Embracing my ‘fire’—even if it embarrasses my teen

Motherly Collective

Walking through the gates of my son’s high school, I was immediately overtaken by the energy in the football stadium. The crisp air held hints of fall and fans roared in the bleachers. I bubbled with excitement but noticed I wasn’t nervous about my enthusiasm. I spent decades containing and controlling my energy in situations like this so there was no reason to fear any missteps. I didn’t think there was any threat of an embarrassing outburst, like in college, when I exploded into a room to unleash my excitement about a class. I was met by a frustrated roommate who pushed me back onto a couch. “You can’t just come rushing in like that and interrupting people,” she scolded.

But I should have been a little more on guard. All because of a part of my personality I thought I had banished long ago.

Earlier in the day I promised my son that when I arrived at the game, I wouldn’t acknowledge I knew him. I wouldn’t even look in his direction. I would be there to support our family friend, a cheerleader in her senior year.

“I think I’m coming to the game tonight,” I hesitantly told him, knowing he would see this as a violation of his territory.

“Fine,” he sighed with resignation. “You can come.” 

When I arrived at the game, I reviewed the boundaries as I put my head down, calmly moving towards the bleachers where other parents sat. This is Grady’s school. Keep yourself together.

As I passed the student section, I heard my son’s voice coming from the front row.

“Hey mom,” he said.

I looked up and smiled at him.

“Hey G,” I said quickly and continued walking. I was a little surprised but pleased. This is great, I thought. I’m cool. 

I should have just walked to my seat. But right after I passed him, I had another thought. I’ll take a picture of him with all his friends. For posterity’s sake. I’ll just run by quickly and snap a photo. I’ll be subtle. He won’t even notice.

Yes. I know. This is where it all breaks down.

 I sprinted past the student section waving my phone in front of me, blindly tapping on my screen. Then, I realized I had to cross in front of the student section again to get back to my seat. I raced past him a second time, looking away from the bleachers. Maybe if I didn’t see him, he wouldn’t see me.

When I got to my seat, I was convinced, mostly, I had pulled this off. But as the game progressed I felt a pit in my stomach. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried for the picture. Maybe I had been a little too enthusiastic. Memories threaded through my mind, coming up from the dark corners where I buried them, memories of other times when I was too hyper and had embarrassed myself. I saw myself age nine at a friend’s birthday party. While the group sang “Happy Birthday,” I bounced around behind her dancing wildly. She scrunched up her face, grimacing at me before she blew out the candles. I never wanted someone to grimace at me again.

By halftime I was regretting my decision but still hopeful my son hadn’t noticed me. After all, there was a football game and hundreds of cheering students to hold my son’s attention. 

At home after the game, I sank onto the couch next to my husband, who paused the television.

“How was the game?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said.

“Did you see G?” 

“Yep,” I said, not making eye contact. I picked up the remote control to restart the show. An hour later I heard my son before I saw him.

“Mom! What were you thinking?!” he yelled from the front door.

“I’m so sorry,” I sputtered, half-laughing, half-crying getting up from the couch as he headed up the stairs, my husband looking on in confusion. When we heard his bedroom door slam, shame washed over me. I was sad that I had embarrassed my son, but worse, distraught by the hyper-ness I worked so hard to suppress. I was still that hyper kid, still embarrassing myself in front of other people.

I do now realize that the actual details of this event aren’t the worst a mother can do to her son. I didn’t take my clothes off and run onto the field, for instance. But at home, as I absorbed my son’s frustration, I was flooded with vitriolic thoughts attacking me. This was an unforgivable slip.

A few years ago on a women’s retreat in the hills of Malibu, a small group of friends gathered to share a word or vision that came to us about each other. The word I was given was “fire.” 

“Mandy, you have a fire in you,” my friend said. “And you have to let it burn brightly.” 

Another friend agreed. “Yes, you have a fire and it’s like a powerful energy that makes you unique.” 

Although I would rather have avoided embarrassing my son at the game, I was reminded of that word, “fire.” It was the bubbling fire in me as a mom, so overcome with love, that spurred me to capture a glorious moment of my boy at fifteen surrounded by his best friends on a Friday night at a high school football game. My decision was fueled by a fiery desire to have a tangible reminder of our history together.

Then, I began to wonder if perhaps it was situations just like the football game that fueled my bursting energy as a little girl, a little girl who felt love so strongly for people and places and experiences that I thought I might explode if I didn’t express that energy. 

Just the other day my son said, “You know, Mom, I’m generally not embarrassed by you.” 

“Yes!” I replied, jumping up and down in the kitchen, as he rolled his eyes at me. 

I appreciate his comment, especially as I continue to embrace the livelier parts of me. However, I will probably steer clear of high school football games for a while—at least when my son is there.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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