He used to be president. Now he’s a giant-headed mascot at Nationals Park. Midway through the 4th inning, he and three other former presidents (Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln) race through D.C. to the home-plate finish line. Teddy always loses, despite having by far the most crowd support among the racers.
He often leads the pack, only to get distracted before the finish line. Like a magpie, it takes nothing more than a shiny bauble, a hot dog, or the Easter Bunny juggling plastic eggs to keep him from being a victor. He has a blog, a facebook page, a twitter feed, and even merchandise devoted to the cause–Let Teddy Win. It hasn’t inspired him to victory. 441 consecutive losses. Being a Teddy fan is almost as trying as being a Red Sox fan.
Since we don’t live in Boston anymore, my son and I have a tradition of rooting for the Sox at other ballparks. When I found out the Sox were playing an exhibition game against the Nationals during Spring Break, I got excited. What a great opportunity for a fun afternoon. But then I thought twice. My son’s attitude has been pretty snarky lately, and I was worried it might not be the bonding experience I was used to.
My son and I were extremely close when he was young. His father traveled a lot, and I was the one who drove him to practice, cheered at his games, and scrubbed the red dirt out of his white baseball pants (only fathers who don’t do laundry insist on white baseball uniforms). I even braved asking for help at Decathalon Sports’ giant wall of jock straps. But in the last two years, I’ve also become the person who nags him to clean his bathroom, drags him out of bed in the morning, and tells him to get off the x-box before his skin starts to glow.
As usual, he pretended we weren’t together on the train, preferring games on his phone to conversation. On the walk to the stadium, he was full of swagger about how he was going to show his Sox pride. He’s full of testosterone lately–or at least his vocal chords are–but he’s limited it to talking about talking. When the time comes, he’s always respectful, but I lectured him anyway about how we’re a guest at the park, people take sports affiliations personally, and we can root for our team without being obnoxious, and so on, which to his ears comes off as blah blah blah, sports, blah blah blah you’re obnoxious.
He pestered me for food the minute we got in the park, and I could feel the knee-jerk “Not Now” response. It’s pretty automatic. Pestering and asking are two very different actions. I wanted him to like me, though, just for today, so I said he could eat anything he wanted for the entirety of the game. “No joke?” he asked.
No joke. I bribed my kid to like me with junk food. It’s hard being a mother to a teenager. We take what we can get.
It was a great game, with ups and downs and home runs. Dustin Pedroia being his bad self, and a bottom-of-the-ninth, throwdown-at-the-plate, final-out win. The kind where one team’s fans jump up feeling the win at hand, only to join the rest of the crowd in silence waiting for the ump’s call, groaning in defeat while the other spectators burst into celebration. The weather was perfect, we had great seats, and we even made friends with the Nationals fans around us, shaking hands over the great play from both teams. We made our way out of the park, happy.
While walking to the train, I thanked him for the great day and said, only half-joking, he did a good job of pretending to like me. He shook off my comment and replied, “No. I only pretend not to like you. You know that, right?”
I said yes, but I was lying. I was losing the race, distracted by the smart-ass comments, the constant refrain of “I know” and all of the tough talk. I forgot where the finish line was, lost in life’s noise. I’m Teddy.
“You’re one awesome, kid, do you know that?” I asked him. I ruffled his hair and put an arm around his shoulder. He instinctively looked around in panic, searching for anyone who might have witnessed the uncontrolled display of affection. I teased him. “Really dude? It’s Nationals Park. It’s not like it’s on the Jumbotron.”
“I know” he snapped. His stock response. Then he stopped, and leaned in like he’s sharing a secret. “It’s sort of instinct. You’re pretty awesome too.” Meet son of Teddy. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I’d like to say we’ve been completely different with each other, moved by mutual affection. We haven’t. But I have the moment to draw on while he’s pretending not to like me, to remember that it’s an act. Rejoice Teddy, your losing streak is over. Red Sox, you’re next. Work on it, okay?
Words by Jeannine Bergers Everett