Tonight we have a game in Medina, N.D. and tomorrow evening a game in Leola, S.D. Hunter has been struck with a flu bug so a few flares of prayer for his health and strength are appreciated. He’s in school this afternoon to be eligible to play and sitting with an empty stomach. Even when your baby is 18 years old, a mama still worries and wants to make everything better.
I’m sharing my Agweek column from this past week about ends and new beginnings. As we trudge through other difficult ends in our family life this week, I hope to share more soon through this full chapter of life.
“We’re halfway through the regular season now, Mom.” I felt a pang in my heart as my son’s words sank in. It was late Friday night. We had won a home game. Hunter bucketed 31 points and a dunk in the fourth quarter. His teammates and their families came over to our house after the game, a tradition we started four seasons ago and continue at least once or twice a season. After the house was empty, our girls were in bed and Nathan and I were cleaning the kitchen, Hunter came up from the basement to chat before bed. I stood at the counter and archived the events of the evening in my mind as best I could.
Every week, en route to another gym, we pass fish houses dotting prairie pothole lakes. Nathan teases the two of us will be bored and take up ice fishing next winter without high school basketball to fill our evenings and weekends.
I’m not worried about being bored. We will still have two young daughters at home and a full plate of life to live, but I will most definitely miss our son. Hunter has been my parenting experiment. He made me a mother, defined my adulthood and filled our life with activities and opportunities. He created new beginnings for me.
Every final game buzzer means we’re closer to high school graduation in our year of “lasts” for Hunter. It’s also a season of “firsts” and more new beginnings. In early February, he will officially sign to play football at the University of North Dakota this fall. His mind is set on earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering.
Even though my heart aches at the thought of what’s to come, I don’t want Hunter to stay home forever. As cliché as it sounds, I want him to spread his wings and fly. We have prepared him as best we can for the next chapter of his life, but not many moms prepared me for how I’d feel with all these “lasts” and “firsts.”
I’m proud. I cry. I smile. I laugh. I’m a mess. Millions of parents have walked this very path and turned the page to a new chapter. I dread it. I celebrate it. It all depends on the day. Above all, I’m trying to embrace it, recording the moments as best I can in my memory, through photos, in my writing and on my blog.
The next night after Hunter told us the season was halfway over, Nathan and I were driving home after the South Border Mustangs suffered a loss in the tiny gym in Kulm. I explained to Nathan despite my crazy range of emotions associated with launching Hunter into the world, I have a sense of relief. We know he’s ready. It’s been a long race, with more wins in life than losses.
I started my journey as a parent as single teenage mom with oodles of statistics stacked against Hunter and me. But my parents, family and friends rallied around us and we triumphed. We’ve broke every parenting rule listed on every mom blog I have read.
Hunter was a formula fed baby and a full-time daycare child. With unmarried parents, he was passed around among family members. Our circumstances did not define him. Brokenness didn’t shake his future. He was raised on love, by love and with love. I couldn’t cocoon him, but I fiercely worked to create new beginnings and opportunities for him.
Fast forward to this past fall when Hunter turned 18. My husband, who became a part of Hunter’s life when he was a second grader, adopted him, a legal action solidifying their decade-long father and son relationship. It was another first in the season of “lasts,” but definitely a reason to celebrate a new beginning.
Last week, we walked into the Ashley, N.D., gym without knowing it was parents’ night. Hunter forgot to tell us. I would have put on a little makeup and not worn my hair in a ponytail if I had known. Even if I had come “prepared,” it wouldn’t have changed my emotions.
As our names were called and Hunter walked toward us near half court, I saw a young boy who had grown into a man. While it was his “last” parents’ night, I didn’t shed a tear. Basketball, this team, the sports co-op between Wishek and Ashley, our school, our community, his grandparents in the stands and many others all contributed to his journey.
Hunter said: “Mom! No one is taking pictures. Go take pictures.” For all the times, he’s complained about me taking pictures, he insisted I document the moment. Unbeknownst to most, Ashley’s gym is Hunter’s favorite place to play. I knew why he wanted it remembered. He didn’t know his Economics teacher, Mrs. Crossingham had my camera in hand and captured the above pictures. I went on to capture pictures of each teammate and parents along with game moments.
At tip-off during the parents’ night game, my dad and I noticed one of Hunter’s future football coaches, Coach Schmidt from UND, sitting in the stands to watch him. At halftime, Coach Schmidt introduced himself to Coach Schlepp, one of Hunter’s high school football coaches and the one who put Hunter’s highlight films together.
Every last brings a first, a new beginning, a door to open, a page to turn. I’ve loved every page of this chapter of life with Hunter at home, even the painful, challenging days because they brought us closer to the new beginnings to celebrate.