Monday, February 28, 2011

The Frozen Heart of False Spring

On a Sunday afternoon, I'm upstairs in my music room. The sun has that look it usually only gets in spring -- on Sundays in springtime, for some reason. It's got that trumpet-brightness, as if it's marching ahead of a parade of flowers that isn't so very far away, blaring the message that life is ready to start crawling out from under the frost. It throws a corny, poetic, clarion light that warms my hands on the piano keys even though people pass on the sidewalk in coats.

My sons are downstairs and I can hear them laughing and pleasantly chatting over a game of Mario Brothers. My wife clicks away at the downstairs computer. The house has that after-church peacefulness it tends to get.

Soon, through the window, I see two boys -- friends of my older son -- rolling down the street on their skateboards.

The dog goes crazy, like she always does, doing her best Hound of the Baskervilles, even though everyone, including the mailman, knows she's sweet as a doe.

I hear my wife tell my older son (he's  nine): "Your friends are coming."

He thumps off excitedly to find his shoes and jacket.

Looking out the window, I see one of the boys, at the apron of our driveway, reach down and say something to the other boy. He picks up my son's baseball. He shoves it in his jacket pocket and they laugh.

Where am I then? I'm left in the suddenly chilly sunshine, watching my boy greet them on the front lawn. He's smiling and laughing, excited to have someone to play with. But I know he's been robbed. I know they think it is funny, these playmates he is so happy to have been found by on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. I know they carry a secret he has yet to learn -- more than the secret of a stolen baseball. It's a truth of human nature that he can only learn through heartbreak and confusion.

Maybe they will just play. Maybe he won't find out today. Maybe for one more day, he'll trust the world. Just one more day, for the price of a baseball, seems fair.

This is the sort of heart's ache that the world's most precious joy brings along with it.

I think for a second, watching them walk away. No, I decide. I run downstairs, throw open the front door.  "Hey, L--," I yell toward the end of my street. They stop. They turn. Hearing his name, the kid looks nervous. "Did you 'find' one of our baseballs?"

He looks pale. He reaches into his pocket. "Yeah," he says. "It was, uh, at the end of the driveway."

"Thanks," I say, darkly. He knows I know. Looks like he might pee himself.  "Can you throw it back here?"

I catch it and toss it in with the gloves and the bats in a box on the porch.

Not today, you little worm.

The boys walk on, but the thief hangs back, knees a little shaky.


  1. Good for you, dad! I would have done the same thing. As much as we want our children to live innocently through these events, sometimes, the truth is more empowering to give them more appreciation when those rare; but pure moments of friendship are truly present.

  2. Thanks -- every move as a parent works out to a difficult call, in the end, alas . . .

  3. Well fought. Innocence is such an interesting thing for people. When should it be lost? Should it be lost? Is a level of cynicism healthy in people? Or is it better to think the best of everyone?

    amorphously yours

  4. My amoebesque friend: the time comes for all things, I suppose. But yesterday, the time was right to make a little worm squirm and to keep my son blissfully unaware.

  5. Well played! For me, I particularly like the way you didn't provide a teachable moment only for your own son, but for the kid who stole.

    This kid, while foolish and probably affected by the mob (in this case, 2 can make a mob), hopefully learned a lesson - don't steal. At the very least, I'd hazard the guess that he won't snatch baseballs from the lawn.

    The conversation about innocence fascinates me, and has for a long time, though not because of innocence itself, but how our society fears its loss.

  6. Well said, Matt. Good eye on the lesson, too -- I definitely wanted to make a statement to that kid, alone. More important than "don't steal" is don't steal in MY house! Ha!

  7. By the way, to blog looks great! Tell Nick to get cracking on more Geminis, too.

  8. Job well done! Little,(&#@#$#@)how dare he try to steal at his age and also hurt is buddy.

    I wonder if he had to change his pants after that!!!!

    Protective Grandmom

  9. Nick's been keeping a pretty regular posting schedule, though he's missed a few recently (tests - med school and all that).