Sunday afternoon, our house. I am sacked out on the couch, vaguely paying attention to an NFL game in which my favorite team is about to fall to 0-5. I am exhausted from the trip with Ryan to Penn State from which we have just returned. Despite Michigan’s terrible, awful, no-good loss, I am riding high.
I am riding high because of the experience I have just shared with my son. I’m pretty sure this game was the tipping point, the one that will leave him fully indoctrinated as a Michigan fan. All the signs are there. He rooted passionately throughout the four-plus hour game. He was bitterly disappointed by the outcome, something he continued to express early this week. He does not hesitate when I talk of finding more Michigan games to attend. He is enthused that starting next year, Rutgers is joining the Big Ten, meaning a Michigan game here in New Jersey every other year.
Veronica pulls Ryan aside. She tells him she is proud of him and so, so happy that he was able to share this trip with me. She knows how much it means to me to share this passion with him. She is thrilled at the time he and I have been able to spend together.
Ryan’s response at once both lifts and saddens us.
He tells her the game was great and he loved going. And then he says the words that remind us that no matter how well things are going — and they’re going pretty damn well right now — challenges are always lurking near the surface.
“I really like going to football games,” he says. “Because I don’t have to worry about the stats. I can just watch the game.”
Veronica relays this conversation to me and I immediately try to put it out of my mind. The trip has been too successful, and I refuse to allow negative thoughts to enter. But it lingers. If I keep pushing football on Ryan, will he develop a similar compulsion about an arbitrary football statistic, the same way shots on goal has made watching his favorite sport, hockey, a challenge (that sometimes spills into a full-on nightmare) for him?
I recognize this way of thinking. It’s the ‘but’ statement. As in “things are great, but …” or “school is off to a wonderful start but … I just wish Ryan could make a friend …”
The ‘but’ seems to follow progress around. It is the ‘U’ that follows every ‘Q.’
Does it have to be that way? I sense that the ‘but’ is more a product of our thinking than Ryan’s. It is a defense mechanism, a speed bump that guards against irrational exuberance and optimism.
Maybe that’s for the best, I don’t know. I do know that at times like Sunday afternoon, after a wildly successful outing with my son, I resent the hell out of the ‘but’.
I wish the ‘but’ would just butt out.