In my childhood, my family owned one ball glove. With three girls, there was little need for more. When I played catch outside with my dad, I’d wear the glove, and he’d risk the softball stinging his fingers. He’d call out directions–coaching–pointing out how the ball should land in the pocket of the glove, not at the tip. Alternating grounders, line drives, and fly balls, he’d call out encouragement: “You can get that one!”
I never became an athlete. I never played any regular softball, only occasional, co-ed, pick-up games. But I did become a parent, and I spent lots of time in our front yard, on our tiny, makeshift ballfield, with worn patches of dirt serving as bases, pitching wiffle balls to my two kids and the neighborhood friends. In our driveway and at the park, I played catch with my kids, alternating ground balls, line drives, and fly balls.
What activities did I do with my mom? I’m thinking.
She didn’t play outside. She didn’t swim or walk or throw. She cooked alone. When I cooked or baked, my shoulders would tense in the expectation of her disapproving look or trivial criticism. We didn’t sew or shop or play music or go to movies or the park or read or do my homework together.
Sometimes, as I got older, I’d add to the Saturday Review Double-Crostic that my parents completed every week and feel good and grown up about my contribution. I played Scrabble and bridge with my parents, but my mom’s criticism was always threatening there, too. Taking her spot on the Scrabble board and missing a signal in bridge would provoke a bitter sigh.
Here’s one warm memory, but it’s not unmixed with embarrassment and even resentment. In the morning before school, my mother would wake me. I’ve always hated waking up. Eventually, until probably fifth or sixth grade, she’d start to get me dressed while I still lay in bed. She’d slip socks on my feet and begin sliding off my pajamas, often singing at the same time.
“Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning! Oh, how I’d love to remain in bed! For the hardest blow of all is to hear the bugler call, You got to get up! You got to get up! You got to get up this morning!”
Other times she’d regale me with, “K-K-K-Katy! Beautiful Katy! You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore!”
It’s a warm memory, as I said. I felt her affection, but mixed, even in those warm moments, with something else. I knew that I was letting my mom treat me like a baby. I intuited that she wanted me to be a baby, and a part of me didn’t like it. On some of those mornings, she’d say how sorry she was to see me grow up and how much she wanted me to stay little. I knew that, in spite of myself, I was always making her feel bad. I felt imbued with her fathomless regret.
I never told my kids that I hated seeing them grow up. Maybe they wouldn’t have minded, but I never allowed myself to say it.