Sunday, February 5, 2012

Max, Basketball, and the End of Our World


The day Max was born, I began dreading the inevitable re-involvement with sports. I hate sports. My last competition was a picnic softball game in 1982. I slid into home plate, ripped a knee out of my one pair of blue jeans, and called it a career. No one regretted my departure. In the years that followed, sports receded further from my consciousness, until they looked like rituals from another planet. Misa was no more enthusiastic or adept than I was.

Despite this heredity, Max wants to play basketball. Misa and I are all in favor, because it gets him working together with other kids. I took him out to practice. It did not go well. I yelled at him continually to play ball, and he collapsed in frustration. 

Then came the first game. We got to be sports parents, exploding with anxiety, yelling our lungs out. Max got off to a slow start, but he ran down court with his team and retrieved a rebound or two. When the other guys passed to him, he did his best to dribble, then pass the ball on. Two thirds of the way through the game—Providence must have intervened—he sunk a basket! 

When the game was over, Max's face shone red as a Christmas bulb. Another mommy introduced herself. Her son was an unusually tall boy, and she complimented Max's playing. "Remember," she said, "tall kids have a much harder time controlling their arms and legs." She was correct, of course, and I was duly chastened; maybe I'd been too critical of Max. 

The End of Our World

Recently, at the end of our day, I watched a few minutes of a science program with Max. The subject was supernovas. When I put him to bed, Max asked me to stay at his bedside. He predicted he'd have nightmares, for fear our sun will blow up. We talked for a long time, as I stroked his head. I reminded him that Misa and I always told him the truth, instead of filling his head with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. 

I'd read that exploding stars produced the calcium in our bones, and the iron in our blood. We were not separate from this violence; we were a part of it. Finally, the event would almost certainly occur four billion years from now, when all trace of our species has vanished. I said, "You won't be there, so there's nothing to give you a nightmare." 

"If you want a nightmare, try the Book of Revelation. My Mommy and Daddy told me an angry god was coming to earth, to separate good people from bad people, rain down plagues and ultimately destroy the planet. Instead of billions of years away, they told me this would happen soon. When I was twelve years old, a friend of my Dad told me The Second Coming would probably happen before I turned fourteen."

"THAT is a nightmare, but there's no evidence to support it, so you can forget it all. I predict you won't have any nightmares tonight." I live for moments like this with my son. No one else can do this job. 

In the morning, my existence was validated, no nightmare.