In the picture, he’s squatting, his ball glove on the wrong hand. He was just about 2 1/2 years old then and baseball was something his Dad coached so he wanted to be part of it too.
His Dad bought him a little fielder’s glove with a Velcro strip inside the pocket and a cloth ball so they could play catch in the yard. The dog stole the ball most of the time. Looking earnestly and seeking to deflect any anguish over his inability to capture the ball, he would say, “When I’m 16, I can catch it, Dad.” His Dad would laugh. 16. Lifetimes away.
In another picture his hat is on backwards and he’s looking out through the space between the hat and the adjustable band, his nose up over the snaps and his blue eyes peeking out from the shadows. It took the longest time to figure out why he wore it that way, until one day it became clear … that was his catcher’s mask like the big kids wore on the team his Dad coached.
He spent a lot of his third summer at the ballpark, running to and fro and playing catch while the high school-aged players acted out the high drama on the warm summer’s nights. The big kids used to tease him and he liked that. When it was time to leave he’d say “we’re waper,” a mangled form of the “we’re vapor” he overheard his teen-aged heroes say.
Sometimes the games lasted long into the evening, past the toddler’s bedtime and his Mom would take him home despite screams and tears of protest. His Dad would tell him that when he was 16, he could stay longer. They went one day to a children’s fair at Elgin Community College where ordinary people came alive as friendly bears and happy dogs in the stuffed costumes they wore.
One was an animated garbage can, a friendly reminder that littering is not a nice thing for a little person to do. But this costume frightened him and made him cry and his Dad and he had to leave. He was mortally terrified of the man in the garbage can costume. Wiping his tears he choked out, “When I’m 16, I can go back.”
Sixteen. Just a cloud on the distant horizon, an eternity of bumps and scrapes and construction paper smeared with glue and shiny objects and haircuts and bee stings and lost mittens and new shoes; a lifetime putting on snowsuits and sledding and Little League and nightmares and reading aloud the same book over and over and eating the same waffles every morning and unhibited joy and shameless despair and quiet, peaceful soundless sleep that only a child can enjoy. Sixteen.
How many years was that until he was 16? How many band concerts, tossed footballs, chaotic birthday parties or school projects? How many fevers, cuts, bumps, bruises or hurt feelings? How many Christmas mornings and Easter egg hunts and solemn Thanksgivings distant was 16? Too many to worry about, too many to count.
But time and motion are relative … your life moves on though it seems to stand still as your child grows. The days are long but in the end, life is short. And soon the little boy you could carry over your shoulder to bed is now taller than you. The little guy with the crooked hat turned 16 this past week. He wanted to get his driver’s license and see his girlfriend and then get up to the batting cages to prepare for the high school season.
In my memory he still runs on shaky legs after butterflies in the yard. He did not mention going back to see the garbage can man. (P.S. He turns 25 this week. Still doesn’t want to see the garbage can man. MJB).