Life has its ups and downs—true for all of us. But magnify those altitude-adjustments by whatever mysterious hormonal algorithm determines teenage moods, and we’re talking about emotional topography to rival Idaho’s Sawtooth mountains.
Having said that, though, teenagers’ experience of life isn’t any less real for the fact that they’re hormonal or young. And sometimes life is all TOO real and a mom wishes she could run interference.
Our son Kapena is sixteen, heading into his Junior year of high school. He’s super-sharp (if somewhat lazy academically), he’s easy on the eyes, he’s good-mannered and sweet-hearted, he’s mischievous, he’s funny, and he’s passionately in love… with the game of football.
He earned his nickname—“The Flyin’ Hawai’ian“—on the field his Freshman year, and by the end of this summer’s football camp he’d earned the respect of coaches from several dozen teams, who collectively judged him “the best defensive lineman in the Valley.” (Just as a reference point, “the Valley” in question is home to more than one-third of Idaho’s population.) His starting position on this year’s varsity D-Line is already secure, and his coach has been hatching plans to send highlight reels to universities… He loves this game—and it’s also his Getting-to-College Plan.
Last winter he also wrestled for part of the season, mostly for the purpose of staying fit for football, although he bowed out before the season ended because of the sport’s obsessive emphasis on losing weight, when he’s trying to add muscle-mass. Unfortunately, he didn’t make his choice to bow out until after a knee injury that left him limping for more than a week. He got right back into the weight room, and went out for Spring Football (an off-season league for the serious players), but that painful knee kept dogging him. Back in February I took him to our family doctor to get a referral to a Sports Medicine specialist—who told him to ice it, take ibuprofen, and suck it up.
Fast forward four months to summer football camp, where the knee (having progressed in the intervening months from merely awful to excruciating) left him agonized and aggravated. We went back to our doctor to request a referral for a second opinion, and we saw the new specialist early this week. He ordered an MRI and an X-Ray and actually looked at the knee.
Yesterday morning Kapena went into surgery to remove a fist-sized cyst from behind his kneecap, a spur of bone, and calcium deposits that had formed over his growth plates.
Moms know—it’s one of the toughest things in the world to watch your kid in pain, and not be able to do a thing. Well, there are a few things I can do—I’m getting him his pain meds, and cleaning up after they make him puke, and checking it to see if they dissolved before he puked, and getting him food that won’t cause too much discomfort on its return journey, and offering a shoulder for balance when he hops to the bathroom, and trying to say things that are soothing instead of annoying when he’s biting his knuckles against the pain…
It’s one of the toughest things in the world to watch your kid in pain—and I have never seen this kid cry… Until this week when he faced the fact that the recovery-period from this surgery means he won’t be playing his Junior year of football.
We’re trying not to think about how this would have played out differently if the first specialist had taken a serious look four months earlier—he could have been recovered from surgery already…
“The worst week I’ve ever had,” Kapena told us quietly. That’s not self-pity; that’s a comparative statement from a kid who has already had to deal with more shit than any kid (any person) should have to. This is a kid who has dealt with emotional and verbal abuse from his (other) mother for sixteen years, whose six-foot-five brother held him down while his (other!) mother beat him bloody, whose (other) mother kidnapped him out of state and dragged him through five schools in three states in the space of a single school-year, whose dad and (sadly, this) mother’s relapse of alcoholism sent him right back to his other mother’s control when he’d thought he was safe from it, who (at fourteen) was working full time to pay all of his (other) mother’s rent and bills while keeping a 4.0 at school and playing football… It was at that point that she beat him bloody for “mouthing off” to her, so we’ve had full custody of him for the last year. My point is that he’s not given to hyperbole—even with all that in his history, this is how strongly he feels about his football.
I didn’t used to think I could love any human being more than the two kids I grew, but I’ll tell you now, I love this one as if I did grow him. I’ve never asked him to call me “Mom”—mostly he calls me “K.G.” from the “Kana Girl” label his dad uses—but I’m touched on the occasions when he does address me with “Mom,” and honored that he introduces me to other people as his mom.
So this mom is happy to report that in addition to being his Worst Week, this also became his Best Week. Funny how complicated life is.
He’s been dating a girl for a year and a half. I’ll just say that we’ve welcomed her out of respect for him, but in all that time we didn’t find anything to like in her. And that was based almost entirely on how she treated him. I won’t harp on details, but when he reached the point we’d been holding our breaths waiting for, of thinking this might not be the relationship he needed, he and I had an interesting conversation. Sitting on our front porch until four in the morning with quilts wrapped around us…
As he started to reflect on the things that didn’t work well between them, I started to share some of the things we would wish for him in a partner. A person who respects him. A person who shares his interests. A person who enjoys his sense of humor. (He looked dumbstruck by that idea.) And he took the plunge the next day—he broke up with her.
A little over a week ago, he ran into a girl he knew in sixth grade, spent some time with her, and came home with his head spinning. She’s funny. She’s easy-going and outgoing. She’s half-Hawai’ian (like him) and loves Spam. (Wait till she sees Keoni’s Spam tattoo.) She seems to be just what we would have conjured up if we’d been asked to invent a partner for him.
They’ve gone on some dates, they’ve spent hours on the phone (and hours more texting), and she’s now officially his girlfriend. He came home at midnight from one of their dates, hugged us goodnight, and took himself off to bed… And then reappeared like a jack-in-the-box a few minutes later, perched himself on our bedpost, and blurted out: “I just have to tell you guys how happy I am.” Which he did–for about an hour! After a year and a half of relationship-misery, he’s feeling in his own life a little of what Keoni and I get to enjoy in each other every day. So this has also, he says, been his life’s Best Week.
Isn’t it something, how God does that?
Still… When we brought him home from the hospital and settled him onto his bed, I brought in an armful of his favorite movies. The Longest Yard. Gridiron Gang. Friday Night Lights. He glanced up, grimaced, and shook his head.
“Nah, K.G. No football.”
That just about broke my heart.
But… The new girlfriend is here to cheer him up, and she just popped into our room to borrow The Longest Yard. That’s a good sign.