by Donna DeSoto
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 glove 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 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. 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 quietly, and sometimes they even listen.
When our kids were babies, my husband tried but was never really comfortable. He worried that they would break if he relaxed while he held them. When I needed to 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. I think it’s called “nagging.”). When our daughter was learning to walk—don’t run!— and she kept tripping and tumbling on the sidewalk, 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 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 he only knew the one stanza, so he’d sing that over and over until I started to feel queasy. Moms know not to 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.
There was a time during my learning the ropes of parenthood, which I am not proud of, when I commiserated with other moms, comparing humorous stories about things that went on at our house that you’d never read about in Parents magazine. I’d describe my third child, the coffee drinker who needed to shave every day.
But then something in me began to change. While I was busy with the day-to- day stuff of registering for toddler and mom classes at the library, keeping up with check-ups and tooth brushing and tooth counting, I came to notice that my kids love his singing. Long before Harry Potter became the rage, they delighted in my husband’s imaginative, quirky stories. He did special, magical things with them, like hunting for leprechauns in the woods, and finding cookies they left there. And then I remembered, through the wonder in their eyes, the uniqueness that drew me to him in the first place! Through my children, I fell in love all over again, this time with my husband as a father.
This is the important part. He has never stopped trying. In retrospect, I see that it must have been hard to feel comfortable stepping into the father role for 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 part of what is required; attorneys must also put in many billable hours. Should he decide to take a risk and see his children before their bedtime, he must steal home.
I recognize that it is his very absence at home, and his commitment to doing his best at work, that has given me the opportunity to be ever-present with our children. 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. I know that I have my own idea of what I want him to be as a father, but I try very hard not to make the impossible demand that he father just as I mother.
I guess you could say that I’ve come a long way, too. We have settled into a comfort zone of sorts. This is a partnership, in every sense of the word, and we realize that we each bring different strengths and qualities into our family; that makes us The DeSotos. And that’s our team, the one whose players share huge, giggling group hugs after each game. Go, Shock-waves!!!
This article originally appeared in the June 2001 issue of Welcome Home.
Article Copyright 2001 Donna DeSoto. Reproduction or dissemination of this work -- or any part of it -- is expressly forbidden without the written consent of the author.