Sunday, January 06, 2008

Stealing Home

In the beginning, he was nervous and unsure—afraid of making a mistake. The brand new gym shorts and t-shirt bore no telltale signs of an athlete. No Gatorade stains, no frayed seams, no unmistakable “I’ve done my workout” aroma. To be honest, he just didn’t look like he belonged in the middle of a ball field, baseball mitt stiff on his unpracticed hand. Even the bright red baseball hat on his head seemed awkward and out of place. It looked like the band was fastened two or three notches too tight, causing his eyebrows to bulge a little. His movements when throwing or running for a ball were short and choppy; similar to advancing a videotape frame by frame with the deliberate clicks of a remote control.

This is now his third season of T-Ball, though, and everything is finally falling into place. He is getting a better grasp of the big picture, both on and off the field. Approaching the outfield, he slips the well-worn faded cap low on his sweaty forehead and hollers, “Let’s play some ball!” He kicks the dirt appropriately, runs the bases with ease, and scoops up those clunking grounders nearly effortlessly, with his beloved glove that feels soft and comfortable. He has learned when to say “Good job,” “Nice swing,” and “Heads up!” And he never stops smiling while on that field, for he is truly in love with this game.

My son enjoys baseball, too, but it is my husband who is in love. My place is on the sidelines. I am the pitcher’s mom, the batgirl’s mom, and the coach’s wife.

He has come a long way and I am so proud. He no longer wears black socks with white shorts to practice. Through a lot of dedication and hard work, he has developed his own philosophy that T-Ball is all about having fun. He carries each rookie five-year-old from home to first, second and third base the very first time, because that is how they come to understand. He loudly cheers for his team and for the opposing team, but quietly whispers the score to his eight-year-old players, because they are the ones who care about who is winning and who is losing. And at night he calls busy, unfamiliar parents to gently explain how much it means to the kids to have their parents stay for an hour or two to watch the practices or games. Come and see how your child is doing, he says.

About a hundred years ago, before I was responsible for little else than getting myself to work at an office every day, I often daydreamed about being a mom. I couldn’t wait to have kids and to be with them every inch of their growing up. Some moms may see themselves as the center of the energy in their family. But being a mother has taught me that my role as vigilant protector and enthusiastic cheerleader is best-suited on the sidelines. I provide emotional support, and dispense cold drinks, snacks, first aid and shuttle service on an as-needed basis. A mother who has many more questions than answers, I am in constant awe of this motherhood hold on me. As-needed is most of my time.

My husband tried, but was never really comfortable with babies. He worried that they would break if he relaxed while he held them. When I needed go on a quick errand by myself on the weekend, he’d ask if I needed him to babysit!

The babies grew into toddlers, but still fatherhood didn’t come easy, probably compounded by the fact that my husband’s wife was too helpful dispensing advice, details and directions. When my daughter kept tripping and tumbling on the sidewalk when she was learning how to walk—don’t run!—he ran to her and made such a fuss about her “big bleeding boo-boo” that she screamed louder. He had no idea that a three-year-old might have trouble eating a one-inch thick “Super Peanut Butter Sandwich” without a glass of milk in sight. He could only think of one song to sing to them: “When I was a little bitty baby,” but those were all the words he knew to the song, so he’d sing that phrase over and over until I started to feel queasy. Moms know to not make a big fuss when kids fall down. We know the regulations on thickness for a peanut butter sandwich. And we know more songs than we’ll ever need.

But then something in me changed. I noticed that my kids loved his singing.

This is the important part. He never stopped trying. In retrospect, it must have been hard to feel comfortable stepping into the hands-on part of the father role for just an hour or less at the end of a stressful day at work, and only on occasional weekends. In his career, working hard is only half of what is required; attorneys must also put in many billable hours. Should he decide to take a risk and see his children much before their bedtime, he must steal home. This creates other worries for him, so before he leaves the office, he makes it a point to keep his light and computer on, and a half of a cup of coffee on his desk.

I recognize that it is his very absence at home, and his commitment to doing a great job at work, that has given me the opportunity to be ever-present with our children. But between you and me, I still go back and forth between feeling grateful for being home, and sad, lonely and resentful that it’s just me raising these kids most of the time. It wasn’t just the kids who missed out during those first years. And now he tries to make up for that lost time by being their friend. This frustrates me, because I don’t always want to be the bad guy when it comes to enforcing everyday rules and precedents.

I know that I have my own idea of what I want him to be as a father, so I remind myself to relinquish the impossible demands I make that he father just as I mother.

After years of awkward stumbling in his role as a father, my husband has discovered a niche, even a comfort zone. That is why I watch this season, happy and relieved in knowing that this job we share, the job of parenting our children, will work out just fine as long as we’re doing it together. Go, Shockwaves!!! That’s our team, the one whose players share huge, giggling group hugs after each game.

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