Erev Mother’s Day
I am part of the past. Grandmothers do not butt in. My Tarrytown daughter and her cohorts, the current generation, supervise the children now.
It is the day of my ten-year-old granddaughter Brittany’s soccer tournament in Dobbs Ferry. All the midlevel girls’ teams from all the Hudson River towns will battle here. Brittany’s team, the Tarrytown Tigers, is scheduled for four games. Their first begins at 9:30 a.m. These days, I do not function early enough to take the train from my home in Manhattan to Dobbs Ferry and be on the field by 9:15. For many years I have leapt up from sleep, at the command of a crying baby or a shrieking alarm clock, fully alert at five-thirty. Retired now, I am given a dispensation by my tall, protective daughter, Beth, and permitted to skip the first and second games and to attend only the two final ones. I catch the 11:40 local to Dobbs Ferry, panicked as usual by the fear of missing it.
Kurt, Beth’s black-haired, broad-shouldered husband, father of Brittany and Sam, meets my 12:02 p.m. arrival and drives me to the field of battle. It is Kurt who meets me because the day is cold and Beth and Sam (their fourteen-year-old son with asthma) went home for warmer jackets. Brittany, Kurt says, is kept warm by excitement and exercise and a flimsy hooded red sweatshirt. Six foot Kurt, toasty in his windbreaker, leads me to Beth, five foot ten, and now warm in leather. I, shrunk by osteoporosis to four feet eleven inches, wearing my hooded winter coat and wool gloves, watch my beloved daughter dispense sandwiches and cookies that Alice Capp, mother of Sally Capp, has provided for the Tarrytown Tigers’ lunch. On the Capps’ six foot folding table, Alice has set forth three platters of food that will be acceptable to ten year old girls: Ham and cheese, or roast beef, all on whole wheat. “I left the crusts on. It’s better for you,” Alice says. Home baked oatmeal raisin cookies. Slices of watermelon. Gatorade, in two flavors. Plain water for the purists.
Sam is now in Elmsford, employed as one of the ball boys for the high school seniors’ lacrosse game. Sam has fallen in love with lacrosse, which he finds more congenial to his asthma than soccer. He has explained to me that Lacrosse demands less continuous running than soccer, but is even more exciting: players can check each other with their sticks and knock opponents over with a shoulder block or trip them. Today Sam is ball boy for the seventeen- and eighteen-year-old seniors who are beginning to exert the power of their young manhood. When Sam plays on his own, younger, lacrosse team, he comes home from each game black and blue but does not have an asthma attack as he might if he had played all four quarters of a soccer match. Sam’s asthma slows his running speed, and in soccer to avoid an episode, he has to spend alternate quarters as goalie, a position he regards as boring and unworthy of his talents.
Back to the girls’ soccer. The girls on the Tarrytown Tigers are taking a bathroom break after lunch and Beth has a chance to talk with Alice, mother of Sally, and Blossom, mother of Bathsheba, unoverheard by their children. The ten-year-old Tigers, Brittany and Sally and Bathsheba, all more or less flat-chested so far, are avid soccer players and their mothers are pleased to render homage by serving them lunch in the field this day and by driving them back and forth and staying until the end of the afternoon when the awards are given out. At the moment, however, the discussion is about their sons — Sam, Jamie, and Gillie.
The first topic is sexual orientation of the boys: Panel discussants are a) my daughter, Beth, a new sixth-grade teacher and mother of Brittany and Sam; b) Alice, blonde and buxom, office manager of a river town police department and mother of Sally and Jamie; and c) Blossom, a lawyer built like a Norse warrior goddess, mother of Bathsheba and Gillie. The women are in their early forties. Their girls are ten. And fortuitously, their boys are fourteen, so the discussion is about the same age group in each instance, and the notes they compare carry weight.
The panel agrees that Sidney O’Brien, a plump, non-athletic, redhead who has lately become hostile to the other boys, is gay. They can discuss this because Marjorie, Sidney’s mother, is not present. Sidney does not play soccer, though he is a ball boy for lacrosse, lured, perhaps, by the burgeoning muscularity of the high school seniors on the team. The panel concludes that Sidney’s hostility is part of his struggle with his sexual orientation. His father, a ship’s captain, is totally macho, and Sidney must be miserable this year. “Poor Sidney,” all the panel members sigh, relieved that their sons secretly read Playboy.
“I think Jacob is gay, too,” says Alice. “He and Sidney go everywhere together.”
Beth and Blossom express doubt. “Jacob is little and ugly and lonely,” says Blossom. “The popular boys don’t know he exists, so he settles for friendship with Sidney.”
The second topic is the boys’ sexual research: The panel now focuses on their own sons. The boys are avidly curious about sex. Lack of experience has driven them to the Internet. Alas, the porn sites are too accessible. “Still,” Alice says, “if you block the porn, you may block a legitimate site. For instance, blocking ‘the Amazons’ porn’ could block a historical info site, plus the book buying site, which the boys can’t use without credit cards, but the blockage of which would annoy the heck out of my husband.”
“It’s a problem,” admits Blossom. “You can’t watch them 24/7.” As a result of his porn research at middle school, her son Gillie has been barred from using the school’s computers. So has Jacob, his partner in the final science project. “On the days when I’m working at home,” says Blossom, “I’m using our computer, so he can’t.”
“So how are they going to get their research done?” asks Beth.
“They may just have to go physically to the town library,” says Blossom, heavy on the sarcasm.
The third topic is actual sexual activity: River town boys’ sexual initiation may occur later than that of Manhattan boys, but … As far as the mothers know, none of the boys has yet “done it.” “Except,” says Alice Capp, “Danny Marston is claiming he has, but Jamie doesn’t think so.”
