Photo credit: Wendy Ballard. This is a contributed post by Valli Gideons, author of Through the Fog: Navigating Life’s Challenges While Raising Kids with Hearing Loss
I’ve had a steady date every Friday night for the last four years.
From August through November, I count down the days until Friday arrives.
This is not just any date.
This night is full of spirited music, great snacks, entertainment, community, and sometimes a dash of agony–but mostly pure joy.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS FOOTBALL!
Four years goes by in a flash
When my son took the high school field under the bright lights four years ago as a freshman, I could never have imagined how quickly this Friday night ritual would come to an end.
We started this football journey back when my son and I stood shoulder to shoulder, as a pre-teen. I’ll never forget how he struggled to squeeze into his first set of oversized shoulder pads and an awkwardly fitting helmet that left random marks across his face.
Whether from the nose-bleed section of the stands or the front row, I could spy the way my teen son subtly shifted his weight back and forth, clenched his hands into a fist, and paced the sidelines like a caged tiger.
Now, as he prepares to take the football field as a high school senior and captain–standing much (much) taller than me– I can’t help but picture the little boy who loved to play catch in the driveway, swimming in an oversized jersey of his favorite NFL player.
I can still spot him on the field from a mile away. A mother always can.
The end of this season is the end of a season for my son and I
One thing is for sure…This season of Friday Night Lights feels different.
It feels like a launch pad.
He’s ready. He’s prepared. He’s done the work. Studied the plays. Built a camaraderie among his teammates and coaches. Earned respect. Developed trust.
I think for most moms when your child is on the football field, a gasp comes over you with every snap and tackle. It’s not for the faint of heart; I’ve watched more games through my fingers that often cover my eyes.
You learn that sometimes you must let them fall and trust it’ll be okay.
This season is an untethering of sorts. I know even when he takes hits, both on or off the field, he will be able to dust himself off and end up back on his feet.
Friday Night Lights is more than just football
Friday Night Lights brings communities together, and you realize after years of participating in this ritual, whether a former player, a member of the cheerleading squad or marching band, or a spectator who watched from your own high school student section, collectively, we feel it.
It’s connection. We don’t navigate it alone.
For a few hours every Friday night, we sit shoulder to shoulder, rooting for the same team.
The football field is a place where dreams come true. Lessons are learned. The thrill of victory is in the air. The agony of defeat is shouldered by those who had the courage to show up.
High school football has taught my son to be a better communicator, be a good teammate, and find joy in the game.
As my son prepares to suit up and play his final high school season, every Friday night is punctuated with a last:
The last homecoming game.
The last game against our cross-town rival.
The last Senior Night.
The last. The last. The last.
But it’s also the beginning, too.
Some kids will be putting their cleats and pads away for good when the season ends, and moving on to the next chapter.
Others, like my son, will be issued a college uniform next year and play on another stage on a different day.
Whether it’s the end of an era or the start of a new one, the fact remains that nothing can replace the Friday Night Lights you experience in high school, except maybe watching your child experience it, too.
Even though it’s not the last season my son will play the game; oh, how I’ll miss this place in time.
I imagine most senior parents feel it. It’s palpable. The emotions are heightened in this final high school season. The end of an era.
And not unlike how high school football season changes from summer to fall, as the air slowly turns cooler and the daylight hours become shorter, the senior year of high school is full of transitions you can’t stop.
Preparing to say goodbye to Friday Night Lights is one of them.
Despite having a vacancy in my calendar, the memories made watching high school kids leave it all on the field will live on.