Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Re-Writing History

When Super Bowl 51 kicked off, Chloe and I were sitting in the Emergency Room at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, goofing off with the bead maze toys while alternatively squirting ourselves with antibacterial soap. Chloe had picked a heck of a time to trip, fall, and split open a cut near her lip (at her own birthday party and family Super Bowl party), and apparently she wasn't the only one to have been not feeling her best that evening. Sniffling, coughing, wincing and half-sleeping kids were all over the place, most wearing pajamas.

A lifelong Patriots fan, I looked around to see if the Super Bowl was on TV anywhere, but alas, only some sorry Disney Jr. show I didn't recognize was flickering on all of the screens. Thank God for smart phones. I kept checking the score as we went into triage, came back out into the waiting area, were called back again into an exam room, to sit and wait, of course, and as the doctor decided she needed three stitches and wanted to numb her up first.

I wasn't missing much at home (except family, which I'd hated to leave behind). The updates on my phone kept telling the same story: the Patriots were behind by 7, then 14, then (ouch!) 21 points. "Everyone just left after that last touchdown," Dan texted me. "Ethan's not doing so great right now."

Ethan, who lives and dies by Patriot wins and losses (of which, thankfully, there have been so few in his lifetime). A loss usually means a tantrum. He HATES it. It's as if every negative emotion we feel when we're really mad at our team blowing it, he feels exaggerated by about 10.

I figured he was probably sobbing at home, maybe rolling around on the floor and screaming about how "dumb" the Patriots were being for not scoring. Maybe the ER wasn't such a bad place to be, at that moment. The doctors gave Chloe a sedative that turned her into the drunkest-looking three-year-old you've ever seen, and then sewed her up (two of the three stitches would end up disappearing by the next day, but that's another story...). It was past nine o'clock, Lady Gaga had already wowed everyone at half-time, the Patriots were now down by 25 points, and we were free to go. I guided my wobbly girl across the echoing parking garage. One minute in the car and she was out cold, fast asleep for what would be the rest of the night.

Ten minutes later we were just about home. I marveled that yes, there were people actually out and about on Super Bowl Sunday, not glued to their TVs and stuffing their faces with pizza and wings. At home Ethan was sitting serenely on the couch. I believe the score was 28-12.

"Ummm, how you doing, bud?" Less than a month before he'd been screaming and crying when the Patriots played poorly in their first playoff game vs. the Texans -- even though they were ahead the entire game.

"Mama, they just scored a touchdown..." he said.

"- And missed the extra point. How do you DO that?" Dan interjected.

Ethan wasn't rattled. "They're coming back. They might even win."

"Well, I don't know about that..."

"Mamma. All they need is two touchdowns and two two-point conversions to tie it."

"Oh, is that all?" I replied, although he paid little attention to my sarcasm.

We sat there and watched quietly as the Patriots slowly chipped away at the enormous hole they'd dug themselves into. The more we watched, the more confident Ethan became. Calm, cool and collected. Kind of like Tom Brady.

I stared at him as if he were a specimen to observe. What WAS this I was seeing? There was, for whatever reason, no panic. No pessimism. He wasn't even completely convinced his precious team was going to win. "They might lose," he conceded. "But I think they're going to win."

What would it be like? I wondered. What would it be like to approach not just sports like this, but LIFE like this?

I have grown up as the queen of worst-case scenarios, lacking in confidence, very easily rattled, quick to give up and get discouraged. Growing up as a big football and baseball fan in New England only reinforced those same attitudes: we always lose, things never work out, don't get your hopes up because you'll just be disappointed.

Our brains have programs written into them at a very young age. It's difficult to clear new paths instead of retreading the familiar ones that are already there. Difficult, but not impossible.

Sports are just games, and I don't see athletes as heroes. I'm not here to talk about deflated footballs, revenge seasons, or how many trophies and rings. I don't worship these people, but I'll tell you this: somehow, in some crazy way, something began chipping away at my entire approach to life 15 years ago now, when this underdog team stunned everyone with a last-second field goal and won their first Super Bowl.

Two years later the 2004 Red Sox looked at impossible odds and 86 years of disappointment and kept going with the mantra, "Why not us?" Why couldn't we believe we'd win instead of lose? Why not live with expectation instead of dread?

This has nothing to do with wishing what we want into reality. It's more about living lives with calm assurance rather than waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That was Ethan, watching the Super Bowl through to its thrilling conclusion. This kid has only seen this team win, for the majority of his nine years. And for all of his yelling and screaming during most games, that night it came down to this -- he knew even if they didn't win, it was possible.

This is the kind of life I would like to live: not with regret and resentment that the seemingly impossible didn't occur...but with hope, belief and confidence that it just might.

THAT is truly living.

Final score? You know it. Pats 34, Falcons 28, OT.

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