When I bounce it back, he tends to dive for it right before he shifts to slow motion, looking pensive, going inward, rising first to his knees and then to his full height (36 inches). He starts peering into the bushes while I stand quietly by the street pounding my fist into the leather glove I wore when I sucked at little league, the one I uncovered in basement storage and now constricts my hand into a kind of finger cylinder. My son, though, has forgotten about me and my glove entirely. He cares only for the scene that is spooling up in his imagination, the scene that is animating his slow, deliberate steps toward the shrubs where he stops, parts the leafy green screen and sucks in his breath: “It’s. The. Beast,” he whispers. “And he’s got the baseball!”
Our games tend to linger. There’s a four-minute dramatic interlude between each pitch.
He is, of course, acting out a scene from The Sandlot
, one of the quintessential, boy-centric coming-of-age movies of the nineties. It’s not a great movie. I suggested it was a bit vapid, formulaic, at times misogynistic. My son asked me to stop talking. We caught its tail end in a hotel room on our way south, which is the only time the kids get to sit in front of a television screen, and the boy was so utterly seduced by the storyline—and a giant, drooling, ball-gobbling mastiff—that he spoke of nothing else the next day, which was an eight hour descent to Nashville. Vapidity be damned, Dad. The Beast lived in the backseat the entire drive down. He hasn’t left us since.
I wouldn’t have chosen baseball for my son’s first obsession. I never watch it or play it or think about it. I still suck at it. I’m much better at badminton or hacky sack (the world still waits for the coming-of-age hacky sack epic). But short of video games and sugar we’ve chosen to honor our children’s interests, even if they mismatch our own, which has kept me outside almost every decent weather day of the summer playing bounce-catch, or a hybrid game based on me kicking an inflatable Winnie the Pooh ball so my son can swat at it with a blue plastic bat, only to again drift off after a successful hit and start prowling the bushes, acting out The Sandlot
scene where the boys invent a vacuum-powered suction device to retrieve their lost ball. His bat is the vacuum. There’s no suction at its end. The retrieval fails every time. The game never grows old.
Actually, there are two narratives currently running break-neck through my son's imagination. There is the entire plot of Sandlot
, yes, but also the Passion, based on the stack of “Beginner” Bibles we seem to attract like grocery store coupons from well-meaning family members. They all have their cartoon depictions of Gethsemane, the trial, the cross-wielding ascent to Golgotha and the crucifixion. Jesus is bulbous-nosed and comic-y, yet the whole story has burrowed deep into my son’s mind and heart.
“Tell me about when Jesus died,” he says daily, nightly, sometimes on the hour. I have clung to Jesus in one way or another my entire life, even limply through those seasons when I was rejecting all of his precepts, even now as I write this.
But I can’t confidently, without caveat, pass along to my son a literal reading of his death and resurrection, or the theological interpretations of atonement and second coming that I grew up with—the whole four-point gospel deal—even if I sometimes wish I could vouch for it so simply. In order to stay honest (and honoring) I must choose my words carefully.
So I simply tell my son what the Bible says, skipping those didactic, heavy-handed parts where the Beginner Bible people seem hell-bent on walking kids through the sinner’s prayer, or leading them down some kind of see-how-much-you-owe-Jesus
path to repentance (they always show up in extra-scriptural text boxes hovering somewhere in the sky: Jesus didn’t HAVE to go to the cross, but he did it anyway to save you. It’s called sacrifice. How can YOU sacrifice for Jesus?).
After tiptoeing through the theological implications of the crucifixion, though, there is a kind of joyful release when we reach the tomb scenes
, where we slowly, with a whisper, follow Mary Magdalene into the dark mouth of the cave, see her touch the rolled-away rock, hear her speak timidly into the empty room: is anybody there?
only to be met by…AN ANGEL! Why do you look for the living among the dead, Mary?
And then…JESUS! He’s alive and he eats fish to prove it! He has holes in his hands that you can touch but they don’t hurt anymore and look! He’s alive!
“It’s called resurrection,” I say. “R-E-S-U-R-R-E-C-T-I-O-N!” screams my son at least once a day using the same zeal and vowel-suspension with which we yell GOOOOAAAAL! during World Cup games.
I’m not making this up. He squeezes his little fists together and gets this maniacal look on his face and just screams it.
Verily I say unto you, I have never been more in love than with these two little creatures, my baby girl and little boy. I’m at capacity. I ache with it because I’m afraid of what might be true—the entire universe simply a volatile recycler of all things. Parent love is like a deep wound that warms. No one told me this. I should have known. It’s a neon glow-stick love: there’s something that breaks inside, a profound and painful snap, and then this otherworldly light.
In the end, the Beast isn’t really bad, just misunderstood. And the Sandlot
summer finds its punctuation when the boys, one by one, disappear as they play their positions. They disappear into adult lives and adult preoccupations and one of them, Bertram Grover Weeks, in a rare moment of Sandlot
gravitas, disappears into the sixties and is never heard from again. It hits me in the gut every time: his vanishing.
In the end, Jesus rises again. The Bible says it, not me. I simply narrate the pages. But each time we get to the resurrection part I feel the cracks that spread like a net over my heart widen a little, because I’m in love with my kids and I’m in love with Jesus even if I’m not sure he’s really alive, keeping a dutiful account of the thinning hairs on my head.
In the end, my son asked me if he was going to die, too, just like the three precedents I wish he hadn’t already stumbled upon: Grandpa Marvin whose body stopped working at 98 years old, Jerry Garcia whose body stopped working because he took too much “poison,” and Jesus whose body stopped working when he was hung on a cross by people who hated him, who he later forgave. And I said: “Oh, Sweetie, your body is so strong and healthy and young,” and that’s all I had. Full stop. I left it at that because inside I was screaming RESURRECTION! RESURRECTION! RESURRECTION! but couldn’t bring the words to the surface, to the outside where my son and I lay on his mattress on the floor, and instead we had a moment of silence, just breathing, just the click and whir of the ceiling fan in a dark room, before we both closed our eyes and fell finally to sleep.
Josh MacIvor-Andersen is the author of the memoir On Heights & Hunger, and the editor of Rooted, An Anthology of Arboreal Nonfiction, both forthcoming from Outpost19. His essays, reviews, and reportage have won numerous awards and nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and can be found in journals and magazines such as Gulf Coast, Paris Review Daily, Fourth Genre, Arts and Letters and many others.
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My three-year-old son and I have spent a lot of time in the front yard this summer, him up by the steps doing his baseball windup in profile, a swift swaying of his arms front to back, front to back, before his pitch, which on a good throw bounces thrice along the sidewalk before hitting my glove.