Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Gamer

Eli 10.2 might have broken his finger.

He was playing catch on Monday at recess with the quarterback of his flag football team, and as he held his hands in front of him to catch a pass, the tip of the ball ball hit the second joint of his right ring finger.

If you're thinking that a 10-year-old couldn't possibly throw hard enough to break a finger, please disabuse yourself of that notion. The quarterback can throw harder than I can--he has a cannon arm and has absolutely no understanding yet of how to throttle down his throws.

That was on Monday.

On Tuesday, Eli's finger was swollen. He went off to school, and since he had flag football practice right after school let out, I showed up when the bell rang to see if he was okay.

"How's the finger?" I asked as he walked toward me.

He held up his hand. "Same," he said. Actually, I thought it looked worse-- more swollen than I remembered.

"Are you sure you want to play?" I asked.

"I'm fine," he said. "Going to practice."

I'd talked to his coach a few minutes earlier, who promised he would tape Eli's finger to protect it, and he did. So when I showed up again at 5:30, his hand was taped, and he was catching and throwing passes with abandon, although he would stop and shake his hand occasionally.

When practice was over, we walked to the car. "Man, it really hurts," he said.

"Do you want to just go home?" I asked.

"Nope," he said. "Let's go to hockey."

"Let's drive to the rink and see how you feel," I said.

It's about a 20 minute drive to the rink during rush hour, and we usually talk on the way. "Okay, so your mom made an appointment tomorrow for your finger to get x-rayed," I said.

"It's going to be terrible if it's broken and I can't play," he said.

"No, it's not," I said.

That stopped him. "Why?" he asked.

"Look," I said, "you're not just the Enthusiasm Engine. You're also the Overcoming Engine."


"Think about what you come from," I said. "Your granny had her husband leave her while she was pregnant with me. She divorced him, which was a huge stigma for a woman in the 1960s. It took a huge amount of courage for her to do that. She was a full-time teacher and worked extra jobs just to make enough money for us to scrape by. And she went to school in the summer to get her master's degree. She overcame everything in her way. Nothing bad that happened to her was stronger than was."

I paused for a few seconds.

"I've overcome two stress fractures, a broken foot, a broken big toe, foot surgery, a broken bone in my wrist, hand surgery, two knee surgeries, and hernia surgery," I said.

"And I'VE overcome two strained knees, a torn thumb ligament--" then he added about five more injuries that he actually hadn't had at all, but that was okay, because he was riffing on the groove.

"That's right," I said. "See? You come from a long line of Overcoming Engines. It's what we do."

"And if my finger is broken, I'll just overcome it," he said.

"Yes," I said. "And we'll manage to have fun along the way, too."

We got to the rink and he wanted to practice. I know what you're thinking-- it's crazy to play hockey when his finger might be broken-- but it was still taped, and he was able to put it in one finger of his glove. He was much better protected in hockey than he was on the football field.

He had a terrific practice, but with about ten minutes left, he stole the puck from another kid in a drill, and the kid banged his helmet into Eli's because he was mad.

I didn't see this happen, because I thought the drill was over, and I looked away, but when I looked back a few seconds later, he was face down on the ice, and kids were skating over to check on him.

He was there for a few minutes, and then he finally got up and skated shakily over to the bench. I was already walking around the rink to check on him, and when I got there, I saw that he was a mess. His helmet was unbuckled, with the facemask pulled up, and he was crying so hard that huge rivers of clear snot were coming from his nose.

I put my arm on his shoulder and told him how sorry I was. "Listen, there's only ten minutes left of practice," I said. "I think you've had enough for one day."

"N-n-n-o," he said.

"Dude, you have a possibly broken finger and a head injury," I said. "I think you might get stabbed if you go back out there." For some reason, he thought that was the funniest line ever, so he burst out laughing at the same time he was crying, and snot was still pouring out of his nose. Everything was going full blast at the same time.

I wasn't worried about the head injury, because I knew he didn't have one. He's got the safest helmet made for junior hockey, and he didn't fall backwards on his head, so I knew he was okay. I just thought he'd had enough, so I wanted to give him an exit point. Eli 9.2 would have cried for a few more minutes, and then I probably would have carried him to the car.

He buckled up his helmet. "Going back out," he said.

"Are you sure?" I asked. He nodded.

"Watch out for pistols," I said as he skated out. "And machetes!"

Within fifteen seconds, he'd stolen the puck from the kid who hit him. He passed it to a teammate, then looked at me and nodded.

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