Arriving at the complex just as the first inning starts, I spy my thirteen-year-old out on the pitcher's mound - tall and straight, his face a study in concentration as he takes his sign from the catcher crouched behind the plate. He delivers his pitch. It's a nasty slider, one he's been striving to perfect for months. It works for him today. Strike three.
As I settle into my lawn chair, my attention is drawn to the T-ball field behind me. I watch as a young boy runs the bases. His helmet is two sizes too big for him and his cleat-encased feet are running toward his goal with all the intensity he can muster. The coach, acting as surrogate pitcher, fumbles the ball before making a half-hearted effort to get the runner out at home. The throw doesn’t make it in time and #11 steps across home plate a hero.
I focus once again on my son as he stares down the next batter. I search for any sign of that six-year-old child I used to know. My mind travels back, to first grade and pre-school years, then further still to what I fondly call the “diaper days," that glorious time of gurgles and belly laughs and bare toes wiggling in the grass.
Where did the years go?
The thimble-sized fingers that once splayed across my breast as my son nursed now grip a baseball with quiet intensity, strong and firm...
The childish laughter I used to hear on the playground has been replaced by a distinctly masculine voice now, mistaking him for his father when he answers the phone...
The sweet, pudgy feet that I nibbled on and played “This Little Piggy” with have now evolved into human snowshoes, dangling over the end of his bed while he sleeps, no longer a desired object of my affections. Or particularly sweet-smelling either.
A glimpse inside his bedroom reveals nearly a decade of changes as well. Gone by the wayside are Sesame Street and Dr. Suess. Now it’s video games, ESPN, and Harry Potter.
But not only have my son’s physical attributes and entertainment choices changed. He’s also living in a very different world than the one I grew up in. No longer a carefree existence of hide-and-seek and holding hands during a fire drill, what his generation now faces is an unsure future at best, ripe with the grim realities of drug wars, AIDS, and terrorism on our own shores. The adage of too much too soon comes to mind. I leave the field that day with the burden of those truths weighing heavily on my heart.
Later that evening, with the house to myself, I curl up on the sofa with a thick book and a hot cup of tea. But my mindset is still focused on earlier thoughts, and I can’t concentrate on the printed words before me. Restless, I climb the stairs to my son’s room, fully aware of where I’m going and what I will do once I get there.
Inside his closet, I pull down several boxes and begin sifting through the contents. Homemade Mother’s Day cards, painted handprints on construction paper, pictures and baby clothes.
I flash forward to the not-so-distant future, and my mind is filled with thoughts of our son’s first date, his high school graduation, college, and a family of his own. An odd mixture of anticipation and dread invades my heart, a feeling all mothers experience at one time or another—eager to see our children grow up and find their places in this world, but at the same time, fearing we’re losing forever that child we once knew.
And yet, I know that little boy still lives inside him. I see him in his hugs and in the vocal tone he adopts when addressing his beloved beagle. He’s there in the flash of his smile when he sinks a basket—and also in the sheen of tears when a batter takes his fastball deep to right field to win the championship game.
Still there, just a bit harder to find sometimes.
I find his collection of Beanie Babies, tucked away on a back shelf. I take one out and hold the plush toy in my hand. It’s a Saint Bernard dog named Bernie with hanging jowls and soulful brown eyes. There are many more in the box, still here at my son’s insistence, despite my numerous pleas over the years to either sell them or give them away. “They might be worth a lot of money someday, Mom.”
Now I know better.
Perhaps he too is aware of how quickly his life is changing and how we’re powerless to stop the ever-marching passage of time—that we can never go back. Maybe, like me, he’s trying to hold on to his childhood a little bit longer.
Which, of course, is just fine with me.