As the parents of twin boys, my husband and I have tried to instill in our children the difference between right and wrong, while fine-tuning the delicate balance between holding their hands and encouraging them to fly.
The boys are thirteen. And like most thirteen-year-olds, they think they know everything. I’m pretty sure they don’t believe that either my husband or I was ever their age, that we ever got into trouble, or that we lied to our parents. In fact, I am certain at times they think we are the strictest and worst parents ever. Isn’t that what happens with teenagers?
So, it was no surprise that when the boys’ flag football coach made arrangements for the team to volunteer at the Special Olympics, Jordan and Brandon groaned and complained. Actually, it was more like seven days of whining that began the day we learned of the event and the 7:30 a.m. arrival requirement. Their capacity to complain is startling. We could be out enjoying frozen yogurt and in-between spoonfuls of hot fudge, one would ask, “You’re really not making us go are you?” The other would chime in during a movie, “You’re ruining my whole weekend. I can’t have a sleepover because we have to get up so early.” Grunt. Complain. Whine.
If only there was an ignore button.
Did I mention the boys are persistent? Relentless? Good qualities when you’re trying to walk through quicksand, which is what it felt like in our home that week. It was shocking to Steven and me that these were the same two boys who in December became men according to the Jewish religion.
Finally, the boys’ dreaded weekend was upon us. The sky was a picture perfect blue. The temperature read sixty-five. Brandon climbed into my car and grunted, “I’m not talking to you.” We arrived at the field where thousands of people gathered to show their support of some very special people. First, it was the boys’ posture that shifted. Then it was their gaze.
We met up with the team and were assigned responsibilities. Some of the boys were huggers, others volunteered in the Olympic Village. Steven and I took our seats in the stadium to watch the opening ceremonies. The energy in the air was a mixture of pride and affection. The announcers began their introduction. The musicians played Chariots of Fire. The parade had begun; miles of yellow T-shirts walked proudly around the running track. I noticed the boys and their team take a seat along the perimeter wall. The crowd waved at the special athletes as they walked by. They waved back, fierce wholehearted gestures. Their smiles brought streams of tears down our cheeks, though we weren’t sad.
“Our boys just don’t understand how important this is,” I whispered to Steven. “They’re not supposed to at thirteen,” he replied.
I turned back to where the boys had hunkered down with their macho friends. They were waving at the athletes and high-fiving them. The athletes smiled the brightest smiles. This was the greatest day of their lives. Our boys smiled back. They won’t admit it, probably because they’re thirteen, but those athletes taught them something we never could.