Then the mid-life part began

In a sense it is like I am not here. And that is the thing about parenting, perhaps the point. To be there when you’re needed and then not at all. You see it in the wild with mother whales helping their young. Their job is to extend the species, not themselves. They recede.

There is a time you might remember, a night at a little league baseball game you were in, maybe 1980. You are about 10. It is late spring, so close to summer you can taste it. The nights lengthening and the lightning bugs coming out, sleeping with the bedroom windows open, the sound of bugs and car radios blurring past. No one has this memory but you. The wood baseball bat painted red, signed by the Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt. No one uses wooden bats in little league, they all do aluminum. When you hit during batting practice the red paint leaves a mark on the balls that looks like a blood stain, like lipstick.

It is the ninth inning and the game is tied but you’ve got a runner on third and now it’s all up to you, you’re up to bat. You hit a line drive to right field, the pitch is high, you tomahawk it. A triple. It’s taking the right fielder forever to get to the ball and then it’s taking him forever to throw it and in fact he can’t even throw that far, can’t reach third. You’re standing there trying to catch your breath and can’t believe it, it happened so fast. Everyone is on their feet shouting. You are standing on third, you drove in the winning run. Better yet, your parents are there and one of your dad’s friends from work, and you’ve made him proud. Everyone is so happy. You stop by the 7-11 for a slurpee. You’re like 10 years old and nothing in the world matters more. From a distance now it is a foreign time and place, impossible to believe. Your whole life feels like this, hard to make out.

So you’ve got memories like this that no one knows, not even your kids, it’s hard to get anyone’s attention, no one cares. The depth of that memory and how it feels, it’s a part of you no one sees. They know as much as they need to about you already, this thing between parents and kids. In fact it’s okay, it’s supposed to be that way, you’re better off not knowing much more. You likely know less than one percent of what the other one is really about. And you realize that when they’re gone, maybe wish you knew more.

It is a good light at the end of the day now, that gray-blue smear of February. Takes me back to our time in Germany, a strange time of year to be there. The bitter feel of winter in one frame, the warm orange of the fireplace in the other, the pop of burning wood, the purr of the fan. A cat on the lap was good. A place to fill in the gaps.

Now it is bedtime and you lay there recounting scenes from the day. It is like thumbing through an animated film short, the way they used to animate things. You fan the pages like a deck of cards to make it look like it’s moving. You nod off hopeful for what dreams are playing tonight. You show up with your popcorn to watch. A feature film you will enjoy but soon forget.



Categories: parenting, writing

Tags: ,

34 replies

  1. Hi Bill I wish i were like a ten-year-old. I would probably know how to set up a good website James

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    • Ha ha! Right you are James. But could you find your way out of the woods? Or make it through the Lower East Side in one piece? Thanks for reading and nice to meet you.

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    • And actually for what it’s worth, I find WordPress reasonably simple enough a 10 year old could set up a decent site. Or you know you could hire one, they’re cheap!

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  2. A fine evocation, Bill. And a sort of Chinese Box of paradoxes. The us-ness of us and the sum of our memories that no-one else can know, even if they were there. And do those especially vivid memories have existence in some dimension i.e. just floating about in the universe, and every time we summon them do they gain or lose substance or transform. (This morning’s cup of coffee was a tad strong).

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  3. Melancholy but lovely. Probably knowing one percent of what other people are all about is a wild exaggeration. Well I guess we all just have a few scant pages of the historical album preserved in our noggins but sounds like you’ve stored up some dandy flipbooks to watch.
    I’ve wondered what the whales, Neanderthals, porpoises, London cabdrivers, etc. — all the creatures that seem to have a capacity for a ton of memory storage — what’ve they got socked away up there? A day with really memorably tasty sardines or krill, or miles of sea bottom they memorized, or how to do that trick with a flint rock/make fire, whatever.

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    • You’re right it is a wild exaggeration, 1%. Probably a good thing people don’t know more about us after all. I like your use of the word flip books there, too. And all this stuff we carry around, why it is krill! Should be called that. I’m blown away by the random stuff that comes back, that’s still there, like you touch on with the London cabdrivers. Funny choice, that. Thanks for riffing a bit with me Robert and enjoy your weekend.

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  4. Thanks for this one, Bill. It summoned a memory I had forgotten.

    When I was a child, I would try to imagine and re-enact what my own father did at the same age. I always imagined some sort of 50s era Disney live feature with some upbeat instrumental playing while he roamed though a grassy area and grabbed at bugs or fished.

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    • That’s so cool Don! And thanks for sharing. Fun rummaging around in the grab bag of our way-back pasts innit. Thanks for reading and chiming in, hope you’re well.

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  5. The insight illustrated with a vivid memory. Fabulous stuff, Bill.

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  6. Miles Davis’ Workin’ ‘s been playin’ whilst I read this. Whenever I start to write, I find myself floating with that sound and the multitude of apostrophed memories that follow in its wake; shards of driftwood wandering in the sea of my thoughts. Ah, there’s one shaped like a baseball bat.

    Love it.

    Cheers,
    DD

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  7. I always struck out in those situations, so I like how your use of ‘you’ puts me in the winner’s seat. I’m going to go with that memory from now on. Thanks!

