I am baby-sitting my 3-year-old grandson, Oliver. His mom is having her hair cut — a task that takes three or four hours, apparently. My wife is working or watching. I’m not sure. At any rate, I’m here with Oliver and our 21-year-old yellow tabby, Woody.
Oliver and I have explored, rough-housed, tormented Woody and chased each other up and down stairs and around the kitchen island. Later, we’re visiting the fire station that’s just around the corner. We baked oatmeal-pecan-coconut cookies that we’ll deliver to the firemen, a little thanks for welcoming us into their cramped, old station. I know they will. I stopped by the other day, and they assured me they’d love to show Oliver the gear and the truck. It’s going to be great.
Fact is, Oliver loves firemen. He’s watching Fireman Sam on Netflix right now. That’s how I have time to write this. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of days.
You see, Oliver is a special kid. I know, all grandkids are special. Brightest. Cutest. Most this. Best that. That’s a given. But he is special. He’s incredibly verbal. Yesterday, he said “forget,” then corrected himself and said “forgot.”
Remember, he’s three.
He’s also plucky and courageous. He doesn’t mind taking a hit. We played “close your eyes and Pops will sweep your legs out from under you” for about an hour. He laughed every time, even once when he almost fell off the couch onto the tile floor, perhaps by way of the coffee table corner. Scared me to death. Don’t tell his mom. Please.
He has the innate ability and temperament of an athlete. The only problem is that he’s little and a little shy, and that can be a problem. He can get lost in the pack, become discouraged and disenchanted, and quit.
I would hate that. It almost happened to me. It did happen to my daughter.
I have no intention of re-living my childhood through a grandson. If I were to, I’d re-live it through Oliver’s 1-year-old brother. His name is Shepard, but I call him Turbo. If there’s a middle linebacker in our future, it’s Shep.
I just want Oliver to enjoy the thrill of the game. I want him to be tutored and mentored by men and women who fully appreciate how profoundly important they can be in his life. I don’t want him to be the cannon fodder of coaches revisiting or, even worse, trying to reclaim their lost youth though my grandson.
I want his coaches to teach values like hard work, persistence, dedication and teamwork, but I don’t want these terms to be twisted or warped. I once knew a coach who ran his boys until they threw up, and he was proud of it. He placed barrels around the gym floor and warned his players that if they puked on his floor, he’d run ‘em that much and more.
He was a bully and a creep.
I had a high school coach, Tommy Atkins, who inspired me, motivated me to achieve something I could have never achieved alone: to run a 2-minute half-mile on a cinder track on a cold, windy February evening. Sure, he ran me half to death too, but I busted a gut for him out of respect, admiration — not fear. I finished third in district, and he treated me as if I’d taken first at state.
I hope Oliver’s coaches help him to discover the love of athletic competition — be it football or golf or table tennis or even, God forbid, soccer. With my luck, he’ll be an all-star flopper, and I’ll spend the autumn of my life camped out with 16 other parents and grandparents, caravanning to soccer matches coast to coast.
Of course, I’ll be glad to do it if he loves the game and if he’s getting out it as much as he’s putting into it. One of my great regrets going forward is knowing I’ll never play another game of football without suffering horribly for it. My best tennis and racquetball and basketball are far behind me too.
That’s OK. I have my memories.
I want Oliver to have his memories too. If you’ll help him, guide him, inspire him, then I’ll make sure there’s a batch of oatmeal-pecan-coconut cookies coming your way too.