Crossing the Line: The Birth of a Delusional Parent
It’s July and I’m standing along a sun-splashed sideline watching my son embroiled in a heated little league baseball game, sweating.
Chase’s team mans the field. There’s a runner on first base.
They are losing 6-4.
Chase is playing second base. He’s got a pair of black socks pulled above his calves, his gray baseball pants are loose in the thighs and tighten just below the knee caps. He’s wearing eye black and with his hat pulled low he looks like he just stepped out of the baseball cards I collected when I was a kid.
A baseball field has two foul lines.
A white chalk line that begins at the batter’s box, runs straight through the first and third base bags and dead ends deep in the outfield fence.
The line is to help umpires and players know if the ball is fair or foul.
The line is also to keep parents out.
Parents like me, spongy and creaky kneed, patrol sidelines.
We watch our children and urge and instruct and curse and twist and tense and believe our body language has magical powers to spell the plays unfolding on the field before us.
As a teacher and former coach, I’ve witnessed parents living vicariously though their children. Stepping sideways out of their own lives and into the lives of their children. Driving their children like shiny new cars to run down their lost dreams.
But there’s danger in such joy rides.
I’ve seen children limp through adolescence hating those things once loved because parents crossed a line, because parents got too close, because parents exploited their child’s ability hoping to recover dusty trophies from the past.
It’s something I swore I’d never do.
There’s an aluminum pop.
It’s a quick bouncer up the middle.
Chase springs to his right, dives, extends left arm and the baseball disappears and the heat rises as if Medford, New Jersey tilted closer to the sun and the right field chalk line dissolves and I’m playing second base and there’s a quick bouncer up the middle and I react, faster then I’ve reacted in years because my body feels fast and strong like a new Corvette and I dive and extend my left arm and the baseball disappears in my glove, its weight cradled in my palm and I land on my stomach and the dirt funnels up my nose and I reach in the glove and with a back-hand toss watch the ball arch into the July sky and land safely in the shortstop’s glove who is standing firmly on second base.
The crowd explodes.
I spring to my feet, dirty and smiling. I just defied gravity. I just made eyes pop. I just made mouths say wow. I just did what big leaguers on baseball cards do for a living.
The shortstop slaps his glove across my back as if to say, “Atta boy!”
The coach barrels out of the dugout, crosses the foul line clapping and cheering and announces, “That’s a big league play, son!”
And it was. It was awesome.
And I didn’t do any of it.
My son did. It was all Chase.
I just poured his Frosted Flakes, tied his cleats and drove him Medford, New Jersey.
In the sudden swell of excitement, a line had been crossed.
A line I swore I’d never cross.
Between innings as parents reapplied suntan lotion, as the opposing team littered the field and Chase’s team traded gloves for bats and it unnerved me to learn how quickly self-awareness strikes out. How in the snap of one play I let my mind cross into his body. How quickly delusional parents are born.
Like wading through soup I pushed to nearby shade, wiped my forehead, exhaled and acknowledged that I was hot and a little bothered.