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.