Luke and his dad in 2013 when he was 7. Good Morning Gloucester photo by Kim Smith.
He saw them by the front gate of Newell Stadium. Recognized them from school. A gaggle of O’Maley School 7th graders waiting to get into the Gloucester High football game, out on a Friday night talking and teasing and joking with friends and without their parents and how cool is that? Excited. Nervous.
We walked through the gate and found seats in the brand new bleachers. Talked about the game for a few minutes as the Gloucester and Marblehead players ran onto the field and started to play. We’ve always had sports, my son and me. Sunday afternoons watching the Patriots. “Do you think the Celtics will be any good this year, Dad?” An overnight trip to the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. Like my dad and me before.
The first quarter played on and I could see that he was torn, feeling the tween tug of the O’Maley kids milling about over by the snack shack. Classmates from math and English. Teammates from soccer and basketball. There were girls there, too, a new thing in his world.
It’s a difficult age, 12. You’re doing new things out in the world, making a life separate from your parents for the first time, bonding with kids who are going through the same things you are. Slowly but surely you leave behind the dependent-on-your-parents life you’ve always known. It’s totally normal and a part of growing up and exciting and hard and scary.
“Go ahead over,” I said.
He felt bad about leaving me alone in the stands. Guilty and a little bit sad. He wears his feelings on his face or maybe it’s just that a dad can read these things. You know what your kid’s feeling inside. He’s an empathetic kid, cares about others’ feelings. A good boy.
He apologized as he stood up. “Sorry, Dad, but I’ll just check what they’re doing and be back.” Slowly clomped down the bleachers, looking back at me as he reached the bottom. Then his pace quickened as he saw the familiar faces, kids his own age, over by the track.
Remember the thrill of being 12? The independence from your parents, the bike rides beyond your neighborhood, the after-school trips to the pizza shop, the sleepovers at new friends. So many first times, learning your own way. Exciting. Nerve-wracking. Uncertain. New.
The lights of a fishing boat passed in Gloucester Harbor beyond the goal posts. “To the river!” chanted the sea of maroon sweatshirts and jackets around me, urging the Fishermen on toward the end zone. During a break, the cheerleaders stretched a slingshot wide between two girls and hurled T-shirts into the stands. One flew my way and I caught it, the crowd around me cheering. He would have smiled at that if he’d been there. Maybe given me a high five.
He was waiting for me when the game ended. Told me as we walked to the car about the kids he’d met by the snack bar. Ones he sits near in math class or homeroom or science but doesn’t get to joke around with or get to know. I could hear the happiness in his voice.
Then he stopped himself, conflicted, and apologized again for leaving me in the stands. I tried to reassure him, tell him that I was excited for him and glad he had fun. It was late when we got home.
Ready for bed, pajamas on, he came out to see me in the kitchen. Still wrestling with how much fun he had had at the game but guilty about leaving me behind.
“Good night, Dad,” he said and hesitated a few seconds, not sure whether to give me a hug like he always had when he was 5. Uncertainty showed in his face again. A kid caught in between boy and teenager. Torn.
Then he quietly turned and walked into his room, shutting the door tightly behind him.