Monday was the first time in weeks that I was able to come straight home after school. The sun was out, the temperature was up, and the wind was high. The Wife and I took a long walk with The Younger (The Elder was at her grandparents’ house for the day) and enjoyed an hour of fresh air and quiet conversation.
The Younger – who was born at the beginning of football season and only started developing a personality during the dead of winter – smiled at the sounds of our voices, giggled at the sights of the neighborhood, and kicked with glee at the cool of the breeze on her face. In short, she spent the afternoon outside with her mommy and daddy, and she beamed the whole time.
After our walk, I went to collect The Elder and stopped to pick up an early birthday dinner for The Wife. The four of us ate together while the sun was still out, then we played together in the front yard. I got to feed The Younger her bedtime bottle and got to read to each daughter independently before turning out their lights for the night. Then The Wife and I finished our night by watching the How I Met Your Mother finale and cashing it in early.
It was as close to a perfect evening as I could imagine.
And it makes me think long and hard about something The Wife said to me on Friday.
I came home around 4:00 (about three hours earlier than usual these days) and was able to wrangle the girls while The Wife made dinner. What we sat down to that evening blew me away: Pasta, salad, homemade eggplant parmigiana, and glasses of red wine.
“This is amazing,” I said.
“This is what rugby season is losing you the other nights of the week.”
Those words have been echoing in my head ever since. As I went to bed Monday night, they were practically screaming in my ears.
We’ve been having rugby practice for the better part of three weeks now. We open our season at home on Friday night. And I’m steadily growing to dread each day of it.
Now, I’ve always approached the start of a new athletic season with a healthy dose of trepidation. This has understandably been compounded since the birth of The Elder. I anticipate the arrival of each fall and spring with memories of the summer and winter weighing on my heart. I lament the impending loss of the hours with my family and the freedom of actually having spare time. But I also quickly forget it all once I’m out on the field. The hours with my friends and my players are usually enjoyable enough to numb me to what I’m missing, and the impact I have on the young men in my care is generally enough to make the sacrifice seem worth it.
But not this year. Not this spring.
I’ve always told myself – and my wife – that whenever the day arrives that I reach the end of a season and I genuinely regret it, that will be the day that I hang up my whistle.
For the first time, I’m beginning to wonder if that day is on the horizon.
Ever since I read Grendel in English 4 Honors, I’ve held firm to the belief that “Balance is everything”. But this winter is the first time in my adult life that I’ve truly felt that balance. Consider the list of things I accomplished without football or rugby to get in the way…
…I finished a manuscript I’d been picking away at since fall of 2010. And I did it in a flurry of 1,000-plus-word mornings followed by a few weeks of focused proofing and editing.
…I was an attentive and affectionate husband, one who was finally able to help his wife work through some lingering post-partum depression and anxiety that had gone largely repressed on her end and overlooked on mine.
…I took an active role in my daughters’ lives for more than just a half-hour a day (which probably helped a lot with the above).
…and I was probably the most on-the-ball I’ve ever been as a teacher. I was able to come in every morning with strong lesson plans, graded papers, and a positive attitude about my job and my students.
I call this blog Husband, Father, Teacher, Coach, Author because it’s all about my struggles to balance these facets of who I am. And this winter I was the best I’ve ever been at four of my five roles. I’d finally struck balance between the four most important parts of my life.
And now we enter a time of year when the fifth unbalances them all.
I can already feel myself growing lazier with my lesson plans, bracing myself to “wing it” in front of my students, and falling behind on my grades.
Although I’m maintaining this blog as proactively as I can, I haven’t typed a new word of fiction in weeks.
I’m steadily seeing less and less of my wife. And – fatigued as I am by the end of the day – I’m spending less time actually interacting with her even when we are together.
Although my girls light up in elation whenever I come home, I know their faces are painted with bittersweet joy. They’re only so happy to see me because they see me so little.
I’ve been wrestling with these feelings for most of a month now, but the events of Monday evening stirred me into sleepless turmoil. I’m realistic enough to know that if I ever did walk away from coaching, not every afternoon could be like Monday was. But I’m optimistic enough to believe that such days could become more the norm than the exception.
Even still, my evening with my family was probably only a jab at the heart, a feint to set me up for a roundhouse to the jaw.
It was the damn HIMYM finale that sent me over the edge.
The revelation of Tracy’s passing is what brought these thoughts to the fore. I remember near the end of season 8, old Ted delivers a monologue about remembering his life 45 days before meeting his eventual wife. He says that if he’d known then what he knows in 2030, he’d have gone to her apartment and introduced himself that day so that he could have those 45 extra days with her. And even if he couldn’t have them, he says it would have been worth it to him to see his wife for even just the 45 seconds it would take for her then-boyfriend to show up at the door and escort him away. He simply loved her that much.
If my wife’s life were to become suddenly and immediately finite, how many of the afternoons spent at football and rugby would I wish and pray every day that I could have back? How much would I give for 45 more days or even just 45 more seconds?
What if I faced the same situation with one of my daughters?
Regardless of tragedy, how much of their “big stuff” will I have lost to the mundane routines of practice, meetings, and film? How many of their victories will I have missed out on because of football games and rugby matches? And just how few might be left ahead?
One of the football coaches I work with gives a speech every year about the importance of legacy. What will your legacy be?
When I look back on my life – when the day comes that I face my judgment, whatever its source – will I be remembered as a good teacher and a good football and rugby coach? Or as a good husband and a good father? Do I want my legacy to be quantified in wins and losses or in hugs and smiles? Do I want to lament never having won a state title or having never published a best-seller? Do I want to live on in the memories of other people’s children? Or of my own?
Do I want to look back at the end of my life and remember the stress and the heartache and turmoil I endure every fall and spring?
Or do I want to remember balance?
As always, thanks for reading.