By: Barbara Matousek
My sister and I used to stay out in the driveway with my father long after the sun had gone down and the chill had returned to the air. We would bounce and dribble and bang the ball against the backboard mounted just below our bedroom windows, and the whole house would reverberate. Sometimes my mother would join us, challenging my father to hit as many free throws in a row as she did. We would play Around the World and HORSE, the cold ball almost painful in our hands, until we could barely see the ball anymore and we’d head inside to eat ice cream and watch Telly Sevalas or James Garner or Carol O’Connor.
In general I don’t think of our single parent family as missing anything, of being different from any other family. I drop my kids at daycare or pre-school and go to work. I come home at the end of the day and cook something resembling dinner and shove food in to their mouths. While they run around and destroy the living room I rinse spaghetti sauce off dishes and sweep up blueberries and mop up milk and place the errant shoes and coats back in the foyer near the garage. I get down on the carpet and do puzzles and play tickle monster and ride in imaginary spaceships while aliens try to catch us. I change diapers and pull off dirty clothes and replace them with clean (although probably stained) pajamas. I read books about furry kittens and the colors of the rainbow before rocking Eva and placing her in her crib. I do Lego and Tinkertoys and drawing games with Sam before reading his three bedtime books, books that lately have been about animals– sea tortoises and poison frogs and jelly fish. I stand my ground when he begs to stay up for one more story or one more bedtime snack or one more drink of water. I change cat litter and heap laundry into the washing machine and dig through piles of unsorted clean laundry looking for matching pink socks for the next morning. Once in a while I remember to bathe my children or trim their growing nails.
And during all of this, not for one second do I think that our family is missing anything.
But lately I’ve been reading blogs and watching other 4-year-olds, and when I lie in bed at night trying to fall asleep I feel a pang of something resembling sadness. On my friends’ blogs I see fathers who have time to toss a ball to their son and teach him to catch. I see fathers who play basketball out in the driveway for long stretches, dribbling and tossing and lifting their kids up to the net. I see fathers bent over holding hockey sticks while their kids guard the goal. Is Sam missing out because I simply don’t have time to give any more, because there are two of them and one of me? I want my children to know the love of sport that my father taught me. I want my children to stay out long past bedtime throwing a cold baseball into worn gloves or swinging tennis rackets at balls they can barely see. I want my children to be part of family that plays.
I know my memory of my childhood is probably more idyllic than reality, but is there anything wrong with wanting my children to have the idyllic memory too? Why is it that as parents we want to give our children everything right now? I have to remind myself that Sam has years ahead of him to learn ball and chase his sister in the cold grass as the sun goes down. He’s four. And if he doesn’t play ball until he’s 7 or 8 or 10, it doesn’t mean he’s behind or that he won’t ever have the same love of sport and family and cool spring air that my father instilled in me. In the meantime I’ve signed him up for T-ball and I’ve upgraded our faded plastic basketball hoop and I’m ready to admit that I’m really missing my dad.