When you were 3, you wanted to be a princess. When you were 7, you thought cashiers could keep all the money they collected, so you told your mom you wanted to work at the grocery store. When you were 13, you read a book about designer babies and thought a career in biology would be interesting. When you were 16, you wanted to change the world.
I tell you this because I have known you for your whole life, and amid the quiet inch of growth and the fervorous, yelling-from-the-staircase changes, this has always been a constant: You want to be a mother.
It has been years now, and I am not one to make baseless assumptions, but if that remains the truth, then this is for you. Before time dulls the horror and a small pleading voice erases all your inhibitions, I will tell you what you promised yourself at 20. Back when you were enshrouded in pride and confidence, but also vulnerability. Back when everything existed in infinite hypotheticals over a lavender latte at the coffee shop — back when you were so scared, and yet so justified.
Because on a Thursday night in September, you watched Tua Tagovailoa hit the ground, and you swore to yourself that you would never let your son play football.
Admittedly, it is a bit presumptuous to talk about the son you do not yet have, and it is quite reckless to speak in absolutes so hastily. You were young, so I do not blame you if your mind draws a blank and you wonder how an injury in this injury-infested sport elicited such a strong reaction from you.
It was a moment — the one between thinking his fingers were twisted and the realization that they weren’t. Do you remember? Your whole body snapped away from the screen as if by instinct, and you held yourself there while the announcers kept coaxing: Let’s replay it and look at it from this angle; look at how hard he hit his head; look at how his body freezes in shock.
Look at him.
And you looked, because in this world, tragedy is entertainment. You watched him fall down and down and down, and you promised yourself, my son will not be a hashtag; he will not be a moment for people to make known their faux shock and their faux outrage as if this hasn’t happened over and over and over again.
I will not feed him to the wolves.
Is that selfish? You asked that then, and I have no doubt you are asking that now: Is it selfish if my son is strong, but I am not?
Because your heart cracks for those boys who lay their bodies on the line every weekend, and then it crumbles for the mothers behind the screens, and in your attempt to empathize, it is easy to say things like never. But if he asks you — if your little boy asks you, Mommy, can I play football?, what would you say?
What would you say after a lifetime of writing love poems about the spiral of a football? How would you hide the hypocrisy of no after raising him to bleed scarlet and gray? You’ll tell him that football nurtures and strengthens and heals, so how do you teach him to love without allowing him to want?
I’m not claiming to know all the answers. All I know is that you love this sport. You love this sport as surely as the leaves that fall every year around your birthday. Like pumpkin spice lattes and burning old homework in the fireplace. Like middle school nostalgia and midnight conversations.
But both of us know that you do not love it like a mother loves her child. Make of that what you will.