We are an ill-formed team, together by virtue of the years our sons have played sports together. Some of us are old pros, weathered by 12 years of shared games, responsibility for providing the orange slices and the slim but congenial familiarity born of standing together and looking in the same direction.
Some are dedicated veterans. There is the mother who keeps statistics, who always brings cookies, who never misses a game, out of town or not. Some are rookies, averting their eyes as they try to watch their sons weave, dodge and crash. Most of us count ourselves lucky just to show up, to escape work in time to take in the game, to pause for two hours on a broad green field, watching our sons with proud, loving eyes.
We stand shoulder to shoulder and yell -- easy passage to a sure, momentary bond.
The fathers come too. Some join their wives; some pass time with each other sharing shoptalk, hearty handshakes and slaps on the back. The mothers rarely take their eyes off the field. The fathers wander easily.
When the mothers first met and began carpooling, our boys were kindergartners and skipped up and down the long playing fields and sat in the grass midgame to pluck dandelions. At games now, we reminisce their long curls, their missing teeth, their funny habits.
On the field, our boys are bigger than us now. They are giants, Spartans, warriors whose clashes are frightening. When they were little and fell, a brush off and a kiss sent them back to play. Now, when they fall and stay down, the earth shudders and the crowd goes silent.
The mothers frantically scan the field and the sidelines, looking for their sons' numbers, then sigh with relief that the fallen player is not theirs. We watch hollow-eyed as the coach kneels down beside the fallen player, as he is joined by the father who is a doctor. We watch for movement and scan the crowd for the mother of the fallen giant. We see her inching toward the field, hesitating to approach her boy.
Then the coach and the father scoop up the tall boy. His long arms dangle across their shoulders. He hops on one leg across the field as the crowd politely applauds and the mother steps back into the crowd. The game commences and we yell louder, propelled by relief and shared affection.
On the sidelines, we have learned a lot about people we barely know, whose homes we have rarely, if ever, visited.
We have watched or experienced divorce and remarriage and have had to navigate awkward waters. There is the mother with the rotten job, and there is her former spouse in his new sports car. There is the mother who quietly divorced, whose husband was never at games before and still isn't, but whose life has changed dramatically as we can see in the clothes she wears, the company she keeps.
On the sidelines, we have witnessed sudden unemployment, the loss of parents, grave illness and grateful recovery.
Our children have survived broken arms and legs, bad teachers, learning disabilities. They have thrived on strong friendships, watchful neighbors and good teachers. On the sidelines, we catch up. Who has had a driver's license suspended? Who got caught smoking pot? Which beautiful girl goes with which beautiful boy?
As our boys gallop up and down the field, swatting each other with sticks, their hairy legs looking thin and fragile beneath their ballooning shorts, we conjure their futures silently and contemplate our own. They lead with their powerful shoulders; we watch young men but we see little boys.
In our midst, a crowd of our sons' contemporaries is oblivious to us, but we are not oblivious to them. They laugh and wrestle and swear and barely pay attention to their best friends, trudging up and down the field. They throw back their gleaming hair, run a hand down their smooth legs, flash their perfect teeth, embrace each other with ease. The world of the sidelines, or whatever world they inhabit, is theirs.
The mothers watch, shoulders together, staring in the same direction. The game is over and our boys have won. We talk a bit longer. Our boys come hobbling across the field, mud-stained and sweaty. They smile a little and grunt. Good game, we say. Good game.
The mothers disperse. Like ghosts, we float across the broad green field toward our cars, calculating the date of the next game, how many are left, our team's good luck. It is just past sunset and the sky glows pink, the air ringing with twilight's sudden chill.