“Get away from me!” my son Evan screamed, wildly swinging his baseball bat over his head.
“Buddy, I’m not sure that’s helping,” I said.
“It is! I’m getting a few of them!” he replied, his bat whizzing back-and-forth through the swarming springtime air.
Some would argue that mosquitoes are nature’s most annoying creatures, but at least mosquitos make sense. You have blood. They want it. While you may not appreciate their attempts to sign you up for an impromptu blood donation, you can still understand where they’re coming from.
Gnats, on the other hand, don’t get any benefit out of pestering you, except for whatever joy they may take from interrupting an otherwise lovely father-son baseball practice.
“Hello there! I’m going to bounce off your forehead for a while,” they say.
“Would you just sting me or suck my blood or try to live inside me or something USEFUL already!” you scream back.
“How about I fly into your eye and drown in your tears, while you stagger around trying to get me out?” they ask. Compromise is important.
I waited to see if Evan would use the gnats as an excuse to go back inside. HE’D invited ME to come play baseball in the backyard, an unprecedented event. I’d have understood if the bugs had convinced him to end our session, but a scorpion stampede wouldn’t have caused me to suggest it.
Playing baseball with your kid is the thing you imagine doing when that kid is a baby, screaming in your face at 3am and inventing new ways to make things come UP over the diaper waistband from the inside, something you’d never before considered as being possible.
“Someday, this screaming life-usurper will play catch with me,” you tell yourself as you curl up next to the crib and fall asleep on the floor.
With Evan, that promise has been realized. After all the millions of decibels that his little lungs have projected into our house over the past seven-going-on-eight years, perhaps the sweetest have been the ones that carried these words: “Want to practice baseball with me?”
Evan has some new motivation for practicing. Last year, his first year in little league, they took it easy on the kids: infinite strikes, you can keep running the bases even if you get out, everyone gets a trophy, the works.
The motto for the second year of little league: Welcome to the cruel world, kids.
Three strikes and you’re out. When you’re out, you’re really out. And instead of a friendly adult human throwing the ball, it’s a pitching machine, a trebuchet-like device that flings the balls across home plate at about three times the velocity that the kids are used to.
Last year, when the coaches were lobbing balls across home plate from their knees, they would slow it down when the kids were having trouble, or offer some words of encouragement. The pitching machine is more like the Terminator. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you strike out. Or hit the ball, which is unlikely.
That evening with the gnats, Evan stopped swinging his bat at the bugs, and got back into a batter’s stance.
“Ready,” he said.
“Elbow up, buddy,” I said. I don’t really know how to help him too much, but I do know that you’re supposed to say “elbow up” for some reason.
Watching him standing there, waiting for the pitch, I thought that nothing, not even swarms of pests, could make this moment less than perfect. Someday, he might tire of practicing with his old man. But for now, every pitch is a ball.
You can’t bargain or reason with Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.