Spring Break was quiet this year. The Dude had a lot on his mind, with college decisions looming and even more importantly, the fate of his NCAA bracket. Apparently, he does his best thinking while sleeping.
In prior years, he and I would take at least one academic-enrichment type field trip, usually something required by one of his teachers. To compensate, I’d take him to an exhibition game at Nationals Park. Last year, however, we spent the entire break visiting universities, and with the general chaos of our summer, didn’t get to a single game all season.
Baseball has always been the connection between me and the Dude, although sarcasm runs a close second. With spring in the air, I figured a visit to the ballpark was in order. I went online, bought the tickets, and we were set to go.
The weather couldn’t have been better for a game. The sun was bright, but a slight breeze would keep it cool enough for comfort. The Nats were up against the Mets, not the best team on the planet, but with the Nats bullpen, we were bound to see someone great. Maybe Scherzer, or Strassburg, or even Fister. The Dude and I were amped. We chatted on the Metro in while he texted his friends, while he informed me he was a master manipulator.
“You have the face of a bunny rabbit, Dude. Honestly, you could be a human Peep.”
“That’s what makes me so dangerous,” he said in his best Batman voice. “I live in the shadows.”
“You make me so proud.”
We talked about our favorite baseball moment. Red Sox/Nationals Exhibition game, 2012. Bottom of the 9th, Red Sox were ahead by one. Danny Espinosa crushed one to the outfield. The Nationals fans jumped to their feet as the Red Sox fans slumped in their seats. As Ian Desmond rounded third, Jacoby Ellsbury fired a cannon to home plate. It was like watching in slow motion. The crowd went quiet for a moment, then the ump called him out, reversing the crowd reaction with one simple gesture. Maybe today would be full of memories like that one.
He told me he loved going to games with me, because he could actually pay attention to what was happening on the field without getting distracted by conversation. I took it as a compliment. I’m much the same way. If I wanted to chit chat during a game, I could watch it on my IPhone for much less than the price of a decent ticket.
A young man stood by us in the car, thumbs a blur over his phone, much like my son. He looked familiar.
“Dude, isn’t that…?”
“You could say hello.”
“I have. We’re texting.”
“You’re five feet from each other.”
“He’s with his mother too. It’s better this way.” As his friend left the train (using a different door than his mother did), they gave each other the bro five. “I told him we were going to the game. He never told me where his mother was taking him, which means it’s something lame like a museum.”
We barely noticed how empty the train was until we were the only people exiting at the station. I checked the tickets.
The game was one week later.
I was an idiot. I should have double-checked, read more closely. I was too focused on what I wanted to do that I didn’t focus on what I was actually doing.
I expected the Dude to give me an earful. If the roles had been reversed, I would have. I might have even cried for effect.
He surprised me. He shrugged and gave a bummed but not fatal, “Well that sucks.” He was being very understanding. Still, I hoisted a bag of “I should have knowns” onto my shoulder, and braced for the lecture. The Dude knows how they go–he’s heard his share. Instead, he asked if there was something else I wanted to do instead, “you know, ’cause we’re already in D.C.”
“You’re taking this rather well.” He’s not a toddler, so I didn’t expect a meltdown, but I thought at a minimum he’d be annoyed.
“Everyone makes mistakes.” Like leaving his coat when driving into a snowstorm, forgetting to take out the garbage, or leaving something behind at school for pretty much all of seventh grade. Things we still give him grief about. Things I’ve blogged about.
We decided on the zoo, since the day was so beautiful. It was packed with strollers, tour groups and screaming children. The zoo loses a lot of its charm when one is there with a teenager. Even more so if that teenager is taking Environmental Science.
“Look long and hard at that tiger, Mom. Who knows how long until they’re extinct. Just like the rhino.”
“You’re an upper, Dude.”
“Just tellin’ it like it is, Mom. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
Since we weren’t at the game, he actually talked–mostly about college. He had finally made his choice, but it was a difficult one, and he wasn’t at peace with it yet. He hated the process of declining acceptances, saying it was like letting some potential future go. He was still worried that he’d do something wrong, make a mistake, choose the wrong place, miss out on something great.
So we talked about how decisions become mistakes only with the benefit of time and a lot of assumptions. In reality, we can only judge one outcome. We have no perspective on the alternative. What would our day have been like had I looked more carefully? Would we have done something else, or would he have slept late while I sat at my computer? We wouldn’t have had the time we were sharing right now. Even if it wasn’t what we’d planned for it to be, we took what we had and made the most of it. While I would have loved to go to the game, I treasured the day exactly as it was.
He’ll never know what might have happened if he’d chosen a different college. The best he can do is embrace the choice, explore its possibilities and move forward. Most of all, he needs to be as understanding of his own mistakes as he was of mine. Maybe I could do a little of that myself.
We still get to go to the game too–only this week instead of last week. It all has a way of working out in the end, if you let it.
It’s your game, Dude. Play ball.