The buzzer rang out, stinging our ears as the reality of the loss set in. My son’s hard fought basketball league tournament run was over, and although the hopes were high for that first place trophy, the team would be taking third place back to display in their school hallway.
Christopher smiled as he and his team accepted the trophy and posed for photos afterward, although he broke down on the 45-minute car ride home. “My team really counts on me, Mom,” he said, looking out the window, wiping away tears, as miles and miles of farmland whizzed by. “And when we lose, I feel like I’ve let everyone down.”
I, too, felt the pressure, and the expectations placed on a kid who towers over everyone on the court. An eighth grader who tips in rebounds, who turns heads and stirs interest in his potential at just 13½ years old and already 6’6” tall. I watched as he exhausted himself, rarely being given a break to catch his breath. Having circles run around him by the smaller, speedier athletes as the day drove on, being double and triple teamed. Taking hits and absorbing fouls, without acknowledgment by the keepers of the court. He kept his spirits high, was the poster child for good sportsmanship, even managed to score enough baskets and nab enough rebounds for his parents to lose count in every game. But it wasn’t that excitement that evoked the tears that welled in my eyes.
“I need to tell you how amazing your son is,” one parent said after the game. “Everyone loves him. He is kind, patient and thoughtful. He’s everyone’s big brother. Our kids love him, look up to him. He’s always cheerful. We need more people in the world like Christopher.” Moments like the tournament weekend, and the many compliments about Christopher’s character, take me back to his beginning.
Soon after his birth, we were given the news that Christopher would most likely never walk or talk, and there was “no idea of cognitive ability.” The numerous specialists who poked and prodded our compromised 11-pound baby boy said that although they couldn’t be sure, his future wasn’t promising. He had a host of challenges, from almost no muscle tone, to trouble feeding, to not remembering to take breaths, to asymmetrical qualities (he was a crooked baby). I loved and hoped for my son in the same fashion the mom across the neonatal intensive care unit did for her anencephalic baby girl, in spite of the dire speculations. We each feared a cruel world. And in our incredible love for our babies, we were forced to open our hearts to the idea of letting them go.
“I don’t want to lose you,” I cried one day while cradling Christopher, careful not to disrupt the many wires attaching him to monitors. “I’m here if you can hang on, I’ll be the best mama and I’ll help you be the best boy.” I wanted him to feel my hope, but I wanted him to feel peace, as well. “But I will let you go if that is what is best.”
We took Christopher home four weeks later. I promised God, the universe, and most importantly, my sweet baby, that I would pour every ounce of my energy into assuring he reached his potential, whatever—and everything—that may be. It was a tricky road to navigate in the beginning. But he began hitting milestones at ten months old, and walked by his first birthday. His presence in the world is being felt more and more as he grows, yes in height and as a contender on the basketball court, but also as an incredible force of kindness, love, and joy.
Whatever the challenge in your child’s life, I wish for peace in your heart, and unrelenting resolve to have them reach their potential. I realize not every kiddo with a compromised start will have a story like Christopher’s. But they will have their own story, and they will reach their potential, whatever—and everything—that may be.