Just Breathe

I learned to breathe when I was in my late 20’s.  Really breathe, and make it work for you, not the automatic breathing that keeps you alive. When I had my kids, I discovered through the miracle that is Lamaze, that focusing on your breathing will get you through nearly anything.  I’ve used it ever since to get me through anything from a tough day at work, to relaxing enough to turn my mind off for sleep, to avoiding a tearful breakdown during the Puffs Plus commercial.


My oldest son is smaller than most.  He weighed in at 86lbs dripping wet when he tried wrestling for the first time as a 7th grader.  It had been a couple of years since he’d been involved in a sport, because the size differential got to be too much for football.  Baseball bored him, even though he showed promise there.  So I was relegated to watching his younger brother play baseball and basketball, sighing resignation that my oldest might not play sports anymore.


I encouraged him several times over the years to try youth wrestling, because I knew he was scrappy and had a good temperament for the sport.  He declined.  I let it go.  Then he wanted to check it out as a 7th grader.


I thought I knew what I was in for.  I watched a few wrestling matches in high school, and even kept score for the team as a sub on a couple of occasions.  I felt well versed enough to venture into this new world with him.


I would pick him up from the practices, and watch them doing their drills and super-tough conditioning, and was impressed in an “I don’t want to know too much about this” sort of way.  I was, after all, a single Mom who was trying to let her son go through the rite of passage of the Men’s Locker Room on his own, without too much Mom-volvement.  I knew the coaches would take care of him, and not push him past his limit. They wouldn’t do that, would they?  That crazy neck exercise that I can’t bear to watch is good for him, right?  Just breathe…..Coach has it covered, Mom.


What I would later learn was that his first match would nearly be the death of me.  Not him, me.


He was struggling with his grades, as many 7th graders do, and missed the first couple of dual meets.  He got his grades up, but for the next two, he wasn’t able to wrestle because there was no one in his weight class.  I missed one or two for work, and the short Middle School season was nearly over.  Talking it over with Coach, he mentioned that there was a tournament coming up, and he assured me I’d be able to watch my son wrestle then.   Finally!! And then, a sigh of relief!


I was so excited as I was preparing for this, what I was sure to be the best day of my sports Mom life in recent memory.  I knew how hard my son was working, on his grades and in the wrestling room.  I happily made my dish for the “team table” the night before, charged up the batteries in the video camera, and packed my first ever Wrestling Mom Tournament Bag complete with Advil, a good book, and granola bars.  I was ready!


I found my way to the school on the frozenMichiganroads, and was just this side of literally chirping with excitement.


I walked into the huge gym, full to the brim with screaming people and wall to wall wrestling mats.  What?  How was I ever going to find my son?  When does he wrestle?  (No one seemed to know).  Where do I find out what time he’s going?  (No one knew). Howcome no one can tell me when he’s wrestling? (Because they just can’t?).  This was not what I expected, at all!  You’d think that with such a big tournament there’d be a little organization!  How can there not be a schedule?  Just breathe, you’ll find your way around, and it will all work out.


As I was wandering around confused and disoriented, like I had entered a different dimension, I wondered how I’d ever make sense of this.  Then, I saw out of the corner of my eye, my son’s father jogging toward me.  (This man never hurries.  For anything).  “He’s getting ready, he’s going to wrestle in about two minutes!”  He huffed.  “What?  Where?  What?  Where do I go?”  I felt so helpless!  I followed him blindly to a seat with a perfect view of my son’s upcoming match.  Where is he?  Oh, there he is, at that table….ok, good.  Excitement is returning at this point, and I breathe another sigh of relief.  Knowing how I get at my boys’ sporting events, I told myself to keep calm and not scream.  We are indoors, after all.  I even asked my son prior to this day if I could cheer for him.  “No” was of course, the answer.  Keep calm, don’t scream, don’t embarrass him.  Got it.  Be calm and breathe.


After my son and the other boy put on their ankle cuffs and lined up, the ref blew his whistle and the two went at it.  They circled each other a couple of times, and then wham!  My son took his kid down.  They fought.  And they fought.  And they fought.  The other boy never got up, or what I would later learn to know as an escape.  My son ended up pinning him after wearing him out with some hold I still don’t know the name of, the Butcherman’s Passout-Choke Hold of Death I believe.  (Kind of illegal, my son told me later, but the ref didn’t call it, and it was working).  Mm-hmm.


As it turns out, I didn’t need to remind myself to verbally behave, because I was having a hard enough time reminding myself to breathe.  About 30 seconds into the match, I realized I hadn’t even taken a breath.  I thought I might pass out myself!  I was white knuckling my purse and about all I could do was blurt out my sons’ name every 10 seconds or so.  ANDREW!  ……..ANDREW!  This of course was extremely helpful.


