So it was his birthday yesterday, my long-gone "baby," and I remember wondering what he would be like when he was this age. But I didn't have enough imagination--I couldn't have dreamed, when he was one, what he would be at 29. For that seemed so, so far away, an infinite time, for I was young and he was little and there were all those years of growing up in between, for him and me.
And I would have laughed, even then, that today he would so closely resemble his baby self--oh, he lost the round face somewhere around 8th grade--but the blond hair, the blue eyes, the tall build--still there.
And would I laugh to recognize myself? Ah, no--those lines around my mouth are no laughing matter, and I would never have imagined myself in those. Nor do I feel like my 23-year-old self anymore: I've learned a lot of patience since then.
So yesterday was his birthday, and it was not a particularly good one. He had a busy day, filled with meetings and phone calls and clients and decisions. His last meeting didn't start until 4:30 and intruded right in to what was supposed to be his birthday dinner. And the deal-making was so stressful and protracted that he was taking text messages right through the birthday cookie and happy-birthday-to-you.
And I could have thought, that poor kid. He's working too hard. Why can't they leave him alone? It's his birthday. Let him enjoy it.
But I'm no helicopter parent. Back then, or now.
It's hard, NOT to be a helicopter parents. Because when your angelic little boy puts on the catcher's equipment for the first time at 9 years old and heads out to catch a game in 90+ degree heat, well, you think he's going to get too hot. And he might get hurt. And, why do people YELL at the catcher when a ball goes past him? Isn't that the pitcher's fault (note to pitcher's moms: sorry, that's a catcher's mom typing).
But you let him. You let him at age nine, and age 13, and age 18, and on up through even college, if he loves baseball enough.
He gets beat up--catchers wear a lot of gear, but sometimes it's no match for a fastball. There's a lot of non-protected area, too. But he learns to shake off the tears and get down in the crouch, one more time.
He learns to take verbal abuse too--from the other teams, from the other fans, sometimes even from his own, during a bad enough game. How to ignore it, how to learn from it.
He learns how to take care of himself, and he learns how to be a good teammate, and he even learns a little about coaching and teaching and cheering and how to have fun and how to show a little class, winning or losing. How to fight back when things look bad. Oh, and how to cuss and spit--as ballplayers do everywhere.
Especially in college, I feared he learned way too much about the fun and the swearing--but even college years fly by.
And soon you've got a job you wear a suit to, and a beautiful wife, and an amazing little girl, and a house and a couple cars and a full, grown-up life.
So yesterday, instead of felling sorry for him him, I was happy, and grateful, for I knew we'd raised one tough kid, with a strong work ethic, somebody who could take the bad days and the good days and know how to handle both of them.
And if his birthday didn't turn out quite as he wanted, he replayed it today: dinner was on time tonight; then he bought that plasma TV he'd been eying and saving for, finally.
He took it home with a big grin, ready to set it up and watch the Cubs.
Like I said, he's pretty tough.