A Time to Leak

I am not a cryer, especially in public. I hate feeling out of control, and tears are a sure sign that I’ve lost it. It’s a ridiculous cycle. If I get angry, really angry, I cry, which makes me even more indignant because I’m crying in front of people. Somewhere along the way, I guess I equated tears with weakness.

This was before I got sick. Nowadays I’m on the verge of tears at any moment. Sometimes these tears are from sadness or pain, but often they are an overflow of gratitude and love. I cry when I talk about my kids, about how much better I’m feeling, about the future.  Izzi refers to this as “leaking.”  “Awh, Momma, you’re leaking again,” she’ll say, and she’ll wrap her little arms around my neck.

It’s not ugly crying. No blubbering or snot. Just silent droplets raining from the corners of my brown eyes. I’ve learned to accept it, dab my cheeks with a tissue, and wait for it to pass.

This could be a symptom of my illness or the depression my illness has created, but I believe the most likely explanation is that Lyme has simply changed me. The struggles of the last year have opened me to a vulnerability I never knew existed. I feel exposed and raw, so it only makes sense that I would feel everything more deeply.

Often the leaking is sudden and unexpected, but I could easily predict it with this event.

I’d prepped for it. I wore no mascara or eye liner. I’d stuffed a few tissues in my pockets. I thought I was ready. After all, I’d spent the last 14 years working toward this occasion. It wasn’t a surprise; I knew it would eventually come.

But, damn.

Last night my 17-year-old baby boy played in his last high school soccer game. I don’t know how it’s possible.

Didn’t Riley just start playing soccer? That pint-sized little three-year-old, who turned four a few weeks into the season, is still the kid I see running onto that field.  His legs were so short that his knobby knees disappeared between his black shorts and soccer socks.  His cleats were the smallest size sold.

I have spent so much of my adult life sitting in the bleachers watching him. Rec league soccer every fall and sometimes in the spring. Travel soccer, which took us from Virginia Beach to South Carolina. Some of our best memories were a result of those trips.

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Indoor soccer in the winter. Soccer camps. Pick-up soccer games at the local soccer barn.  There has been A LOT of soccer.

It wasn’t always easy. I felt like a taxi service generally. I can’t tell you the number of times he forgot part of his uniform and I had to figure out a way to avert that crisis. It was a sacrifice, an expense, and now I realize, a privilege.

Life has recently taught me that I was unbelievably blessed to be healthy enough to be his taxi and his cheerleader. I was lucky to get to watch my little blonde-haired boy grow into this strong, passionate brunette who now towers over most of his teammates.

It was the best game he’d ever played.  Two well-matched teams in the second round of the sectional tournament gave the audience one heck of a show.  Riley had nearly fifty saves, breaking the state record for the number of saves in one game.  The score was tied 0-0 to the end.  They went into overtime, then double overtime, then penalty kicks, and finally sudden death PKs.

I should note the day my son decided to play the position of keeper I began disliking penalty kicks.  I dread them.  So much pressure on the keeper and much of the result pure luck.  Of course this is how his soccer career would end.  My heart raced.  The crowd was on their feet, shouting encouragement and then holding their breath with each shot.

And then it was over.

The game.

His soccer career.

The taxiing, the cheerleading, the saves.

It was over.

And the tears started to fall.  I looked at my fellow soccer mom, a friendship forged from our children’s love of this sport, and I cried.  I watched my son hug his coach, and I cried.

Riley walked off the field, his last time wearing that jersey, his last time feeling the rush of the game, and I cried.

I tried to stop.  I dabbed my eyes.  I looked away. Were other senior moms feeling this overwhelming sense of finality?

Then my son wrapped me up, tucked his face into my neck, and I could feel his strong shoulders shaking.  This moment was not lost on him either.

We both cried.  Silently.

It’s crazy, right?  We spend all their lives preparing them for these moments, and yet when they arrive, we feel cheated.  The goal is to raise them into good human beings, and I have no doubt his soccer experiences helped shape him into the young man he is today.  We know the last game is inevitable.

But I swear I closed my eyes for a second.  When I opened them, a young man stood where my little boy had once been.

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As we left, Riley shook hands with friends and strangers, all congratulating him on his amazing game.  Many were from the opposing team, so their words were tremendous compliments.  Riley was smiling and composed; I was still dabbing my leaking eyes.

He boarded the bus and I followed behind in my own vehicle. This would be his last bus ride back to school with his soccer team.

I thought of all the nicknames Riley had acquired while playing soccer — Riley Roo, Gunter boy, Ri, Frenchy.  I laughed, remembering the day I picked him up from a co-ed soccer camp and discovered that his coaches had started calling him Frenchy.  My first thought was of Frenchy from the movie Grease, which instantly caused some panic.  What had he done now?  It turned out that he wore jerseys representing France, and that had been the source of the nickname.  Wooh.

I remembered crazy soccer moments over the years.  The time a woman walked onto the field and attacked the referee.  The time I happened to snap a photo which proved that the ball had crossed the goal line and the ref actually looked at my camera and switched his call, advancing our team in the tournament.  The time Riley slide tackled on the very edge of a field in Hagerstown and stood up covered in dog poop.  He rode to the hotel in his underwear that day. So many memories…and the tears kept falling.

One thing is sure.  I will not miss the smell of soccer.  If you’re a soccer parent, you know what I’m talking about.  There is a distinct aroma –somehow a mix of sweat, earth, and cat urine –that permeates the cleats and shin guards.  No, I won’t miss that battle.

I thought about my oldest son’s senior night and his last game.  I never cried at either. I’m sure I felt the loss and finality, but the me back then wouldn’t have cried in public.  Does it make me a better mom to hold it together or to feel everything so intensely?  I don’t know.

Tears, which flow as I write this, are now just a part of my daily life.  They are proof that I have survived this painful year, that I am very much alive, and I am grateful to be here and to be able to feel these emotions.  The Bible is filled with stories of the strongest people crying.  After all, even Jesus himself wept.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

I guess this is my time to weep.  I have mourned the loss of friends this year.  In fact, Riley’s very first soccer coach Alex Cruz passed away just a few months ago.  He taught Riley at just three years old to kick with the inside of his foot, a fundamental skill that will always be part of my son. It still seems surreal that Alex is not in the stands cheering my son and his own sons on.  It feels unfair and unfinished.

And in many ways, I am still grieving over the loss of the life I once had.  I’m accepting and adjusting, but I miss my job, my students, my energy level.  Thankfully, at least I am able to laugh now more than I have in ages, and I am determined to feel well enough to dance with my husband in our kitchen again someday.

But when that happens, I’m sure Izzi will have to run for a tissue because I will certainly be leaking with joy.

God has taught me that tears are not a sign of weakness.  On the contrary, they are proof of that we are living, we are strong, and we are overflowing with love, pride and gratitude.

We are blessed.

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Dedicated to the memory of Alex Cruz,

devoted father, friend and coach.

You are missed.

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