So Alice and Jamie discuss this? Or maybe Jamie and his dad, who reports to his wife. Aren’t teen-aged boys embarrassed to discuss sex with their mothers?
“Who’s the lucky girl?” asks Beth.
“Jamie said Danny swore he wouldn’t tell. But Jamie thinks he’s lying because all the middle school girls look like virgins to him.”
“How can he tell that?” asks Beth. The others shrug.
“It’s the girls who are the aggressors, anyhow,” says Blossom. “They call Gillie up and you should hear what they say on the phone!”
“You eavesdrop?” asks Beth.
“Of course,” says Blossom.
“Sam says Danny shows off a condom he carries around, but Sam thinks he stole it from his cousin. The cousin is twenty,” says Beth.
I interpose, “Someone should warn Danny that condoms get brittle and break if they’re too old.”
The three mothers stare at me. I’m in my seventies. How do I know about condoms? They, especially my daughter Beth, don’t want to think of me as having been sexually active. I look at my feet and pretend to be invisible.
It’s 12:30. The Tarrytown Tigers have raced back from the high school bathroom ready to begin game #3. “What’s the tally?” I ask Beth.
“They lost the first game and won the second,” she says.
The third game starts promptly, professionally. This is a tournament, after all. “I don’t know what we’d have done if it had rained,” says Blossom.
Alice responds, “I thought it was going to. That was what the weather channel predicted, and when I saw the sun shining outside this morning, I really had to hustle to make the sandwiches and get here by 9:00.”
Kurt comes to tell Beth that he thinks the coach is favoring his own daughter, not positioning players for the good of the team. Tall girls like Bathsheba and Brittany and Sally would be better in the center, to drive the ball home. Coach’s daughter is small, skinny, and speedy, better for the left side. She doesn’t like to pass the ball, which frequently costs the Tigers points. Kurt is kvetching only to Beth because he is not the coach. “Positioning team members is part of coaching skills,” he growls.
“Why don’t you coach?” I ask Kurt, meaning that otherwise he shouldn’t complain.
“No,” he says. “I’m away too much.”
Brittany, as goalie, makes a fabulous save, throwing herself on the incoming ball. Enthusiastic applause. The game is tied. “It is so great for girls that their fathers are helping out. So great for their self-esteem, not like my generation,” I say into the air because no one is listening. Next quarter, Brittany makes a goal. We have begun to cheer wildly. Tarrytown Tigers win game 3.
In Game #4 at 2:30, the Tarrytown Tigers are getting tired. The Ossining Bears are ages eleven to thirteen, bigger, and run much faster. But it’s still a hard-fought game, during which the panel continues its discussion: The fourth topic is fear of drug abuse: Jamie Capp, the fourteen-year-old boy banned from the school computers, is a great soccer player and a hellion. But none of his group is into drugs — so far. The notorious Danny supposedly has hidden a marijuana stash in his locker at school. “That’s so stupid,” says Brittany, who has eavesdropped between halves. She is into playing Harriet the Spy and not much gets past her any more.
The Ossining Bears win by one point, alas. “You guys are the best,” Mr. Capp, a former FBI agent, says to the Tigers. “You just need to grow a couple of inches.”
We hang around until 4:00 p.m. for the Awards ceremony. The Tarrytown Tigers get GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP medals on ribbons for winning third place. “How do they know we’re good sportsmen?” Brittany asks Kurt.
“It’s because you came in third. That’s how they do it: an eight inch high trophy for first, a five inch trophy for second, and good sportsman medals for third.”
“I thought it was because they’d overheard us saying that we didn’t mind not being first. That we just had a good time playing,” says Brittany.
“I don’t think so,” says Kurt. “They don’t make two-inch trophies, so they give you ‘Good Sportsmanship’ medals that you can hang around your neck.”
We drive to the lacrosse field to check on Sam. His seniors have just finished their first game. Visitors 16; Home Team 3. Depressed now, they’re beginning the second. The players are seventeen or eighteen, and man! Do they run! Not far, but fast!! Sam wants to work the next game, too. “We are going home,” Kurt tells him. “Call us when you’re done.”
At Beth and Kurt’s apartment we eat bread and cheese and lie down on couches to watch re-runs of “The West Wing.” Beth, Kurt, and I fall asleep. All that fresh air. Brittany naps lightly but is quiet. The phone rings. Lacrosse is over and Sam is ready.
We drive to get him and decide to eat out for Mother’s Day, which is tomorrow, but I don’t like sleeping over any more — I always seem to forget one of my medications — so we celebrate ‘Erev Mother’s Day’ and go Japanese at the Oki Doki Restaurant.
Beth still obsesses about drugs. She has seen a lot in her work at the hospital in the Bronx before she became a teacher, and she takes the opportunity to lecture Sam while Brittany goes to the counter at the side of the room and watches a chef make sushi. Just what Beth would have done at that age. Sam says, “You don’t have to worry about my smoking pot, Mom. I don’t want an asthma attack.” As long as he lives Sam will be aware of the limitations his asthma imposes on him. But ‘no drugs’ is a good one.
I watch our family contentedly. We are a sandwich. I am the crumbly slice of bread on the top, my daughter is the pastrami in the middle, and Sam and Brittany are the moist bottom slice with pickles, being trained to move up to pastrami.
After our sushi orgy, we order one dish of green tea ice cream and five teaspoons. We all take little tastes. On my second spoonful, I get a surprise. “It tastes like that Japanese mustard,” I gasp. “My sinuses are becoming very clear.” Sam grins. “They’re the same shade of green,” he says. I laugh, knowing who put wasabi into the ice cream, and pleased that his asthma hasn’t kept him from being a teenager.
“You’re always laughing, Grandma,” he says. “Why are you always laughing?”
The future is asking a question that the past must answer. “Because you and Brittany delight me,” I confess.