I have still to this day never experienced anything quite like the intensity of a wrestling match.  I feel like a seasoned wrestling Mom now, after three seasons, and keep checking the calendar to see if it’s November yet, excited for my fourth.  It’s almost inexplicable, the feeling you get when watching your son wrestle.  Whether he’s winning or losing, it’s always the same.  It’s a crazy mixture of fright, adrenaline, pride, agony, happiness and/or sorrow.  And you run that gamut over and over; anywhere from 20 seconds (or less) to three long, agonizing periods that could last the longest nine minutes of your life.  That’s your heart and soul out there on the mat, giving his whole heart and soul, and not much else in life compares.


And even though I’m a self-proclaimed “seasoned wrestling Mom”, I still have to remind myself to breathe.



  1. Venis said,

    I totally understand about the wrestling mom and not breathing. I am also a single mother of four wrestlers; which two would be girls. My oldest son started out in the 7th grade also. I never thought of him ever to be interested in wrestling cause he was such a mamma’s boy, he would scream if a pimple was hurting. He loved it so much that when middle school was over he asked to join the youth club. I talked with the coach, got the price and seen they had a family deal; so I said what the heck, I;m putting my daughter into it too. She was my hell on wheels at 6 years old. Hoping that this sport will help me with the self discipline she needed. It helped a bunch to calm her down and focus more with school. As they both went on the mat, I sat right there mat side with the coach holding my breath and hoping neither one gets hurt. As the years went on with it, I let my other daughter that is petti join when she turned six. Now I have three going in the youth program. Her being so tiny, (as all I did was take off her boots so she could get on the scale.) she was still only weighing 36lbs, lightest weight was 40lbs; no one at 40lbs she is now moved up to the 43lb weight class with the boys. I thank god every day she did not get hurt, but she enjoyed every minute on the mat. Giggling as she is being pinned, she is the one at this time that taught me how to breath while their on the mat, cause it was always smiles when she was out there. As the years pasted, my son became 2x state placer in high school, All American, 3x national champ, and world. He now refs at the meets, coaches middle school wrestling and ast. coach for high school. My first daughter stopped wrestling in middle school and went on to volleyball and wrestling manager for high school. My tiny girl wrestler is now a 2x national champ, state champ and will be starting her high school career this year. My 4th wrestler is eight now and has been wrestling for two years. During the ten years of enjoying, watching, holding my breath, early morning drives, lots of coffee, I have now been coaching for the last five years and love every minute of it. The joy of watching the children faces of the win and disappointments is priceless. Watching them making the decision of what they could do different and achieve the goal; priceless. All the medals, plagues, and trophy’s that collect dust, never compares to the memories that are built in the wrestling room or mat with your child and you that last a life time; priceless.
    Oh, and my oldest boy that is now 22, you still can not pick a pimple on his body without him screaming. LOL

    • matmom said,

      How very proud you must be! Congrats to your kids on all their success, and congratulations on your coaching position! I bet you’re the only Momma/Coach out there!

  2. Frank Johnson said,

    Dear Matmom,

    I would love to publish “Just Breathe” in the state tournament issue of a newspaper that I do for our state, but I cannot locate an email address for you & don’t want to reprint it without your permission. We go to print in a couple days and I need to know ASAP. Would you mind contacting me at fgwrestling@gmail.com and letting me know if it would be okay?

  3. Kim Penhallegon said,

    Love, love, love!!! My son started wrestling last year mid-season as a freshman. Like you, I didn’t know a lot about wrestling but was thrilled that he had found something he truly enjoyed. Fast forward a year and he is on the junior varsity team and I don’t miss a match! I make food for the hospitality room and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for wrestlers. I am up at 545 on tournament days and I come home exhausted and proud of my son. There is nothing like being a wrestler’s mom!

    • matmom said,

      Thanks for the kind words, Kim! I totally agree that there is nothing like being a wrestler’s mom, and I hope you and your son are enjoying a great season!

  4. Single Mom Confidential said,

    My oldest son sounds a lot like yours. He is tall but very thin and has had a hard time with most sports he has gone out for. After reading your post Im going to suggest he try wrestling and see if he likes it. You have a way with words and putting a mother who has no wrestling experience right there with you during the match. Thanks!

    • matmom said,

      That’s awesome to hear! One of the things I love most about it (from my perspective as a Mom, anyway), is that you don’t have to be a quarterback, shortstop, or any other kind of sports “rock star” to enjoy and be good at it. In fact, sometimes the non-rock stars are the best at it! Best of luck to you and your sons, keep me posted if he tries it, will you please?

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