who is probably blissfully driving from one job site to the next listening to pre-children music in the solitude of his truck, “Never again…”
I attempt a few photos and video with my big, obnoxious lens that makes it look like I know what I’m doing. Football is so new and foreign to me that much of the time I don’t know what I’m looking at it. Behind a camera lens, forget it.
I put away the camera to focus on my son and the game. I find myself watching a play where the other team fakes to the right and quickly passes to the left, my son’s corner. He has already left the corner to head right and completely misses the handoff. I take in every detail, understanding it, a rarity for football and me. I don’t scold, I don’t yell, I resist the frustration that many other sideline parents don’t. I don’t really have the energy left for it anyway.
The littles are occupied with other children and I stand to watch the next play, camera hanging by my side. My oldest, he’s close to the end zone, on defense, when he’s knocked off his feet by a kid who, though lean, towers over him. He catches himself with his hands as the other team scores. I watch him get up, then wince and baby his left arm. “He’s hurt,” I say to no one. Ma hasn’t even a clue where he is on the field. I’m not really sure if she’s aware of what sport it is she’s pretending to watch. I quickly walk the sideline to meet him and in a whirlwind of team moms and players and water bottles he’s given ice and benched, wincing and teary-eyed. I stand behind him, alone and unsure of what to do.
Halftime arrives minutes later and we all realize he’s out for the remainder of the game. His jersey is turned inside out, moved gently around his wrist and he watches the last half with his ice pack on his arm. His dad, who’s been trying to get a play-by-play from me all day, calls to talk to him, wishing so badly that he’s here with us. He’d know what to do.
It’s Monday morning now and my daughter colors at a child’s table of the doctor’s office while my injured one sits by a window holding his ACE-bandaged wrist. The woman at the front desk explains to me that there seems to be a problem with the insurance, possibly on our end but probably on theirs. At the same moment she realizes there is a glitch on the insurance end, our pony-tailed doctor with the big white smile spots us and brightens. She immediately tells the front desk woman not to worry, we are good, she didn’t realize it was us, and waves us clear. Our sons play football together. Before that it was baseball, I think, and scouts. Suddenly I feel the quaint smallness of my town and I feel less alone.
We talk for awhile in the exam room about the team, the coaches, the game before she sends us about half a mile down the road for an x-ray. Despite all my initial “it’s fine, I’m sure it’s just a minor sprain” we soon receive the call that tells us our oldest has his first fractured bone and he’ll need to go see Dr. So and So this afternoon.
As I stand there in my living room, listening to pieces of my husband’s conversation with the doctor, I almost physically feel my world getting smaller, good smaller, and my people crowded all around me. The desert island I sometimes occupy has vanished and I’m standing in the middle of the village, a charming one that I don’t acknowledge often enough. Dr. So and So had been at our house the night before, delivering a meal to us with his wife and children, one of whom I used to tutor in my homeschool co-op class. My community seems to grow each year, friends move far or we don’t talk often, but somehow a safe, supportive haven of people has been intricately knit together within the larger community, and they show up just when you need a reminder that God has not left you alone, not at all.
As those people find out about my son’s weekend injury, added to the pile of recent heartbreaks and challenges, they call, they message, they pray their concern for us. In recent weeks needs have been provided for, dinners have been served (which my husband and I secretly wish could continue all year! Why stop a good thing?). One says, “you must be a really strong person for God to feel like you could handle one more thing.” Not at all. I’m just a girl relying on love to carry me through one day at a time. But all these kind words are sent to me, because of a situation that can’t be changed and in normal circumstances would be a minor one…and well, words are my love language and they communicate love. Just when I need to feel love. Last week I felt I was on an island (an island with wild four-year-old boys and no babysitters). This week I feel the embrace of the village. The village makes my heart swell so much that I almost embrace the hard days as well.
I’ve always tried to surround myself with those who are better than me. Not prettier or wealthier, but soul better, better inside. Wiser, more loving, more giving, more kind, because that’s who I want to be. So though I may place myself on the island at times, I can’t be there for long. These people I surround myself with, they’re all still there, and they won’t let me.
As we head off the field that sunny Saturday afternoon, my arms are more full than when I came. Helmets and pads have been added to my pile, chair and bags still slung over my shoulder, while my oldest walks beside me cradling his hand. We are just about to stop for a hot dog when a man runs up beside me and offers assistance.
“I’m walking your way so I’d be more than happy to carry some of that.”
I may have let him had we not been stopping but I actually have a pretty controlled chaos organized at the moment. I decline, drop all our gear and buy my son a hot dog. Most of the time we don’t need the help; certainly we’ll survive without it. But indeed, it lifts the load when others offer to carry just a bit of it. It brings others alongside us, to take part in the fellowship that disruption and hardship can bring if we allow it, it reminds us of the great beauty and selflessness of so many among us, it inspires us to mimic the same when it’s our turn. To be on the receiving end of all that greatness…well, it makes the load worth carrying.
To my village, thank you. In every magnificent or tiny way you’ve been there, I feel the embrace. It’s everything.