My 12 year old son’s baseball season started recently. So, for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been going out back and throwing the ball around almost every day. Just me and him.
He’s decided that this year, he really wants to take pitching seriously, and is willing to put in the time and effort by practicing. I’m his catcher. We take the bases out back, measure off the distance and start throwing. He’s doing great. I think he really has potential. (I know, what mom wouldn’t say that, but I’m serious here.) It’s not easy for me to get in the catching position though. I am 43 years old and a little out of shape. But at least I still have my arm.

So he and I go and we throw the baseball. Really throw hard. And we laugh. A lot. About really silly things, like how the way I crouch down to catch his pitches makes my butt stick out.
Will started playing t-ball when he was 5. For those first few years, he would stand in the outfield looking at the clouds and the butterflies. But I couldn’t wait for the day to come when he and I could play catch together, really play catch. It happened two years ago. I was still using my old softball glove from high school. (I am proud to say that I was Co-Captain of my high school varsity softball team.) The leather in the glove was a little thin and I sprained my finger when I caught a ball in the wrong spot. I had to get a new glove.

There’s a parenting metaphor in here somewhere between his changing skill level in baseball and his changing need for his mom. In the beginning, in t-ball, he needed a lot of teaching and patience. He couldn’t do it on his own because he was just starting out, didn’t know how to throw or hit. At home, he also had a very physical need for me, making his dinner, helping him get ready for bed, lots of time spent reading together.

Now, he’s on the cusp of surpassing me with his skills and his physical strength and, of course, his height. In baseball, we’ve become even in many ways. We can both throw the ball hard and accurate. But I can’t pitch. He still needs me on a daily basis but in a different, less physical, way. He needs my guidance, my encouragement and some urging (get your homework done, clean your room, hang your towel up). He wants me to hug and kiss him, but not when I pick him up at school. He can make his own dinner and when he showers and gets ready for bed, he locks the door. Though I still kiss him goodnight and tuck him in when he’s done.
In another year or two, as his skill increases and he goes to high school, I imagine he’ll need me less. He’ll be stronger than me and a better ball player. Hopefully, he’ll still want to play catch. He may even teach me a thing or two. I hope he cleans his room and hangs up his towel without me having to ask. And, by then, I’ll have taught him how to do his own laundry. He’ll still need his mom, but in a more cerebral and emotional way. And that’s okay with me. As long as he still lets me hug and kiss him. Giving our children their independence is probably one of the best things we can do for them.

So, for now, I’ll play catch with him whenever he wants me to. And when he throws the ball so hard that my hand stings, I’ll grin and bear it. And I’ll be happy to be sore in order to spend this kind of time with him. Just the two of us. He thinks it’s cool, and so do I.  He says he doesn’t know any other 43 year old mom with an arm like mine. The time we spend together is better than any words that I could say to him about growing up and becoming a teenager, and it is in these moments I experience pure joy–a feeling I wish I had more of. But pure joy is hard to come by, not with the trials and tribulations of everyday life: viruses, broken wrists, bad days at work, mean girls in fourth grade, a troubled economy. That’s the magic of baseball though. If only for short while, it lets us forget everything else.

Jen Cullen is a 40-something pseudo housewife, divorced and re-married with 2 kids, one stepdaughter and no pets. She writes Life’s Dewlaps: Musings From An Underused Brain ( where she unburdens herself of the many thoughts in her head. It’s not as ominous as it sounds but she likes to explore random topics ranging from using at-home hair color and playing baseball with her son to taking Milk Thistle to prevent hangovers and using arousal gel.