Jamie introduced our boys to the empire that is the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) when Colin was about two years old. Jamie isn’t really a devotee, but when he realized the children didn’t know who Andre the Giant was, he recognized the opportunity for education.
One Easter we took the boys to “big church” in Albany. I was a little nervous. This wasn’t our little country church. It was a fancy church with real liturgical colors and banners and a big choir and microphones. The Easter prelude that morning began with the pipe organ’s deep, full-throated bellow of a long, triumphant chord. Colin, who was three, with wide, excited eyes loudly whispered, “MAMA! It’s the Undertaker! He’s here!!”
Totally unlike Jack, Colin is outgoing, less reserved. He likes engaging people. He is stubborn and hard to convince about much of anything. He is a boy in perpetual motion. When he gets still, he falls asleep. He has never wanted to sleep. He doesn’t want to miss anything.
He has always been strong. On his first day home from the hospital, I planned to read him Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, just like I had done with Jack on his first day home from the hospital. I settled us into the rocking chair and nestled Colin in my arms on top of a pillow positioned in my lap so I could hold both the book and the baby comfortably. He had long, skinny legs and knobby knees. He was all angles, wrapped in a blanket.
My Norman Rockwell moment lasted less than two minutes. I started reading, and Colin started kicking. Our positioning was so awkward, he managed to kick the book right out of my hand. I tried again. He kicked it to the ground again. I gave up and knew then he was going to walk to the beat of his own drum. And he does.
The one thing that impedes Colin is eczema. He was born with it, and even though we have been to multiple doctors and tried every cream, lotion, potion, and soap in the world, it is still an issue. It’s aggravated by heat, and south Georgia summers are the worst. He longs to play football and baseball but practices are outside. Once Colin gets hot, it takes a long time to cool off and the itching is nearly unbearable.
So, when the flyer came home from school a few weeks ago announcing an after-school wrestling practice in an air-conditioned gym, I knew Colin would want to participate. He is a physical little boy with excellent hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes. He’s built like his granddaddy Hoss: a brick house.
Wrestling is the perfect outlet for Colin. In addition to practice being inside, there are uniforms and special shoes. There are teammates his own age and size. According to Colin, the most exciting thing about wrestling is slamming someone on the ground without getting in trouble. I get it. I really do.
The Monday after Easter was Colin’s fourth wrestling practice, but my first time picking him up. Jamie was out of town on business, so I’d left work a little early so I could watch him do his thing for a little bit. The minute I walked into the gym, I spotted him.
He was mad. I could tell from the way he was holding his still little-boy hands in tightly clenched fists on either side of a body stiff with tension.
My Mama alarm went off as the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up. Adrenaline surged. I had an almost unstoppable urge to rush out onto the gym floor and ask what was wrong. But, I pushed it down and into the pit of my stomach. Slowly and watching every move he made, I sat down on the bleachers.
The children, all ages and shapes and sizes, were nearing the end of practice. Their coaches were on the periphery of the gym mats instructing them on how to do bear crawls from one end of the mats to the other. The children, almost all with hair stuck to their foreheads and red cheeks, were lined up in rows with ample distance between them. At the whistle, they took off on all fours crawling like bears down the mat.
Colin and another boy about his same height and weight were lined up to go in the third row. (For the purposes of this post, I will call this child Bo.) Colin looked square. His jaw was clenched. His shoulders were slightly hunched forward. His fists were still in tight balls, the knuckles red and white from his grip. Bo had similar posturing. They were hissing words at each other, but I couldn’t hear them from where I was sitting. The coaches were busy with the other children.
It was time for Colin’s row to crawl. He and Bo lined up beside each other and when the whistle blew, they scooted down the mat. Colin slightly in front. Bo, clearly not wanting Colin to beat him to the end of the mat, threw his hand out in front of his body and caught Colin’s ankle. Colin went down hard on his right knee. I stood up and sat right back down. “Wait a minute, Mama,” I thought to myself.
The fall gave Bo the advantage, and he scooted ahead. Not to be outdone, Colin grabbed the child’s ankle, too. They tripped each other all the way down one side of the mat and all the way back up the other side. The coaches didn’t notice.
When the exercise was over, the boys were all called into a huddle. Colin and Bo stood right next to each other. I watched Colin turn his face and jut his chin, red and sweaty, to jeer at Bo. Those light blue eyes, that have always reminded me of a south Georgia blue sky on a hot summer’s day, flashed white hot. I heard the coaches congratulate the guys on “working hard” and “being tough.” They asked all the boys to put their hands in the center of the circle and on the count of three, they all said “Teamwork.” Practice dismissed.
Colin started walking toward me, fists still clenched. I stayed seated in the bleachers – watching. Bo came up behind Colin and pushed his shoulder. Colin turned and faced him. In a flash, Colin threw his hands up in the air, jumped toward Bo and said, “Come on. Come on, man. I’ll take you right here.” Bo laughed at him. Colin pushed Bo’s shoulder. I stood up, “Colin Grey,” I shouted in a deliberate, deep, Mama voice, “That is quite enough.”
