At home it’s still the story we know – twelve-year-old Thing1 and six-year-old Thing2 play together a lot because we live in the country and my work-at-home job precludes a most of non-school related chauffeuring. Thing1 has spent hours coaching Thing2 on the finer points of throwing and catching – hollering at him (with love of course) when he sees his younger brother’s elbow in the wrong position and cheering when Thing2 makes a hit off of one of his pitches. He fields with comic incompetence, always letting his younger brother get around the makeshift bases to win the run and the game.
Last year, Thing1’s enthusiasm bubbled over at the ballpark, and he even spontaneously volunteered to help the coaches at most of Thing2’s T-ball practices. He caught fly balls at first, helped the five and six year olds remember where second was, and played catcher for the more ambitious players. When the new season started, I waited for Thing1 to jump into action. And then I waited some more.
“Don’t you want to go help them?” The Big Guy and I asked at different times and then together at the ballpark.
“I just don’t see the point,” Thing1 responded in a voice that has taken on a deeper timbre. Each query was met with one of his. “Why does it matter? Why are we here? Why can’t I just go home? What’s the meaning of everything?” No amount of cajoling or browbeating was going to get him on that sunny field, but Saturday mornings are family time for us, and Thing2 has spent years watching his big brother’s games, and we decided Thing1 should return the favor. “I’ll stay,” he replied when we informed him of the judges’ decision, “but I won’t enjoy it, and I’m just going to watch.”
We chalked his attitude up to hormones and decided to enjoy watching Thing2. We’re both willing to tolerate the moodiness – we even sympathize with it – but we were pretty sure that only time would be able to handle it. Even without his cape, however, Thing2’s has superpowers that we are still discovering.
Our six-year-old was oblivious to the drama on the sidelines as he walloped a ball off the T and skipped happily around the bases. Then it was time for the tiny teams to switch from practice game to plain old practice, and he skipped to the outfield. Jumping and dancing and tossing his glove in the air, he chattered with his new teammates, occasionally pausing to listen to the coach’s directions.
The teams formed parallel lines to practice throwing and catching. Somehow having generated more energy from having run across the field, Thing2 spun and leapt to his assigned spot. His assigned partner had the ball, and as the three of us migrated around the perimeter to get a better look, we saw him field a grounder with ease.
“Huh,” mumbled Thing1. “He remembered what I showed him last week.” It was Thing2’s turn to toss now, and he jumped and then lobbed the ball across the row to his partner. The other kid missed, and Thing1 called out to his brother, “Keep your elbow in!”
Thing2 heard his brother and smiled and waved just in time to ignore the ball that was coming back to him. He ran and chased and then ran and threw. The ball barely made it to the other kid, and Thing1 gave a loud sigh. “This is just painful,” he mumbled, “he’s forgetting everything I showed him.”
“They’re having fun,” I said. “What’s he doing wrong?”
Thing1 started to explain throwing theory to me just as Thing2 had another throwing turn. Then he saw his little brother pull back his arm for another toss. “Wait,” he said, “I’ve got to go help him. This is just too painful to watch.” Swinging himself over the fence and stuffing his hand into his glove, he marched over to the group of kids.
From the fence on the sideline, I heard him correct Thing2’s. There was no yelling now. He was still serious, however, as he began showing some of the other five- and six-year-olds on Thing1’s row how to catch and throw. The coach waved a welcome at the self-conscious newcomer and turned his focus to another part of the practice line.
Thing2 caught the ball again, earning a pat on the back from his older brother. He looked up, and we both saw the beginning of a smile on Thing1’s face. Then he turned to face his practice partner. Mindful of his elbow, Thing2 pulled his arm back and threw. And the smile turned into a cheer.
Thing2 chattered and danced as we headed back to the car and to breakfast at Bob’s Diner. Thing1 was quieter but no longer sullen. We didn’t try (at least not much) to coax any admission that the game had been fun, and in the end we didn’t need to.
Every Saturday since, he’s surreptitiously and spontaneously found his way onto the field, shedding his somberness for an hour and a half. Thing2 still watches his elbow, but his inner superhero seems to understand that while he’s chasing balls and bases, he’s doing another even more important job.