Yesterday, I was at a playground with my four-year-old son when he decided he wanted to roll down a hill that overlooked a little league baseball field where a father was instructing his two sons. While B–and two other little friends he’d just made–frolicked in the thick grass, I stood and watched the man as he hit grounders to his two boys, one who seemed about 8 or 9, the other 5 or 6. Each time one of them made a mistake he would correct them, showing them how to place themselves in front of the ball or why their throw to first had gone errant. The youngest one in particular seemed aloof and once when my son made a gleeful noise he turned and watched, his gaze lingering. I’m sure he would’ve rather leaped over the outfield fence and joined in the afternoon fun, instead of being barked at by his gruff dad. “What a dickhead,” I thought at one point as the father chastised his older kid for making a “bad throw.”
Perhaps I was superimposing my own feelings on the situation down on the field. As a youngster, I spent day after day fielding grounders from my father and swinging the bat at balls he whizzed my way. Was it fun? I don’t know. As a result, I became very proficient at Little League baseball but it also brought with a certain amount of stress, in some ways taking the whole fun out of recreational sport. By the time, I was 13 or so I was burnt out.
I think about this with my own son. Do I want him to be good at sports, yes, but I also want him to come to it on his own. If he does, then maybe I can step in and give him some pointers. But watching that dad drill his kids in the finer points of baseball also gave me a little itch. I already was picturing getting B a glove next summer and getting him out on this very same field, teaching him to keep his head and glove down on ground balls streaming his way. The problem is my son is not intimidated by me at all–as I was with my father–and may simply refuse to listen to my instructions, instead strolling out to the outfield, finding a dandelion and sitting there in the grass smelling it like Ferdinand the bull. If so, I won’t hold it against him. It’s just baseball.
On Wednesday, I took my son to a little league baseball field where we’ve gone to play recently. We take a big bag of Hot Wheels and often he will sit in the dugout and line them up and race them, or take them on the infield and make little dirt roads. Usually, he wants me to play with him, but there is still plenty of opportunity for me to sit on the dugout bench and read on my phone. As a result, I thought I’d be able to get away with making a call to the local paper’s editor to talk about an article I’m working on right now.
I told B to play while I talked on the phone but a few minutes into the conversation I felt something hit me in the butt, then again, and looked to see B throwing his metal airplane at me and giggling. It wasn’t too intrusive so other than shoot him a dirty look I kept talking while he bounced the airplane off my midsection.
Then I was suddenly pelted by infield dirt. On my head. Down my shirt. I was incredulous as he thew handfuls of dirt at me over and over again. I tried to dodge them as he laughed, he was really having a lot of fun. I scowled at him as I conversed and made motions for him to stop but he was adamant. I started to run at one point, not wanting to interrupt my editor, but finally I had to, grabbing B by the scruff of his neck and ordering him to stop while I shook the dirt off my body and fluffed it out of my hair. I could literally feel the rise in my blood pressure.
The phone conversation over, we played for a few minutes and then it was time to go home and meet Mama. I started cleaning up all of B’s toys as he grabbed a ball off the ground and we went over to the car where I told him to wait while I unlocked the doors. When I came back around he was smiling. He had thrown the ball back over the fence.
As I put him in his car seat I asked him, “Why’d you do that? I asked you to just stand here.” He barely paused. “I didn’t did it because it would make you happy.” Nevermind the flubbed verb tense, I got his meaning. As I walked back over to grab the ball–my chest feeling tight–I thought to myself, “He’s trying to kill me.”