Embracing my ‘fire’—even if it embarrasses my teen

mom hugging her teen son
Erin Brant/Stocksy

Walking through the gates of my son’s high school, I was immediately overtaken by the energy in the football stadium. The crisp air held hints of fall and fans roared in the bleachers. I bubbled with excitement but noticed I wasn’t nervous about my enthusiasm. I spent decades containing and controlling my energy in situations like this so there was no reason to fear any missteps. I didn’t think there was any threat of an embarrassing outburst, like in college, when I exploded into a room to unleash my excitement about a class. I was met by a frustrated roommate who pushed me back onto a couch. “You can’t just come rushing in like that and interrupting people,” she scolded.

But I should have been a little more on guard. All because of a part of my personality I thought I had banished long ago.

Earlier in the day I promised my son that when I arrived at the game, I wouldn’t acknowledge I knew him. I wouldn’t even look in his direction. I would be there to support our family friend, a cheerleader in her senior year.

“I think I’m coming to the game tonight,” I hesitantly told him, knowing he would see this as a violation of his territory.

“Fine,” he sighed with resignation. “You can come.”

When I arrived at the game, I reviewed the boundaries as I put my head down, calmly moving towards the bleachers where other parents sat. This is Grady’s school. Keep yourself together.

As I passed the student section, I heard my son’s voice coming from the front row.

“Hey mom,” he said.

I looked up and smiled at him.

“Hey G,” I said quickly and continued walking. I was a little surprised but pleased. This is great, I thought. I’m cool.

I should have just walked to my seat. But right after I passed him, I had another thought. I’ll take a picture of him with all his friends. For posterity’s sake. I’ll just run by quickly and snap a photo. I’ll be subtle. He won’t even notice.

Yes. I know. This is where it all breaks down.

I sprinted past the student section waving my phone in front of me, blindly tapping on my screen. Then, I realized I had to cross in front of the student section again to get back to my seat. I raced past him a second time, looking away from the bleachers. Maybe if I didn’t see him, he wouldn’t see me.

When I got to my seat, I was convinced, mostly, I had pulled this off. But as the game progressed I felt a pit in my stomach. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried for the picture. Maybe I had been a little too enthusiastic. Memories threaded through my mind, coming up from the dark corners where I buried them, memories of other times when I was too hyper and had embarrassed myself. I saw myself age nine at a friend’s birthday party. While the group sang “Happy Birthday,” I bounced around behind her dancing wildly. She scrunched up her face, grimacing at me before she blew out the candles. I never wanted someone to grimace at me again.

By halftime I was regretting my decision but still hopeful my son hadn’t noticed me. After all, there was a football game and hundreds of cheering students to hold my son’s attention.

At home after the game, I sank onto the couch next to my husband, who paused the television.

“How was the game?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said.

“Did you see G?”

“Yep,” I said, not making eye contact. I picked up the remote control to restart the show. An hour later I heard my son before I saw him.

“Mom! What were you thinking?!” he yelled from the front door.

“I’m so sorry,” I sputtered, half-laughing, half-crying getting up from the couch as he headed up the stairs, my husband looking on in confusion. When we heard his bedroom door slam, shame washed over me. I was sad that I had embarrassed my son, but worse, distraught by the hyper-ness I worked so hard to suppress. I was still that hyper kid, still embarrassing myself in front of other people.

I do now realize that the actual details of this event aren’t the worst a mother can do to her son. I didn’t take my clothes off and run onto the field, for instance. But at home, as I absorbed my son’s frustration, I was flooded with vitriolic thoughts attacking me. This was an unforgivable slip.

A few years ago on a women’s retreat in the hills of Malibu, a small group of friends gathered to share a word or vision that came to us about each other. The word I was given was “fire.”

“Mandy, you have a fire in you,” my friend said. “And you have to let it burn brightly.”

Another friend agreed. “Yes, you have a fire and it’s like a powerful energy that makes you unique.”

Although I would rather have avoided embarrassing my son at the game, I was reminded of that word, “fire.” It was the bubbling fire in me as a mom, so overcome with love, that spurred me to capture a glorious moment of my boy at fifteen surrounded by his best friends on a Friday night at a high school football game. My decision was fueled by a fiery desire to have a tangible reminder of our history together.

Then, I began to wonder if perhaps it was situations just like the football game that fueled my bursting energy as a little girl, a little girl who felt love so strongly for people and places and experiences that I thought I might explode if I didn’t express that energy.

Just the other day my son said, “You know, Mom, I’m generally not embarrassed by you.”

“Yes!” I replied, jumping up and down in the kitchen, as he rolled his eyes at me.

I appreciate his comment, especially as I continue to embrace the livelier parts of me. However, I will probably steer clear of high school football games for a while—at least when my son is there.