I spent a little more than two decades working as a sportswriter in the newspaper industry. I was fortunate to land some plum assignments and chat with everyone from professional athletes to tongue-tied high school kids who’d made the big play for their team. But I’ve thought a lot about one particular assignment over the last few days.
It was sometime between 2000 and 2010, and it involved covering a low-level professional indoor football team based in the city where I worked (There were three different teams during that time, and they came and went faster than the businesses located next door to Bob’s Burgers, so don’t bother asking me which one). This particular team had its home opener on a Saturday night, and the kickoff was scheduled either for 7 or 7:30. I knew I’d be cutting it close to file my story and make deadline, but the civic center where the team played was located just a couple minutes from the newspaper office. The game would end at a reasonable hour, I would finish my story with time to spare, and everything would go according to plan.
Except, of course, it didn’t. For whatever reason – excessively long halftime program, false advertising in that every contest would be fast-paced and wrapped up in a very timely fashion, perhaps both – the game dragged on and on. With each passing minute, the clock located in the upper level of the arena seemed to grow a little larger, and the ticking of the second hand started to reverberate in my head even though there were a couple thousand people watching the game. I swear by the fourth quarter it had even grown tentacles and fangs and hissed, “You’re going to miss deadline, sucker!” as it laughed maniacally.
It was close to 10:40 by the time I’d interviewed one or two players, grabbed a copy of the game statistics, and barreled into the sports department. I had half an hour – tops – to bang out my story and send it to the copy desk if we were to have any prayer of getting the paper off the floor by 11:30. To this day I can’t tell you the contents of that story, only that the home team lost. All I can tell you is that between the heavy breathing that was perhaps a half-step below hyperventilation and a shaky leg that would have put a young Elvis to shame as I typed, I finished my story in 20 minutes. The copy editor shipped the last page on time. The presses started rolling when they were supposed to.
So, why does that assignment stick out for someone who had the privilege of covering games in NFL stadiums and a Major League Baseball ballpark? And what does it have to do with my son, Nolan, a soon-to-be 15-year-old high school freshman who has Autism and is nonverbal? It’s my reminder that getting through a difficult situation, no matter how intimidating or scary, is always possible.
Nolan is returning to school this morning after having to temporarily transition back to online learning last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Cindy and I kept him home last Tuesday because something just didn’t seem right with him after he’d gotten up. He perked up later in the morning after sneezing out a large bloody booger, but considering that due to the pandemic the state department of education waived a rule this school year that requires a doctor’s note for a student to return to school if he or she misses 10 or more days, we’re going to err on the side of caution even more than we already did.
One of Nolan’s teachers called me Tuesday afternoon to tell me that 20 percent of the special education class was ill that day. Per the school district’s rules, in-person learning has to be paused once that benchmark is reached. Thankfully, no one tested positive for COVID-19, everyone who had been feeling under the weather appears to be doing just fine, and we got an “all clear” email Friday morning. Nolan asked for the school bus on his iPad Sunday afternoon, so I know he’s ready to go back. I’m still feeling the effects of his head-butts and choke holds because dad was trying to guide him through the schoolwork his paraprofessional was asking him to do – and my left knee still aches a little from helping him with an adaptive physical education assignment – so I’m ready for him to go back.
I had been thinking a lot about the fact Nolan appeared to be adjusting quite well to high school – and the fact his teachers had given us a very positive report last week during parent-teacher conferences – that the thought of pandemic-altered schedules had retreated to the back of my mind even though I knew one was a likelihood sooner or later. Of course I crossed my fingers and hoped that none of Nolan’s classmates or the special education staff had the coronavirus, which might lead to Cindy, Nolan and I getting sick and having to be homebound for two weeks or more. But I have to admit my first thoughts were about my job and my ability to do it well.
I transcribe city government meetings for the municipality in which we live. The city is putting together its budget for the upcoming year. The next three weeks will be the busiest time of the year for me. Some of the meetings I’ll transcribe will get rather lengthy, which is great for the bottom line, but not so much for a father trying to work while feeling like dog crap and getting the snot kicked out of him by a young man who doesn’t dig online learning.
I’m not quite the perfectionist I was when I was younger, but I’m still a “let me straighten that crooked picture on your wall” type of person who wants and expects to do well no matter what the task is. Until we’d received the email telling us that Nolan could return to school today, I was very worried about how I would be able to finish everything that I needed to.
Sometimes the best-laid plans get trashed worse than a kindergarten classroom when there’s a substitute teacher and stress is an 8-foot tall behemoth that is breathing down your neck.
All you can do in those situations is your very best. I have to remind myself of that a lot.
Will in-person learning be paused again between now and the end of the school year in early June? Of course. In fact, I’d wager my last simoleon there will be at least a half-dozen stoppages. Will those stoppages occur at the worst possible time for me? I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
Will I consume Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffees until I’m bug-eyed and positive I still can run a marathon in less than 2½ hours even though I’m almost 50 and it’s been more than 10 years since I last ran 26.2 miles? They do taste good. Will I finish my work at 5 a.m. and fall asleep at my keyboard? It’s fine as long as I don’t damage my laptop; I’ve got to make it last a little longer. At some point will I have to tell the folks at City Hall I need just a little more time to complete my work because sleep and sanity are important? Maybe, and that’s OK.
If 2020 were a video game, most of us would be Mario trying to leap over the endless barrage of barrels Donkey Kong was hurling at us. All of us are dealing with challenging circumstances, and at times it seems like there’s no way out of a bad situation. That’s the time we need to convince ourselves – I’m poking myself in the chest – that that isn’t the case. Acknowledge that the looming deadline or problem is in the room, then set it aside. Take a few, or several, deep breaths. Focus on what you need to do, and do it.
The end result is not always going to be pretty, and you might not remember exactly what you did to accomplish something because you’re simply concentrating on getting through a particularly rough time. All you’ll remember is that you did it, and that’s all that matters.