I Wasn’t Expecting That

About 1983… Our modest home was on a street of modest homes. The street was short and steep. It crested just past the home of our neighbor, Mr. Fish. Beyond that, homes were newer and Laurel street became Winter St. One side of the hill (ours) was working class. The other side was middle class.

Our larger neighborhood was defined by steep hills and ravines. There was a hodgepodge of streets. Some terminated suddenly while others fed into main roads. The elementary school was about half a mile away. Navigation skill and sweat equity were required to reach the school. In this era, neighborhood kids were expected to walk to school.

Our daughter Lyndsay was six years old. It is an age where kids start to assert some independence. Lyndsay was pretty far advanced on that spectrum. This wasn’t by choice, she lived in a household defined by the frenetic schedules of working parents. And, admittedly, my parenting style was defined by the phrase “benign neglect”. (In my defense, my mom’s parenting style would be labeled “complete neglect”.)

It is late August and Lyndsay is being readied for the start of her schooling. There are a few new outfits that don’t include Oshkosh overalls. And of course there is an oversized backpack. The biggest challenge is prepping the walk to school. We practice this a couple of times, emphasizing safety and key landmarks. Then we anxiously await. Naturally, there is some concern about the walking commute.

The first day arrives. All over town parents take the morning off. Lyndsay is dressed and on deck early. She patiently allows her mom to wage war on her tangled hair. Her Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox is packed. It is swallowed up inside her massive backpack. All is ready.

Together, we navigate the front steps. We walk together up the steep hill and both parents pause in the shade of our lovely maple tree. This is the release point. Lindsay keeps walking and crests the hill in front of Mr. Fish’s house. She quickly disappears without a backward glance or wave. I wasn’t expecting that.

About 1985…. In a perfect world I would’ve been a baseball catcher. Catchers had the coolest gear, wore their hat backwards, and often were covered with dirt. They gabbed casually with other players and it didn’t matter if they were so-so hitters. This dream expired by the age of 12.

By the age of 30 I reconciled my athletic shortcomings. But I could still imagine. One day I was in a catchers crouch in our weedy backyard. Our six-year-old son Nolan was on the pitcher’s mound (imaginary). It was our opening day. There was a bit of snow in shaded corners but the grass was already an improbable green.

I may have sucked at baseball but I embraced its chatter. It was my duty as catcher to irritate the batter (imaginary) and bolster my pitcher. I chanted, “no-hitter, no-hitter, no-hitter”. Nolan started a rather elaborate wind-up. I framed the strike zone with my glove and awaited the pitch.

Play-by-play announcers have many ways of describing a batter fooled by a pitch. My favorite, “he was expecting the local but got the express”. In normal language: the hitter was overwhelmed by the velocity of the pitch. This can happen to backyard catchers as well. The ball arrived with stunning suddenness and landed with a THWACK. The glove didn’t move a millimeter. The umpire (imaginary) paused before shouting, “s-t-t-r-r-i -k -e!”

I was not gifted with baseball talent but knew it when I saw it. Without rising from my crouch, I flipped the ball back to the pitcher. The next five pitches landed in the exact same spot. I wasn’t expecting that.

The signals were pretty clear. My children were on a journey far different than my own. As a child of low aspiration it was easy to edge up to the low expectations of others. Their trajectory would blaze a higher arc. And this required a reconsideration of my parental trajectory. I would have to advance my talents athletically, academically, and socially to support, coach, and lead. Ultimately, I would be reaching my own modest potential by riding along on their bright journeys. I wasn’t expecting that.

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