Field of Dreams

by Abby on July 21, 2014

The hubs and I had dinner with some old friends of his recently. The guy is retired from the military and involved in all sorts of exciting pursuits, from going back to school to taking cooking classes, which he enthusiastically told us all about. His wife seemed so supportive and thrilled for him. I don’t think I’m that kind of wife. I’m more the “what do you MEAN you’re doing something during my yoga class, the one day of the week I actually have time to myself?!” kind of wife. Not so much beaming as glowering. I’m working on it.

It’s just that TIME is in such short supply once you have kids. No parent intends to abandon their dreams, I don’t think. It happens gradually, in an I-don’t-have-time-for-hobbies-anymore sort of way. Oil painting, running marathons, making elaborate craft projects – no way. Sleep takes precedence over following your passions, or at least it did in my case. And then when the kids get older, it’s all about THEIR interests, THEIR activities. How else do you explain grown people clapping and singing along to nursery rhymes in their socks in a toddler gym class?!

So it was an unusual feeling when my sons and I found ourselves on the sidelines of my husband’s baseball game one Sunday morning. I was used to seeing him in his role as Little League coach, soothing kids after strike-outs and yelling at them to stand up in the outfield. (That’s our boy, picking daisies and his nose in right field!) As the dad who said, every time we visited his hometown, “Look, guys, that’s the field where I played baseball when I was a kid.” But then, 20 years later, he’d gotten called up to the majors. And by majors, I mean the adult recreational league in our town.

looking out over a baseball field

He was in heaven. In the days before the game, he took the boys to the sporting goods store and the batting cages. He broke out his glove and broke in his cleats. He was ready. As the boys and I sat in the shade on the sidelines, I could see it in his stance. He was in his element. I was impressed. Proud. And his butt did look pretty cute in those baseball pants, I have to say.

“That’s my dad,” said my son in an 8yo’s braggy tone to another boy watching the game. “His is the best team in the league.”

“Daddy! Daddy! Are you next?” yelled my 5yo every 2 minutes as we waited for my husband to bat. “Do they have snacks, Mom?” No, buddy, no juice boxes and granola bars here. These guys play simply for the love of the game. Remember what that’s like? Me either.

Watching my husband out there, I felt happy. For him, getting to play a game he loved. For our boys, getting to see their dad doing something just for him. And for me, getting to see him in the unfamiliar role of a regular person again, not just a dad and husband. Remember what that’s like? I actually kind of do. (I got a taste of it recently, following one of MY dreams.)

Because this is our life and not a Kevin Costner movie, the pleasant morning was shattered by an ear-splitting shriek when my 5yo got stung by a wasp. (Yes, THAT son. The one who got bitten by a dog and stung by a jellyfish already this summer.) Luckily, there were a couple of doctors on the team who got him fixed up with some ice and a Band-Aid.

Following your dreams is a little trickier when you’re a parent. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

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I will never forget the night my older son, who was maybe 5 or 6 at the time, appeared in the living room doorway long after we thought he was asleep, sobbing. His narrow shoulders were shaking and his hand was pressed to his lips. “What’s wrong, sweetie?” we asked him, bewildered.

“D-d-does extinct mean the dinosaurs are never, ever coming back?” he wailed. The downside of nonfiction bedtime stories.

Nothing prepares you for these moments when you’re a parent. Sometimes, you get to decide when and how to impart information to your children; other times, you’re simply thrust into a situation and have to think on your feet. In my experience, that’s more the norm.

For a long time, we didn’t talk to our kids about death. We didn’t have to. In our family, I’m lucky enough to have a 101-year-old grandfather and a death-defying father-in-law who’s fought off aggressive cancer not once, but twice. It’s not that we were trying to shield our children from death, it’s that I know my kids and how much information they want and can handle. (Except, clearly, in the case of dinosaurs.)

When Sandy Hook happened, we chose not to tell our kids about it. When the Boston Marathon bombings happened, we shared selective details and focused on the survivors and the helpers. But when a close friend died recently, the mom of kids their age, we did not have a choice. We had to have a conversation about death.

I needed help navigating these uncharted waters, so I sought grief counseling at my church, where I’m not exactly a regular these days. Going into it, I was skeptical. Would the reverend spout scripture at me, or give me practical guidance on handling this devastating loss?

Here’s the part where I warn you I’m about to talk about religion. I know this is a touchy subject, but this is my blog, not Thanksgiving dinner. Please understand I am not looking to incite a debate here. I’m simply sharing my own experience having to do with my own beliefs. If you would like to respectfully share your related experiences or beliefs on this topic, please do so in the comments. Good? Good.

I walked out of there elated that I chosen to seek help. The priest’s words were exactly what I needed to hear. Without going into a big, long exploration of my faith or lack thereof, let’s just say I did not arrive at her office in a state of peaceful acceptance. I was heartbroken. And I was pissed off. I wanted to punch anyone who said my friend was in a better place. Better than being alive with her babies? Really??

So I was immensely cheered when the priest said, “Sometimes you just want to say to God, what the f*ck?!” I DID want to say “What the f*ck” to God! And who knew priests could say “f*ck”?! I adored this woman.

When we came to the part about talking to kids about death, she said it’s a matter of finding a metaphor that makes sense to your child. For example, lots of kids are into nature and can understand that things change form – for instance, snow melts into water and caterpillars turn into butterflies. So kids can understand that a person who has died has not disappeared from our lives forever, they’ve simply changed form. And they can still be with us – both metaphorically in our hearts, but also quite literally in the case of mother and child. My friend will live on in her children. She will always be a part of them.

Boy looking at a Horseshoe CrabHere’s where I bring it back to the dinosaurs. While we were on vacation – in what happens to be the horseshoe crab capital of the world – we learned some things. Like that horseshoe crabs have been around for over 300 million years, since before the dinosaurs even!! And we also learned that many scientists believe dinosaurs evolved into the birds we see today, like the seagulls stalking up and down the sand among the prehistoric crabs. So standing there on a beach in 2014, we were looking at creatures that have existed in one form or another for millions of years. My mind was blown.

The other thing the priest said that I liked is maybe don’t talk about heaven as being “up there” and the rest of us as being “down here.” When we got to the root of my son’s fears about death, it was really about being separated from his loved ones.

On that beautiful beach that day with my kids, it was easy even for a skeptic like me to feel, if only for a moment, like heaven and earth, the living and dead, and the past and present were not so far apart after all.

PICS O’ THE DAY: Feathered dinosaur known as archaeopteryx:
Archaeopteryx

Modern-day Great blue heron:
Great Blue Heron

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