All across America, well over a million teenage athletes are coming to the end of their fall seasons — in football, cross country, girls tennis, field hockey, boys soccer and other sports.
So if you pass near a high school this week or next, as the season winds down, as some lucky teams look forward to the state playoffs about to begin, you might want to look up into those stands.
You'll see classmates cheering their friends. Some are quiet, but most are rowdy, teenagers full of hormones and high drama, acting crazy, having fun. They're in the moment.
But if you'll also see something else up there: adults.
We might be in that moment, but our minds are in many moments at once. We're the parents.
Parents usually sit together in a group, perched on those canvas stadium chairs that make those cold, hard bleachers a bit more comfortable. Chatting, latte in hand, a video camera bag over a shoulder, we know each other, we know the drill. We've been at this for years. And for most of us, there are other seasons to come.
But for those who have seniors out there on the fields, it's different. It's ending. And we're trying to hold it, or hoard it, and keep it.
"I know it's supposed to end, and that they move on and move into that next part of life. But right now, I just don't want it to end," a father named Dave told me. "I just don't want it to."
I don't either. But wants have nothing to do with anything.
Out there on the tennis courts or on the edge of the long-distance course, at football and soccer fields, the parents of younger high school kids watch the seniors at their games, all muscle and prowess, skill and tenacity.
"When the boys were freshmen I'd look out and see the seniors and I'd say, 'No way. No way can they deal with what's out there,'" another father said.
But they deal with it because they grow.
And the parents of seniors sitting out there in the bleachers as that last season ends?
They see that once-tiny girl who drove them crazy by slamming a tennis ball against the garage door.
Or that other girl who could never get ready on time for school because she insisted on taking that long run in the morning.
The eighth-grade boy who'd lift weights in the basement with the headbanger music filling the house. He'd tear up the backyard grass by working on his technique with those first three steps off the line of scrimmage. Then he'd have that second meal, packing on heft and power for football.
Or other boys, dribbling soccer balls through the kitchen and on into the living room full of breakables, the grandmother shouting, "No! Not in the living room! Noooo!"
And that other boy, the long-distance runner, coming into the house alone, sweating, standing in the middle of the kitchen, gulping water.
They were little and now they're almost grown. Four years ago, they were shrimpy high school freshmen, the eighth-grade swagger gone, intimidated a bit, hesitant, walking onto those fields for the first time, kids raptly listening to coaches as if they were hearing the voices of the gods.
Or you might have a child who wasn't interested in any extracurricular activities, or was a trumpet or tuba player in a school band, a dancer, debater, cheerleader, school journalist.