Monday, October 22, 2012

Bye, Helmet

J's football season is over.

(pictures pending. computer malfunction going on.)
After washing his jersey, mouth guard, navy padded pants that lost one buckle so I had to jimmy rig it for the last four games, and taking care of "other" male protective gear- we headed into the championship game.
Due to the weather, I packed three blankets, hand warmers, tarp, fold up chair and bundled up to watch the Final game.
Gray clouds loomed and seemed to be a precursor to the events that would unfold. Wind from all directions blew in our faces and rent the tarp I'd wrapped around two seats on the sideline as we watched our boys fall 7-13 to Rigby.
It was really discouraging. As was the game.

The coaches gave good words of wisdom to the boys who'd taken a knee after receiving their silver medals (think back to Olympic silver medalist reactions and disappointment), and even threw out there that, hey, at least no more 3 hours practices!
When I cheered about that, most of the teary eyed kids looked at me in disbelief.
Finally, they did the ritual Grizz cheer and each boy headed to their respective parent. In the equipment shed, the head of the Upper Valley Grid Kid for our area, Doug, was taking back the rented pads and helmet.
J. sat on the grass as sleet started to fall and removed his guardian cover from the helmet, revealing the blue school colors with the white 'S' emblazoned on the sides.
That's when I became emotional. 
He has worn that helmet during games, strapped it on for brutal practices,  donned it in the yard playing football by himself and even sat up to the dinner table with it on. He even was under the impression it fit better with his hair longer. Somehow that added the tighter fit.
I fought him on this and didn't prevail until school pictures were upon us and there was only a couple games left.

"Bye, Helmet."
 he said, holding onto it with his red, frozen hands for one last time.
"It was a good helmet." he said matter of fact.

Then stood up and took the old friend to the shed. Still squatting on the ground putting things away, I had to wonder: what it is about a HELMET. The innate desire of a boy to just stick one on his head.
So, today, I asked J. some q's, in Journalistic fashion, to try and understand the meaning of the helmet.
I had to come to the knowledge or reason he HAD to have one at a very young age.


So why is wearing a helmet such a big deal?

"I just like it."

Does it make you feel secure when you put it on? I asked thinking of cows that are often put in those restraining contraption things and they calm down.

There was a pause before he answered again:

"I just like it."

Are they even comfortable? Does it block out noise- like nagging from a mom, for instance?

"I just like it."

Obviously, I was getting nowhere with this interview.  I decided to find out for myself what the allure was all about and put one of his helmets on. He has the fortune of owning one that is way over sized but will do if he wears a few winter caps.

(schutt, it doesn't fit!)
It was too big for me too.
It slid down over my eyes. It was heavy. I tried to walk around in it. My neck felt weak. I felt, well,  Nothing. In fact, my vision was obstructed and it was annoying. There were bars in front of my face blocking my view- I was starting to feel claustrophobic.

When I tried to take it off ,it gripped on my ears like a tick to your leg and about pulled them off.

Clearly, I was going to have to ask an older "boy" who'd played what it was that made emotions stir in a young boy's heart and find the true symbolism of The Helmet.
Sunday night at the grandparent's lent to a conversation with my cousin. I turned it into another interview: 

Can you explain to me why, at an early age, a boy will whine, beg, and plead for a restrictive device called a helmet?

"Because their cool." he replied matter of fact.


"When you put on a helmet you are Steve Young or blah, blah blee"- some other famous football player he mentioned that I didn't catch.

Recalling when I put on the over sized helmet earlier in the day, I felt like myself. Just with a helmet on. I wasn't propelled into a QB-so I probed further:

"A boy feels like a different person other than himself? So what you're saying is it transforms a male?"

"It's just instinctive. Like when a boy naturally gravitates towards guns and trucks at an early age. Or making the sounds of a gun or a helicopter. It's part of our wiring."

"Try to make the sound of a machine gun." he encouraged me.

Caught off guard, I did my best impersonation of this particular weapon. It came off all wrong.

 He then did a perfect machine gun.

 He hollered for J. to come in from the living room where he'd been playing Zombie something on Gma's Ipod.

"J. can you make a machine gun sound?" he asked my son.

Placing his tongue in just the right place Jaden made the perfect sound. (He also can do varying guns.) And the helicopter- with the ease of switching from the all the different languages and dialects contained in India.

"It's part of the male brain." my cousin concluded.  He seemed to have a good case.

All I can say is that I am grateful it PROTECTS the brain- especially that of my boy. Which is something I get really emotional about. Especially when I see him tackling,  landing wrong, or his hands getting crunched in between helmets on a cold day.
(I love/hate watching football)
 Although I will never completely understand how a helmet can be so special in my son's life, I do know it was hard to see that helmet go back to the shed. It had a lot of memories attached to it. Even though there was a sea of similar helmets being turned in, it seemed like that
had his name all over it.
Nevertheless, it was returning to its home, where it will eventually be worn by another up and coming boy next year. As I pictured it being checked back into a stinky, dank room somewhere for the winter, the misty sleet sent down a few snowflakes. Because the walk to the car was a ways for me, I was bummed I'd already packed the tarp away.

So much for being prepared.

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