A Reluctant Blessing
“We hit, we pitch, we catch, all three of us, in these moments, unencumbered, fraughtless, and free.”
By Jason Dubow
S choolLess did not fly to Israel yesterday, though his former classmates at Hannah Senesh did. The trip is much anticipated, a culmination of sorts, but SchoolLess has no regrets about being in Brooklyn. He would have felt guilty about the expense, vaguely disappointed in the itinerary, jealous and judgmental of his peers’ appropriately immature behavior, critical of the tours political agenda. I say again what I stated publicly at his bar mitzvah: for mostly better but occasionally for worse, SchoolLess is a complicated guy.
I wish, at least at times, that he could be the type of kid who didn’t consider things quite so much, someone who could more easily keep life’s small daily annoyances—printer problems, careless walkers, spilt milk—from becoming inflamed within. Too easily the small picture incongruously overwhelms the big. And, of course, I understand—he is his father’s son and, double whammy, also his mother’s. A nice home school morning today, Tax Day Tuesday, less scheduled and more relaxed than usual. SchoolLess and I sit side by side in my home office writing our respective blog posts and listening to jazz on WBGO.
An e-mail arrives from the violin teacher cancelling the afternoon’s lesson and I suggest that we take advantage of found time and hit the park, so to speak, for some batting practice. SchoolLess thinks that we shouldn’t go without “Bro.” He seems these days demonstrably fonder of SmallerMan. He more often, though certainly not always, enjoys and values his brother’s company and their growing alliance, a pleasing development and one of the goals—Can we all get along?—of the LearnMeProject. I suggest that we pull SmallerMan out of school early so he can join us.
It’s a beautiful spring day, warm but not hot, sunny with the sweet taste of pollen in the breeze (and, alas, the nose). WWJD? I’m pretty sure I know.But SchoolLess thinks this is a bad idea. He is, if not in thought then in action, a by the book kind of guy. He’s worried that Skeptic will be upset and he may be right. I’ve known her for almost nineteen years and still can’t quite figure her out: a riddle wrapped in an enigma if I ever saw one.
I text Skeptic, for SchoolLess’s sake mostly, as I have in mind the old adage that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
Here is the transcript of our “conversation”:
Me: Would you be “really angry” if I pulled SmallerMan out of school at 2 PM to play baseball in the park? SchoolLess says yes; I say maybe.
Skeptic: I think it’s a bad idea.
Me: Okay then.
Skeptic: [Colleague #1] thinks it’s cute [Colleague #2] says you’re a bad influence.
Me: I’m not suggesting habitual. Kid hasn’t missed a day of school all year, has he? Was hoping for reluctant blessing or no news is good news.
Skeptic: Then why ask?
Me: To get reluctant blessing? Also ask because as fun as would be not worth blowback. And for SchoolLess’s sake; he’s afraid, very afraid.
Skeptic: R u kidding about the fear?
Skeptic: Go for it and I’ll be happy.
And, reluctantly blessed, we do, though SchoolLess is himself a bit reluctant.
He’s lamenting work undone, feeling unworthy of this modest reward, and so for his own good I insist. There’s fun to be had but I have a larger intention. I want SchoolLess to loosen up, to be more forgiving of himself.
SmallerMan, so different from his brother, appears uncomplicatedly thrilled to be pulled out of school for an unexpected “dentist appointment.”
SchoolLess, despite our hedonistic foray, will have a totally productive day: various writing projects, a “class” with Scitcha on DNA, an extended band rehearsal, some pages of Gatsby. In fact, midnight approaching, as I’m off to bed, he’s still at it, keyboard clicking and clacking.
Out front, as we prepare to leave, our crabby neighbor is frantically sweeping up crabapple flowers that have floated into her yard from our tree. She is dumping them back on our side of the fence almost as fast as they flutter back her way. Her Sisyphean efforts are punctured by emphatic assertions to an unseen companion: “I’m pissed, can you see that I’m pissed?” SchoolLess and I enjoy the show.
I pick up SmallerMan and have SchoolLess meet us by the subway entrance with the equipment. Forty-four years old and not wanting to get caught condoning hooky. To transgress without consequence or victim is a beautiful thing.
We buy pretzels and sodas but SchoolLess is still grouching, “This is supposed to be fun,” I say. He promises that he is planning on having fun. Appearances to the contrary, I think, and wonder aloud, in somewhat rougher language, whether by the time he gets himself in the right state of mind it will be too late, our endeavor will be diminished, if not in his eyes, then in mine.
Happily this turns out not to be the case. For a stretch, an hour or so, Prospect Park, , Olmstead’s gem, is our promised land. We hit, we pitch, we catch, all three of us, in these moments, unencumbered, fraughtless, and free. The crack of the bat—yes, it’s wood!—the smell of fresh cut grass, the taste of dirt and sweat, it’s all perfectly clichéd.
Bend your knees, SmallerMan, get your ass into it. Back shoulder up, SchoolLess, watch that hitch. Both of you (all of us, everybody!): keep your eye on the damn ball.
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