“Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom—but in how many does it? There is still enough left to live by.”

These words from the end of Tillie Olsen’s great short story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” have been haunting me lately. The narrator of this story is a mother who agonizes over all that she did not and could not do for her growing child. As parents we agonize over whether we’ve done enough for our kids or if we’ve provided enough opportunities or support for them to develop their innate talents. The curse of parents from my generation is that our children have so many opportunities, and we want all of them to be available for our precious offspring.

The ninth grade is starting out to be much better for my son academically than eighth grade, but where he has always excelled, football, is proving to be the biggest challenge of his life. He doesn’t understand how he can have the skills and desire and still not play or play much. (True confession: his father and I don’t understand this either.) He has even talked about not playing football next year and sticking to just basketball. This hurts.

I love football. His dad loves football. His dad was a high school football star, and his uncle played college football. We are a football family. One of my favorite days of my son’s childhood was taking him to his first football practice, watching him don his helmet, and giving him a tap upside his new hardware. I love seeing the team take the field and searching the jerseys for his number. I have visions of going through this ritual in high school and maybe even college. But those are my and his dad’s dreams, not necessarily his. He could be great if given the opportunity to demonstrate his talent. In response to this challenge, though, he is more serious about school and his drama class, something he also has an affinity for. He’s making excellent choices, but he won’t be doing every single thing he could be great at.

So I’m chanting to myself over and over Olsen’s wisdom that “all that is in him will not bloom.” There is indeed so much “left to live by” in this smart, funny child. He will be an amazing man, but his dad and I will have to adjust to his choices and remind ourselves that they are his choices to make.

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