By some happy misjudgment of time I arrived a little earlier than expected. The stands were spotted with fans, but a quick scan revealed none of my bleacher buddies, the moms and dads who’d sat with me through wind, rain and sun, sometimes all in the same day.
So I picked a spot and settled my seat in the general area we usually sit, in clear view of the finish line. Then I relished a rare moment of solitary silence while I waited.
As often happens in the still moments, my thoughts quieted from frenetic list making, schedule checking and project plans. As they subsided, the thoughts I’d kept at bay crowded to the front, all elbows. My son is a senior.
I took a breath and blinked a few times behind my sunglasses when I suddenly realized this would be his last track meet in Spokane.
But I’ve been through this before. He’s my second senior. I’ve known all year that spring would be packed with lasts and endings that are tinged with the taste of new beginnings. Senior spring is a bittersweet banquet of events, awards, parties and countless questions about what he’d be doing next.
This time around I’ve avoided reading the articles, blog posts and social media status updates about savoring the moment, taking pride in our progeny and preparing everyone physically and emotionally for those next steps.
And because my middle child is a little like me and not a big fan of events, awards and crowds of people, I’d secretly counted myself lucky to bypass much of the sentimentality that seems to steep senior spring. I can conjure enough of that on my own each time I write a column.
Or when sitting on a stretch of empty bleacher.
Thankfully, my wistful wave passed quickly. I’ve learned how to hold my breath because I know the next one will be full of fresh air.
It helps that my son is ready to move on. Some days it feels as if he’s already gone, we see him so little. If it weren’t for the unmade bed, disappearing food and huge loads of laundry, I might suspect he’d moved out already. Usually, I look at that as evidence of growing independence, especially when the huge load is washed and folded.
So that day on the bleachers I felt almost smug as I settled back into the silence. Until the next wave hit me, unexpected. Not only was it my son’s last meet at home, it was almost the end of four years spent with the same parents, supporting our kids together.
Over the last four years our teens have bonded during long runs, team dinners, warm ups, cool downs and countless bus rides while we bonded on the bleachers, beside the cross country courses and in the living rooms over gigantic bowls of steaming pasta.
I’ve read that proximity is the biggest factor for friendship. It takes time to get to know someone. Distance parents spend a lot of time together. On the bleachers especially, we’ve passed hours together in all kinds of weather, cheering each other’s athletes alongside our own.
In between each adrenaline-spiking event we settle into conversation, catching up and sharing stories. Those in between moments have added up over the years into real friendships built on the bleachers.
Track meets can last a long time, but it isn’t unusual for parents to come early or stay late to watch an athlete from another family, and when they can’t be there, to send a text, inquiring about an event’s outcome.
That kind of support is palpable. Sometimes it seems as though there isn’t enough cheering in this life, but that’s never been true at a track meet.
At times we’re a boisterous bunch, standing, jumping and shouting while we applaud our athletes, not just for the occasional win but for each time one of them bursts through their own boundaries.
Some of their most impressive events were ones in which they dug deep and discovered just how strong they really were, because they persevered despite setbacks. Running a race with one shoe, after the other one was spiked off in an early turn. Getting up and finishing after a fall. Fighting to find their stride after an injury, illness or low iron.
We’ve commiserated together over those moments while acknowledging how much character our kids have developed along the way. Together, we’re proud of them all.
As I waited for the stands to fill that night, I realized that though I’d planned and emotionally prepared for most of my son’s senior year lasts, including his last high school lap around the track, I’d forgotten that next year not all of my bleacher buddies would be sitting and standing with me in the stands, supporting our athletes.
We will always be friends but I know we’ll make new in-between times to continue our conversations. But I will miss them in the bleachers.
Jill Barville writes twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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