Halen wet his bed this morning at 1:30. I have learned to change his pajamas and sheets without fully waking up, moving by instinct, the way you feel your way through a dark, familiar room. I peeled the Thomas the Tank Engine sheet away from the mattress, and Halen sat in his fresh nightclothes, his back against the wall, knees hugged. He said blearily to the nightlight, “I have baseball practice today.” The nightlight just palpitated. “Yep,” he assured himself. “I have baseball practice today.” The truth is, anticipation doesn’t sleep. And Halen was really anticipating his first big-kid baseball practice.
|Many, many more feats than flops.|
He’s wearing his stiff new Wal-Mart mitt proudly in the late-afternoon sun. We’re in pairs spread across the infield, tossing real baseballs back and forth. Nobody is catching anything, the boys because they can’t catch, the parents because the boys can’t throw either. Halen steps with the wrong foot—his back foot—when he throws. You can imagine how it looks. It’s a weird, grotesque pirouette with a baseball popping out of the top. I laugh, but I’m secretly a bit shamed. I glance furtively around through my sunglasses to see if the other parents noticed that I haven’t taught my son to throw a baseball.
Coach Chris tells Halen to play second base. Halen asks enthusiastically where second base is. The other parents in the bleachers laugh, but I know what they’re thinking: “There is no excuse for a first-grader not knowing where second base is.” Really, they’re thinking, “Cookie dough ice cream cookie dough ice cream cookie dough ice cream cookie dough ice cream,” but the truth is you irrationally feel like you failed somebody somewhere when you hear your boy tell the whole baseball diamond he’s never heard of second base.
Halen redeems himself seven minutes later when he crushes a dribbling ground ball toward first base that not a soul on the team can handle, so he ends up with an inside-the-infield home run, even though he went from first base to third via the pitcher’s mound. As he crosses home plate and I holler, “Good job, buddy!” I irrationally feel proud of myself. I can’t identify precisely why. My son just hit the world’s lamest home run. I didn’t do anything, and even I had, Halen’s baseball practice isn’t about me, right? A doting mother beside me nervously nibbles her colorful Latin fingernails and cringes every time the baseball enters a five-foot radius around her son. Out on the diamond, her boy timidly shrinks from the ball as well, and it occurs to me that our kids are just echoes of us.
This is an obvious exercise in chromosomal mathematics. But maybe moms and dads sometimes believe that their little boy’s feats and his flops reflect on their aptitude as parents. And, though I lack the disposition and the inclination to berate my kids’ miscues from the bleachers, in a flash of understanding, I think get why some parents do. I obviously can’t condone it—it’s ghastly behavior. But I think I at least understand, as I unconsciously, instinctively define the clumsiness or the competence of my fathering by Halen’s baseball cluelessness or his power hitting aptitude.
I look up. Halen has left his post at second base to head off the base-runner chugging toward first. The ball is somewhere in right field, so Halen just tackles the boy before he reaches the bag. Coach Chris laughs. The base-runner picks himself up and sprints toward second. “No fair!” Halen calls. He doesn’t know very much about baseball, but it’s okay because baseball is complicated. Besides, it’s turning out I don’t know very much about life, but it’s okay because life is complicated.