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    • Ha ha, I know. Most times I did the same so this one time I want to remember for sure. The “you” is a tricky thing I rarely use but wanted to play with the loss of first person identity. For shits and giggles you know…thanks for reading. It’s early!

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  8. You’ve no doubt read “Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man.” Reminds me of the end of the first or second chapter…the “pock, pock, pock” of the cricket bats as he lays in his bed on a spring day.

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    • I know the pock, pock, pock of what you speak! Portrait is one of my favorite books. I think I’ve read it 4-5 times, which is a bit over-indulgent but so be it. Tickled pink you’d see any connection between my little post here and that, wow! And sorry I can’t see who you are by the WordPress thing but let me know if you’re so inclined. I think Joyce’s bad eyesight comes through in those painful scenes from the school playing fields and the imagery of things in flight maps back to negative associations for him, and the Daedalus myth. Having read it so many times you’d think I’d have a clearer way of speaking to it but there you go.

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  9. A driftwood bat can be polished and not loose its integrity, perhaps….

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  10. The thought of parents fading into the background took me from mother whales to mother octopuses who end their lives caring for children they’ll never see. If they’re lucky they’ll see their young hatch and go out into the world, but it’s the last thing they’ll do. Are they, like us, the sum of their memories? You’ve truly opened a metaphorical summer window here to the question, how do the memories we carry, even the ones we don’t share, shape what gets passed on to those who follow us?

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    • Hi Christopher, that’s great. Yeah I’ve been ruminating for a long time now on the “identity problem” I think we have as humans, compared to other animals. For them maybe it’s more a DNA imprint kind of thing they leave and less heady than ours. The octopus is such an amazing creature. Did you ever see that film about them? Can’t recall the name but wow, what a crazy glimpse into their lives. You know while I have you, I still try to comment on your blogs from time to time and get rejected and I don’t know why! Wanted you to know I read and enjoy, I just can’t directly interact for some odd reason. Appreciate your thoughts here as ever, thank you.

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    • I feel like I’m learning how to read in a different way when I read comments such as yours, Christopher. Thanks.

      BTW, Bill’s latest piece eventually led me to an interesting discussion with my 28 year old son today about the musical zeitgeist and its impact on the psyche down generations.

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      • Yes David, Christopher is a keeper and you’d enjoy his blog too. Cool discussion it sounds like you had with your 28 year old too, super cool. Anytime I get to use the word zeitgeist, that’s a good day. Better than poltergeist days anyways

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  11. Yes, interesting. Charlie, to pick up one thread, saw a link in the line from give-peace-a-chance hedonism and the emergence of gothic rock entertainers followed by what I will call self-dedtructive horror-show acts and an emerging desire amongst his particular cohort to out do each other and/ or compete without the restraint of shame.
    A somewhat bleak assessment but the conversation is likely to proceed in fits and starts over coming weeks.
    Enough of this. I’m off.
    Kind regards
    DD

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a beautiful piece of work, and as a dreamer and a wannabe writer you have captured my imagination and also created a question wrapped in an enigma that is the voice of my inner child. My memories of childhood are bright and colored and rich in detail like yours. It sounds like we are close in age, so I have similar memories of summer nights and the sounds that only come alive that time of year, that brief window into our life’s journey. There were older kids in my neighborhood who played “kick the can” long after I’d been sentenced to my early bedtime. I can hear crickets outside my window, the stereo from the living room quietly playing James Taylor under my parent’s muffled voices and those damn rusty cans kicking down the road off in the distance. I feel melancholy. You definitely opened a door to a question or illuminated an inner working of at least a few of us. I’ve got four children, two are grown and have young children now. Those memories have stayed inside my inner child’s mind, recessed there and never really shared with anyone. We try to pass on the best of ourselves to our children. But I don’t think it’s DNA that really connects us to our offspring. Hopefully we’re more spiritually evolved than whales because I truly believe we are souls. My favorite book when I was a child was “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein. I hadn’t even remembered reading it to my older children. My oldest son is thirty and lives across the country so I have to FaceTime to see my little grandchildren. Christmas of 2020 was a difficult one, but living in the moment of a FaceTime call with my three year old grandson, he held up his hand to show me his very favorite book. There it was… “Where the Sidewalk Ends”

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    • It’s rare I get such a comment as this, thank you. Like a peep hole into someone else’s life and experience. I think the pandemic caused many of us to contemplate our deaths (and by association our lives) in a way we never have before. Maybe that was good for a time, but perhaps it’s been too much of that now, the contemplation. And hence the melancholy you’re tapping into, that I’m surely beating on here and many can relate to. Probably resonates more with people of a certain age too. And you mention the inner child, I did try inner child therapy once, something I was pretty skeptical of, but which enabled me to see and experience parts of my life when I was less than 10 years old, the mid 1970s. And it’s remarkable to think those memories are still there. I suppose they are alongside your inner child, if you believe in that. That attitude or belief can even extend out to other forms of ourselves, some think (like your inner child and then your older selves, as kind of personifications). I can’t get my head around that but there’s probably something to it. Lovely and cool story of yours with your grandson…thanks for reading and sharing such a dense reaction you had, makes my day and that’s why I love to write! Hope you can do more of it yourself too, we are all wannabes in a sense. Best, Bill

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