when kids learn life lessons, it’s a little heartbreaking at times

lax-2We’re having a marvelous pre-Spring this year. Buds are blooming on the plum tree in the front yard and the grass is actually green for once. Bunnies are roaming in the yard. All annual signs that life’s seasons change and move on, even from the disappointments we all feel.

A case in point: My son went out for lacrosse this year. He had played for four years straight, from middle school through the tenth grade. After having a horrible assistant coach that year and a very weak head coach who looked the other way, Ben decided not to play last year. It was a shock to us, his parents, and his brother, who had starred in every sport he played in, including lacrosse. (His sisters also had played a sport every season.) But I figured Ben had good reason not to try that year and reminded myself that each kid is different. He was maybe not the athlete his brother was, although we never had a better baseball player than Ben, and we let him decide his own course in life. He wanted to get a job instead and to concentrate on school.

Fast forward to about six weeks ago, when Ben told me he wanted to try out for lacrosse again. I had mixed feelings, knowing he’d been doing nothing physical since the tenth grade to keep in shape besides swimming in the summer and skateboarding. Selfishly, I also had gotten used to not rushing out of the house midafternoon on school nights to drive to games as far away as 40 miles. But I let him make his own choice.

He started conditioning by going up to school on afternoons and weekends before tryouts, hitting the ball against the outdoor racquetball court walls for hours and running on the track. We drove the 20 miles to the Nike outlet store one Sunday so he could use a giftcard from a family friend to buy running shoes. We spent a couple hours on a school holiday at the mall, searching for lacrosse cleats, which aren’t available everywhere, as one might guess. Seventy dollars plus tax and a few more bucks for a couple new balls and he was ready for the season. The gear from a couple years ago pretty much already fit him since most of it was from his brother, who played varsity tenth through twelfth grades.

Tryouts were to last four nights and started out with Ben coming home the first night proclaiming, “I’ve still got it!” The next night’s tryouts also went well. The third night, Ben was a bit more quiet, but still optimistic. Friday’s tryouts were just “OK.” He would get a call that night with the news, he said.

But no call came.

Ben texted a friend, Jimmy, who had also tried out. Jimmy had played for another school the last couple years. He hadn’t heard either. Jimmy called the coach and learned that the coach hadn’t realized he had played before (he didn’t have our school’s helmet decals attached), so he gave Jimmy another chance. When Ben heard this, he also dialed up the coach, who asked why Ben hadn’t played last year. “Rigorous classes,” was his reason, not wanting to prejudice the coach by letting him know he had issues with the former coach. The new coach told him that there were only so many varsity spots and being a senior, Ben wouldn’t be eligible for JV (although this is not exactly correct, having had a friend, who’s now the school tennis coach, research this when her daughter wanted to play JV waterpolo in the twelfth grade and the coach said she couldn’t; but lots of coaches are misinformed about this and lots of seniors don’t want to play down anyway, so hardly anyone questions this “rule”).

The coach told Ben and Jimmy he’d give them one more try on Monday and Tuesday and he’d be watching them closely. Ben was happy about this. I told him, though, “You know, if you don’t make the team, it’s OK,” to which he answered, “What do you mean? I’m going to play!” All right, then.

Ben iced his ankles and feet over the weekend, which were extremely sore. (Was it those $70 shoes or the fact that he’s a late bloomer who recently had a dramatic growth spurt, which can cause major pain in the ligaments and muscles of the feet?) The two boys went up to the school to practice some more.

Monday came and, along with it, one of the fiercest storms of the winter. It rained hard all day, with no let up. Lacrosse is a bit of a brutal sport. Baseball, it is not. Games are played come rain, stifling heat, or snow. Unless there’s lightning, which could cause a little issue since the kids carry virtual lightning rods for sticks, the game goes on.

I was proud of Ben for sticking with it that night, coming home dripping wet, his gear soaked through. Fortunately, there was enough sun the next day to lay everything that couldn’t be machine washed out in the sun, because Tuesday night, he was at it again. Ben’s feet were still an issue and after practice, the coaches told him to wear an ankle brace. He called me from the CVS that night to ask if we had a brace at home. If not, he was going to buy one, and he did.

He came home, ate his dinner and waited for the news. But no call or text came that night. The next day, a couple hours before that night’s practice, Ben received a text. The answer was no, he couldn’t play. The coach said he already had the team settled up and Ben just wasn’t up to snuff to play varsity. I’m sure his ankles didn’t help win him a spot. Ben told me later that he was running “like a gump” that last practice.

An awkward fact about all this: One of the new assistant coaches is the son of close friends of ours, a young man who took up the sport of lacrosse after we introduced it to his parents back when he and my older son were in middle school. This young man went on to play in college and do very well. He’s known Ben his whole life. His sister is a friend of Ben’s. They grew up together. Also, he currently has possession of (and very likely brought to tryouts) an expensive portable goal I had bought my older son a few years back for his birthday. Awkward, indeed.

Anyway, that’s how it all turned out. “It’s weird,” Ben said to me Friday night. “I should be at practice right now.” It’s not easy knowing that others, including some sophomores, are representing the green and gold and building a team bond while Ben is sitting at the dinner table with his middle-aged mom, eating fish sticks.

I’m super proud of Ben for giving it his best shot even though it turned up empty. (His friend, by the way, whom Ben talked up to the coaches, made the team.) There were positives to Ben’s playing again, number one being he’d have a healthy outlet for his time, time he was spending watching YouTube videos and playing PS4. In fact, this was why he wanted to play again in the first place. He’s mature enough to want to do something productive with his time that’s also a healthy outlet. Unfortunately, he learned the hard way that giving your best effort sometimes doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped. As a parent, it’s a bit heartbreaking knowing your son tried so hard and the hard work didn’t pay off. Isn’t that what we tell our kids all the time, try hard and you’ll see results?

The lesson learned, however, was another valuable, inevitable one: Sometimes life isn’t fair. Of course, no matter what, the sun will shine another day, the bare branches will gain buds and then leaves. Time marches on. It’s just a little tough to face when it marches on without you.