The Field

He runs out the door, all red-faced and sweaty and dashes into my arms, crumbling into a heap of bitter sobs.  He who is almost to my neck still needs to be held and I realize that his size belies the fact that he is still no more than a little boy.

Our new neighborhood is teeming with boys, a posse of sweaty necked masculinity races down the street all afternoon.  My Tia, a rose among thorns, keeps up with little complaint, though I know she longs for a companion to sit on the rug in her purple room and play dolls with.

On any given afternoon, they gather in our backyard.  It is a football field, you know.  In fact, I believe my husband has promised Sloan a football birthday party, complete with striping the yard. 


At one point, there were ten boys altogether, joined to tackle one another with max force and ample glee.  Sloan is sandwiched.  Most of the boys are 10-12 years old.  A couple are five and six.  Sloan stands the odd man out, eight years old and as tall as the bigger boys in stature, but lacking their experience and maturity.  It starts well, but then he misses the ball.

“Oh come on, dude!” they scream.  “You gotta catch those!”  He tosses the ball to them indignantly and presses on.  Then he’s tackled, he fumbles and second by second he loses control of the game that’s happening in his very own yard.  Finally the moment comes when he gets the ball and doesn’t drop it.  He makes a mad dash toward the goal line only to be clobbered by an eleven year old screaming like a starved goblin.

It’s at this moment that Sloan begins to reveal his age.

The tears and the anger are hard to suppress.  He swears off football forever, he declares his utter disdain for those boys and he sobs gut wrenching cries that break his Mama’s heart.  I’m ready to go out and full on tackle the boys myself, my mom hackles fully bared.

But Lee just sits quietly and calmly as Sloan rants on and on.  Finally, when he’s paused long enough to take a breath, Lee looks straight in his eyes.

“Are you ready to listen to me now?” he asks.

Sloan nods, his eyes shooting daggers and his cheeks flushed red.

“If you want to play with the big boys, son, you’re gonna have to toughen up.  If you can’t do that, then you just don’t need to play ball with them.”

And that’s that.  Such simple wisdom from father to son.  It’s much better than what I planned to say.  My monologue about everyone needing to respect one another and use kind words and not tackle too rough quickly escaped me and we all sat in silence for a few minutes.  Sloan’s eyes filled with giant alligator tears and his chin quivered.

“But I don’t like it when they’re mean to me,” he whimpered.

“I know,” Lee answered.  “But you can’t take it personally.  You have to get up, brush it off and get back in the game.  That’s the only way you’re going to get better.”

We left for dinner with Sloan still holding firm that he would never again play football but a seed had been planted inside the heart of my stubborn boy.

Watching my child grow and face disappointment is painful.  But it’s entirely inevitable and it’s only going to get worse as he grows older.  There is always going to be someone who is better, someone who is bigger, someone faster and stronger and smarter and…

Teaching our young ones to handle disappointment with grace is a beautiful challenge.  Letting them spread their wings and fall to the ground is extra hard on Mama Birds.  If I had my way, I’d be cradling him still, singing Disney songs and stroking his hair.


But with each day, he pulls away from me just a little bit more.  He challenges me harder, cuddles less and fits on my lap like a Great Dane, all spindly knees and elbows spilling this way and that.  My job now is to step back a bit and push him toward his dad more and more.  I take the back burner as the training toward manhood takes place.

Of course, I’m always ready with a cookie and a fierce hug should life’s knocks come a little too hard and fast.  But once the tears are dried and the hurt subsides, it’s time to push him back on the field and let him try to stand on his own two feet.

All I can do is watch and pray that the seeds of wisdom that have been planted begin to take root and sprout a man of character.

Whether he can play football is utterly beside the point.


  1. I totally understand! Those kinds of conversations have happened many times in my house full of testosterone…sometimes much to my chagrin! 🙂 BUT, I have SO learned to trust my husband’s responses! My guess is that Sloan will be right back out there tomorrow!

    Have a great week!

    • No doubt he will be right back in the game. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave everyone a ittle pep talk before hand about playing nice and notngetting too rough. 😉

      Thanks, Karen. You too!

  2. mel cable says

    ugh. I was just talking to Rachel about this the other day, and how her mom used to share about her changing relationship with her sons. We are such at a point where Parker is done with toys and action figures and wants to do bigger boy stuff, leaving cooper behind, but with us not knowing what exactly big boy stuff is, other than hours of video games if it were up to him. We shall see, glad we’re in it together. Oh, and we might be having the birds and bees talk this weekend with him. yikes.

    • Oh, I can’t WAIT to hear how that goes. We’re not quite there yet with Sloan but the time is getting closer. I think these tween years are particularly awkward for boys as they outgrow toys, but aren’t really old enough for anything else. Yes…I am glad we’re in this together. 🙂

  3. this was great. I passed it on to Matty B

  4. I LOVE this! You have such a way with words and your children will be amazing! I would be the same way thinking so logistically in my own head and Mark would keep it very simple. That’s one of the great things about these simple minded men, they don’t make anything too complicated. point. I’m envious of that some days. And other days I want to kick him in the butt, j/k, well kinda 🙂

  5. this made me cry. i dread the day when my boys begin to make these transitions. why can’t they be little and cuddly forever?

    • I cuddle with Landon a ridiculous amount. I feel like Monica Gellar with him. “I’m gonna love you so much that no woman will ever be good enough for you!”. :). They do grow up too fast.

  6. Sniffle, sniffle…this was a good one. Wow. I can see it unfolding in my mind. It pulls at my heart strings. It’s a delicate balance, challenging them to get back up again and not give up vs. knowing how to recognize when they’ve bitten off perhaps a bit more than they can chew. Lee is so skilled as a Dad. This was an encouraging post lady. Thanks.

  7. Vonita Hill says

    Good stuff, Kelli. Really, really good stuff. God must be beaming. You’re doing things by His design. Man … woman … mommy … daddy. It’s a beautiful dance. Keep it up.

  8. Jena Griffin Baker says

    I needed to hear this so much today—we are having these same issues in our new neighborhood. Noah is a big 8 year old but not much experience with 7th graders who have been playing since they were in diapers. Why does mama Bear rear her ugly head so fast? It is good to know that I am not alone in our struggles. I will be praying for you and Sloan!

    • And I will be praying for you, Jena! We mommies are as God designed us to be-full of compassion and love. We think with our hearts. Good thing He made daddies to think with their heads, huh? 🙂

  9. Very beautifully written, Kelli. We are a three-boy household and I know countless versions of this story more intimately than I’d like. They absolutely have to leave us if they’re going to become men. It’s a high calling, to be sure. Without the promises of God I would be a puddle on the floor.


  1. […] October we worked with our son on toughening up and learning to play with the big boys. Then I humbled myself and admitted to my tendency toward acting like a true […]