I introduced Bud to tennis today. I thought I would start him slow. With a manageable activity. Hitting a ball against a twenty foot high wall. I wasn’t going to take him to a court. Too much pressure for both of us. I haven’t played in… well 18 years.
I love the game. Just haven’t played. Finding someone to play with wasn’t something I needed, wanted or thought to cultivate. During the period when I did play regularly I didn’t have to look. It seemed we all played tennis. That was thirty years ago.
This afternoon Sweets had a play date. Bud and I had time alone. It was a beautiful day. I thought of heading to a batting cage. That would be a new experience for both of us! I just love baseball and have been yearning to hit some balls. Bud hasn’t caught on to the sport. I thought the activity might help.
Outside of karate, he doesn’t have much experience with sports. During my two years in California, the local Little League wasn’t an option. That’s for a number of reasons. The ones he grabs at are being hit by balls. When he was seven a missed toss of mine hit him in the face. When he turned nine I signed him up for Little League and he was hit in the side by pitchers several times. In all instances there was no damage done. Just a wounding of pride and the betrayal of trust between he and I. That latter mark is longer lasting.
Every once in a while I can get him to play catch. But it’s tough. Sweets is five years younger and sees any time not spent with her as time that should be spent with her. What I need to do is buy her a glove and begin to teach her. I’m surprised I haven’t done that. Has my Bud’s wound caught me also? No. I think I let managing the two of them get in the way of the activities we do. Some times I choose the easy way. And the path from skipping an activity to never doing it because it’s replaced by another they can both easily engage in, is maddeningly short.
I floated the batting cage idea. He rejected it immediately. I continued to pursue for a bit, then let it go. He can be as stubborn as his parents. The idea was lost. I moved on.
I wondered. What’s close, doesn’t cost money, except for supplies? Mini-golf? I thought about it for a moment. It’s fun, yes. But just that. There’s not enough to it for he and I. It’s also an activity both kids would have fun doing together. Yes. OK. Seed planted. What else then?
“Do you want to play tennis?” The words tumbled from my mouth. Where was my racket? I wondered. I began looking even before I heard his answer. I remembered where it was in my apartment in Oceanside. There wasn’t much room there. Every time I used the broom and mop I had to move it aside. But where was it now? There was only one answer. My big-ass closet. I have a Texas-sized closet in Pittsburgh. I had Pittsburgh-sized closets in California. The world gets stranger every day.
I soon found two rackets. Why do I have two? It’s not like being a musician and having multiple guitars. Not for me anyway. My Mom, remembering how much I loved the game gave me two rackets as presents for Christmas. One for me, the other for Bud (This is before Sweets was a toddler). Two rackets meant I could begin to teach him how to play right there. In my bedroom. So yes, I did. I showed him how to hold a racket. What a forehand shot looked like. Backhand too. The importance of bending your knees, turning your body and not bending your wrist. He was intrigued. It was his first time holding a racket.
We needed balls. We got in the car and I headed for the closest sporting goods store. As we made our way, I talked about the sound a can of balls made when opened. The wonderfully medicinal smell the balls have when they come out of the can. How lively the balls are, etc. He didn’t understand the lively part. I started explaining and used the phrase, “squeezing the balls.” Except I said, “your” instead of “the.” I heard my mistake and laughed at it. He didn’t. There was a pause. Was he embarrassed? Did he not know what to say? Had I inadvertently gone too blue? He said, “that’s just wrong” and smiled. In the next few minutes the car quickly filled with “ball” and “cojones” jokes and puns.
We bought the balls.
He loved cracking the can open.
He did not like the smell.
We arrived at the practice wall. I reviewed the strokes. We played air tennis. I tried to give him a sense of the feel of the ball against the racket by bouncing balls downward towards the ground. We bounced them up in the air off the racket too. Then I told him what the activity looked like and how to do it. I modeled hitting the ball off the wall. As you might imagine my game is pretty rusty. Finally, it was his turn.
I asked him to tell me what he was going to do. “Hit the middle of the wall with the ball, like you said.” He bounced the ball and took aim. He swung. The ball went over the wall and into the next court. He laughed. I laughed.
It was the best outcome for both of us. There wasn’t going to be any pressure to perform to expectations. Not from himself, not from me or anyone. This activity was going to be pure fun. It was.
After, we munched on popsicles. He smiled and said, “That was fun.” He held his smile the way he does when he’s content.