"There are two lasting bequests we can give our children," reads the embroidery sampler hanging in the kitchen of my imagination, "one is Roots, the other is Wings."
Although I have nurtured, loved and protected my two sons, I see now that I have also bequeathed to them a fungus upon their roots and a spot of the avian flu for their wings.
I have blithely yoked my older son — a 1-year-old! — to a life of heartbreak and angst. I didn't think things through, but that's not good enough, is it? As parents, we reassess the old ways of doing things all the time. We live in an age where "that's the way my father did it" doesn't cut it in matters of education, discipline, nutrition or car seats. But in this one area, instinct took over and tradition was honored. And all I can say is: I'm sorry, son. I'm sorry I made you a Jets fan.
It gets worse. He likes the Mets, too.
Linguists say a 20-month-old child, like my oldest, can learn 10 words a day. Recently, he picked up "brother," "sideways," "doggy," "pick-up," "nana," "box." I don't have the exact time and date that any of these words first escaped his lips. But I know for sure that Milo first said "Mets" on Sept. 27, 2008. The next day, the Mets' season ended in a collapse the likes of which hadn't been seen since the exact same thing happened the year before.
It was a quick linguistic jump from "Mets" to "Jets," cemented by father/son Jets hats bought for a deep discount at a Yonkers mall hit hard by the faltering economy. When the weather turned cold, Milo wouldn't wear any hat but that one, and when we strolled him down the avenue, passers-by would point to it and smile.
In a town where the Giants and Yankees win championships, and the Jets and Mets win sympathy, this year seemed different.
The Jets began by winning ugly, and soon were winning beautifully. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, they beat the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans. The next day, the guys at footballoutsiders.com had them a favorite to make the Super Bowl. Milo's omnipresent Jets hat began eliciting vigorous thumbs-ups on the street, and he was frequently asked to use his nascent high-five skills, ending in the gentlest hand pat you've ever felt. I even considered teaching my son to say "Favre," but thought better of it since it's actually a mispronunciation.
Milo's brother, Emmett, was born Dec. 1, and our household barely had time to worry about the Jets' loss to the Denver Broncos during a rain-soaked game at the Meadowlands. One defeat wasn't a big deal, but then they lost to the lowly 49ers. A miracle win over the Buffalo Bills and an offensive meltdown against the Seattle Seahawks took destiny out of the Jets' hands. Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins ended a December Dive that can be described only as Mets-ian. And as a father, I could only think, "What have I done?"
It's funny. Sports fans raise their sons and daughters to wear the hometown colors as an exercise in identity. Losing builds character, they say. Fans of baseball's Boston Red Sox used to say that, too, but how many of them saw Kevin Foulke's underhanded toss to win the 2004 World Series and thought, "Oh no, this will spoil the children." You root for your teams in bad times and in good, but you hope the ratio stays, at worst, close to even.
This morning, Milo said to me what he always says: "Daddy," "Up," "Juice." And when he saw the two green hats sitting next to each other, he said, "Jets." For a second, I heard it as "jest," which if I count it as a new word marks his first foray into sports commentary. That's right, son, toughen your tiny, tiny hide.
His brother, Emmett, was born into a world where the Jets have lost three times and won only once. If he'd been born a month later, he wouldn't have had to witness the Jets' December. But no matter. As it stands, Emmett's on track to say his first words and understand symbols right around the summer of 2010. Just in time for LeBron James to become a Knick.