We are proud to present “Summer, 2002” by New Voices author Nancy Ludmerer. In this story, set in Manhattan the summer after 9/11, a mother struggles to let go as her son enters high school. It is an eloquent story of motherhood, and the difficult balancing act of keeping our children safe without holding them back.
“His honesty was so different from what people said about boys his age. Sometimes I felt I couldn’t breathe or it would disappear.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised when Eli told me he wanted to play football. He mentioned it over breakfast in early June, but I’d overheard him discussing it a dozen times with Toby, his best friend.
I told him Jewish boys didn’t play football, that he would get hurt, that the risk of permanent injury was great. Besides, no one we knew played football.
“Don’t be a wuss, Mom,” Eli said, cracking his knuckles in a way he knew I found irritating. He finished his Wheaties and, bringing the bowl to his lips, gulped down the milk. He was fourteen but his neck was as thick as a man’s.
“Because you don’t know any football players doesn’t mean anything.” He shook his head, his unruly curls black and shiny as sheep’s wool, his pink cheeks round like a child’s.
We were eating in the living room, at a gateleg, mahogany table, a hand-me-down from my grandmother Elisheva, for whom Eli was named. The wood was scratched and peeling; a matchbook wedged under one leg kept it steady.
I am not a sports-minded person. Although I indiscriminately root for the New York baseball teams, I’d never been to a football game. Everything I knew about the sport was hearsay, and it all made me want to say no. But it’s not my way to say no to Eli.
Instead, I said “maybe.”
“What do you mean, maybe?”
“I need to think about it, talk to your father.”
He shrugged, but he wouldn’t look at me. I could tell he wouldn’t let it go.