The Starting Line
By Jodi Schwen
It's early spring; the snow is still a foot
deep and the first high school track meet is being
held indoors at St. Cloud State's track-and-field
house. I rise before dawn on Saturday morning to drive our teenage
school to catch the team bus, then return home to finish packing
sandwich, sports drink and water bottle. Making my quantum leap
younger end of the offspring spectrum, I get our toddler out
of bed. Thirty
minutes later, changed, fed and with his diaper bag and accoutrements
packed, I drop off my pint-sized son at Grandma's house. (I enjoy
distinction of having one child in driver's training and one
training at the same time.)
After a leisurely drive, sans toddler-speak
from the back seat and the
steady doling out of grahams and juice boxes, I reach the college.
find a parking place and join the other confused parents trying
the right door to the magic kingdom of the field house observation
Eight-thirty a.m. -- right on time. A muffled speaker announces, "First
for . . . first call for mmfbggchk events."
My son spots me and nonchalantly makes his way
over to retrieve his
sandwich and tell me about his events. We stand like government
-- spies sharing top secrets -- side by side, looking straight
little eye contact. He's glad I came, but true to the teenage
let it show.
"Second call for boys mfpgchtsxyz ," resounds
across the ceiling's steel
gridwork and bounces between ventilation ducts.
My runner departs for the floor, striding tall
and sure like a young
gladiator entering the ring. Only I know his silent insecurities,
moles, preference for boxers over briefs. I am privy to his private
life, but only when allowed entrance.
"Final call for girls and boys zxwmctch
have four (or is it five?)
events to wait. I get out a pen and make a stroke for "one" on
corner of my magazine page. The scrambled loudspeaker merely
along -- intelligible only to the athletes on the arena's floor.
It can't be
My mind wanders ahead to the upcoming outdoor
meets -- a true Minnesota
endurance test. Heavy warm-ups are worn over running silks, along
hats and mittens, and parents huddle for warmth on cold metal
cluster together along the finish-line fence, wrapped in tattered
quilts kept in the trunk for just this purpose. When the contestants
strip off their outer gear prior to their events, the mere sight
wind-whipped gooseflesh of the runners stamping at the starting
makes me shiver within the bulk of my down jacket.
Peering across an outdoor track crowded with
a rainbow of school colors
makes it slightly more difficult, but not impossible, to spot
under his warm-up layers. I pick him out by the swing of a gangly
angle of his cocked head as he talks to a teammate. Though I've
all his life, it still surprises me -- and scares him -- how
well I know my
"Second call for ctchxspbcd." I
realize I've lost track of the order of
events. I scan the starting line -- boys and girls are running
the number sign at the finish soon displays a huge "seven." An
event, this will be a longer wait.
He didn't get his athletic bent from me. I spent
high school Saturdays
in dresses and nylons, traveling to speech tournaments. I delivered
prose from double-spaced, typewritten pages that had been stapled
sheets of black construction paper -- or nonoriginal oratory,
hastily revised and committed to memory that morning in the school
wagon on the ride up. No scripts were allowed in that event.
I once competed against a boy who had chosen the same dramatic
Silent Snow, Secret Snow" by Conrad Aiken. My opponent's
the piece differed from the parts I'd chosen. When it was my
turn, I looked
fearlessly into his eyes and delivered my introduction. I only
small and nonthreatening -- my speech coach had bequeathed me
same tools and tactics that are wielded in the mind game of running.
and final call for cbschtxzqr."
My son stretches at the starting line, eager
to race. I wonder what is
going through his mind. I wish I could transfer his nervousness
to myself --
letting him race unfettered, free to do his best. I can only
clench my hands
in silent prayer, send victorious thoughts and holler encouragement
("Keep your pace -- go, go -- don't let up!") when
he passes in front of me.
He says he never hears me, but I yell anyway.
He finished second -- it was a good run. I pick
up my things and head out
to the car; the other parents do the same. Each race seems harder
-- for me,
not him. I know the day is coming when he will run for the last
time and my
job will be finished. Until the next child begins to run.
Jodi Schwen is marketing her first humor book, The Musings of
Jacqueline Pine Savage, and is also editor of central Minnesota's
Country Journal Magazine.