The day begins, as it always does, with the National Anthem. Everyone stands and freezes at attention as the song blares over ancient loudspeakers. A cell phone rings. A woman reminds her son to remove his baseball cap. From somewhere behind me, a man sings loudly and off-key and I find myself wishing for his self-confidence. The warm breeze caresses away the memory of winter. A starling alights on the railing, peering at me with tilted head and beaded eyes, arriving too soon for the banquet of hot dog buns, greasy French fries and salty soft pretzels that the spectators will leave behind at day’s end. The music stops. There’s a smattering of applause. The men replace their caps. The stands begin to buzz.
The track beckons to me, drawing me into a past that feels closer than it actually is. I rub my thumb along the concrete of the stands, tiny pebbles suspended in cement, a solid foundation upon which to seat generations past. My feet itch at the memory of the cinder tracks of old that—if you were unlucky enough to fall—would embed tiny black rocks into your knees and palms. But the track is rubberized now; its lanes are numbered. This arena belongs to my daughter.
I watch several heats of the hundred, the two hundred, the four hundred. In the home end zone of the football field, the athletes warm up for the high jump. On the visitor’s side, two parents stretch out a yellow tape measure before raking away the prints in the long jump pit. The athletes waiting for their events gather in the bleachers, eating SweeTarts and Gummy Bears and occasionally throwing torn pieces of pretzels at spectators.
In a gravelly voice peppered with static, the announcer calls the 4 by 4 relay. My daughter and her teammates jog to the track, ponytails swinging from side to side. The first runner takes her place at the starting line grasping a metal baton in her right hand, body tensed, frozen, waiting to be released. An official wearing an orange vest steps onto the track, an air gun strapped to his belt. He unbuckles the gun. Straight-arms the muzzle at the sky. In front of me, a little girl presses her hands against her ears. At the pop of the gun, the athletes are off in a blur of yellows and reds and greens and blues.
Cheering on her teammate is a daughter I barely recognize. Her old personality has been coated with a thick layer of sarcasm and liberal amounts of eye rolling. Gone are the days of her sitting in my lap to tell me about her day at school. Now, the house is steeped in silence and resentment.
My daughter takes the track, nods at her coach’s last-minute instructions. My husband and I can’t wait until this teenage stage is over; can’t wait for her to return to us whole again, the sweet little girl we used to know. Just the other day, she told me how she couldn’t wait to leave. Our home, our family is too boring. The wonders of college and career and a life of excitement call to her. Dismissed from motherhood by my own flesh and blood, I am saddened. I am angry. Mostly I am hurt.
The first leg runner rounds the bend and begins sprinting the final hundred. In a carefully orchestrated movement based in trust, my daughter reaches behind her and begins running. Her teammate extends the baton. Slaps it onto my daughter’s palm. At precisely the right moment, the first runner lets go. My daughter grips the baton and takes off. Wait, I want to say. Life is more dangerous than skinned knees and scraped palms. And yet, she runs.
She sprints, arms swinging, eyes intently focused on a goal only she can see. She turns the corner on the final lap. She’s going to catch fourth place. Third. In the stands, the athletes leap to their feet and scream her name in a repetitive chant. I stand and applaud, yelling out her name as loudly as her teammates. She leans in and passes the baton before bending over and pressing her hands against her knees to catch her breath. She straightens and searches the stands. I give a little wave. She catches my eye and smiles.
Motherhood is about forgiving the hurts that your children impart; loving them despite the pain they thoughtlessly inflict. I must trust her to know when she’s ready to go. And she may trust that I’ll be here for her.
There’s a chill in the air. The stands are emptying. The ground is littered with paper cups, discarded pretzels, French fries. The birds swoop in for the leftovers. I stand, gather my things and step onto the track to congratulate the young woman who is my daughter.
Labels: Daughters, Raising Children