Colin turned his back on Bo and made his way toward me. He was so angry, I thought I was going to watch him burst into flames right before my eyes.
Bo ran past Colin and went to the water fountain. I didn’t say a word as he passed in front of me but gave him the best Kent-Sanders-I-Mean-Business-Stare I could muster. He got the idea. After we made eye contact once, he didn’t look at me again.
When Colin got close, I whispered with kind eyes, “What in the world?” His face was super red, but he wasn’t crying. Not yet. He was snubbing, that angry inhale with no tears for which most children his age are notorious. He couldn’t quite catch his breath. Through big inhales he said, “He’s <snub> called me fat <snub> since I got here. I can’t STAND him.” He clenched his teeth.
My stomach fell through my shoes. “Ok. Take a deep breath and let’s get moving.” Every inch of my entire being wanted to go find Bo and grab him by the shoulders and shake him hard. My mind was racing. Do I walk Colin over to the coaches and ask if they’d not seen them jawing at each other? Do I watch Bo until his parent comes to pick him up and then talk to his parent? “Calm down. Take deep breaths. We’re going home,” I heard myself say as I patted him on the back and helped him get his backpack on.
When Colin gets angry, he fixes his eyes on a point in a dead stare. Eyes fixed, we walked out of the gym, right past Bo. None of us spoke.
At the car, I opened the backdoor so Colin could climb in. An eager Jack, half-turned around, “How’d it go, buddy? Wait – what’s wrong?” As I shut the car door, I heard Colin begin to cry – an explosive releasing cry. More mad than sad.
My mind was working fast, “What do I do? Do I do anything? Let me do the right thing. Don’t let me make things worse. Let me say what he needs to hear. What does he need to hear?” I sat down in the car, which had been running while Jack waited for us. The cold air from the air-conditioner felt good. Deep breaths, Mama. Deep breaths.
After I adjusted my rear view mirror, so I could see Colin’s face, I backed out of the parking lot. He told us about practice through angry, hot tears. “He called me fat, Mama,” Colin pleaded. “You’re not fat, Colin,” I said, “Why would he call you that? Did you say something to him?” I was using my calm reasoning voice although I wanted to use my furious protective Mama voice. “I dunno. We had to go against each other in the first match. I pinned him. When he got up he said the only reason I’d pinned him was because I was fat.” His breathing had slowed a little. His face wasn’t as red. “Oh!” I said, “Don’t you think your winning has something to do with his being mean to you?” “No, I really don’t,” he answered.
Jack chimed in with encouragement and said, with me, all the things you’re supposed to say. In just a little while, Colin seemed better. We talked about other parts of the day. Jack told us news from his day. Within a while, our ride home settled into our usual rhythms of being together.
It was the Monday after Easter, and Mama had asked us to come out to Elmodel for supper to help eat all the leftovers. “It’s always better the day after,” she’d said. Mama had chorale practice, so Daddy was hosting on his own.
My family tornado came inside Mama and Daddy’s house like we lived there, taking off shoes and socks, hugging necks, asking about the day, typical homecoming disruption. The boys were starving. So, we all headed back to the kitchen without much formality at all.
Daddy and I began pulling out leftovers and putting ice in glasses as Colin began recanting to Deets about the injustices of wrestling with Bo. Daddy just listened. “He’s so mean, Deets. He tripped me on the mat. He pushed my shoulder. Mama says it’s because he’s just jealous that I pinned him in our first match. Whadda you think? Colin looked up at Daddy with calm eyes. He smelled like outside and sweaty little boy.
Daddy was pouring tea in the glasses we’ve used since I lived at home. “Well, I reckon she’s right,” he said, “that’s why most people are ugly to each other. Jealousy or resentment.” Colin considered things as we set the table with paper plates and folded paper napkins.
Settling around the table as we always do, we presented hands to hold for prayer. Daddy said, “Colin, you wanna say the blessing?” Colin is generally our go-to for before supper prayer. We all joined hands and closed our eyes as he began the familiar, “God is great. God is…” He stopped. I lifted my head to look at him. “I don’t want to say that one. I want to say a different one.” Daddy said, “That’s fine. Go ahead.”
“Dear God, please bless Bo. Please pour all your blessings on Bo, dear Lord, so he will stop picking on me. Let him have only good things, God. Thank you for this food. Thank you for all you give to us all the time. Amen.”
I felt tears come fast to the edges of my eyelashes. Daddy smiled and squeezed my hand, “Better than a sermon, isn’t it?” Colin didn’t notice. He put his napkin in his lap and began to eat leftover Easter ham and corn casserole, his favorite.
I just sat still a minute and marveled at my boy. I have so much to learn.