“Do you want to have a haiku contest? I will totally kick your ass!”
My son Mikey delivered those words during a regular, let’s-head-out-the-door-to-Target afternoon. And yes, I generally try to convince him to speak civilly in our house but that time I let it go because I was too busy laughing, and very seriously pulling out my paper and pen.
Where does he get this competitive intensity coupled with inappropriate choice of words for a 10-year-old? Me.
So that’s why, when Mikey gave me the haiku-writing challenge, I shouted, “You’re on!” even though I should have been slicing apples and nursing my newborn.
Like a puppy I run happily after the balls and rack up Fitbit steps in the process. Fitbitting is my new sport to match my new job as kid chauffeur.
He’s already beating me—“pathetically!” as he will shout—at all the sports challenges. Except, that is, for pool challenges, both kinds. I can swim faster than that little muscular mouth-offer, and I can outplay him on the pool table. Of course, he tries to heavily cheat at these to compensate, which means it all goes downhill pretty quickly and I only get a win or two in before we have to move on to other things so we both stay alive.
Nevertheless, one of my favorite moments ever with Mikey was on his turf, out in our nearby field, on a little spring afternoon when I went out to give him some batting practice.
You would think that batting practice is just light-hearted bonding time, right? No, it’s total competitive craziness when it comes to Mikey. And for some reason, I oblige it.
Here's how it all starts…
We have a bucket of wiffle balls in the house for days like this. But as usual lately, Mikey shakes off the wiffle balls, opting instead for the one tennis ball left in the house, because the tennis ball flies further (and to my vigilant concern, hits harder) than those wiffle balls. In addition to that, he carries out a plastic bat, the one with the least cracks in it. I am grateful that at least I don’t have to talk him out of his regular bat today.
The weather is warm, breezy, and welcoming to us as we head out to the field behind our house with Mikey taking practice swings every few steps as we go.
There are always a lot of directions when playing with Mikey, so once we're in the field, these start immediately. He points out exactly where my pitcher’s mound is supposed to be, and takes up his home plate batting stance under the soccer goal. He says something about a green patch, but I miss it in the breeze, and the directives are piling on.
“Pitch it right here. Low and away!” he bellows.
I pitch it higher than that and he swings and misses.
“Hey, hey… you gotta give me time to warm up!”
He throws the ball back to me with an angry frown. It bounces off my nail, which thankfully doesn’t break. I retrieve it. The pressure is on.
I know Mikey is relentless about these self-inflicted challenges and worry about who will make dinner that night, or breakfast the next morning.
The second pitch is lowish and awayish and he wallops it a fair distance.
“Good hit,” I tell him as I jog to retrieve the ball. I love this; like a puppy I run happily after the balls and rack up Fitbit steps in the process. Fitbitting is my new sport to match my new job as kid chauffeur.
“It’s okay. Not good,” he shouts discerningly at my choice of words. This reminds me of the time we stopped by Menard’s to pick up something before one of his baseball games. An employee kindly tried to give him some encouragement for the game, saying, “Go get a home run tonight, buddy!” Mikey corrected that kind of wishful talk, “Nah, I’m more of a line-drive hitter.”
I line up to pitch again. I am a little further away from our makeshift home base than last pitch because I am really unsure of my nail’s ability to withstand a line drive anywhere near me. Of course he notices this.
“Move up! That’s not the pitcher’s mound!” It’s all grass, mind you.
“It’s close enough!”
“No, one step more. C’mon, one step! C’mon Mom you can do it! Not a baby step, a real step!”
I pitch another decent one, which he hits very high and far.
“Home run!” I cheer.
“It’s pretty good,” he shouts as he runs the imaginary bases while I jog after the ball.
When we line up again he announces, “We will play until someone hits the ball past the green patch!”
I turn to look behind me. “That green patch?” There was a very clear lime-green patch on the farthest side of the field, looking like the food-coloring-dyed site of a Gatorade dump.
“Yes! That one!”
“But that’s so far! We’re not gonna make a hit that far.” I know Mikey is relentless about these self-inflicted challenges and worry about who will make dinner that night, or breakfast the next morning, while we are out there trying to hit past the green patch.
But Mikey just smiles at me slyly. “You’ll have to pitch good, Mom. Now, low and away, let’s go!”
I mistakenly think that means we’re going to go in for water soon but it just means we have a forever-inning on our hands.
I pitch low and away but he checks his swing.
“What happened?” I say, not wanting any missed opportunities to reach the green patch.
“Not good enough,” he replies. “I had to check my swing. After all, my nickname is Check Swing.”
“Oh really? I thought it was Wrong Jersey?” This is what he had told me yesterday when I sent him to a game in the wrong color jersey.
“Nah I just said that so you’d feel bad for telling me the wrong color. Now c’mon, pitch!”
I keep pitching. He has some big hits, I get some more Fitbit steps in, and then he decides to really put the pressure on by saying it’s the last inning and someone needs to get a hit past the green patch to win. I mistakenly think that means we’re going to go in for water soon but it just means we have a forever-inning on our hands. There are a lot of supposed foul tips.
“Want to just take a break and get a bottle of water then come back out?” I try.
“No! We’re playing until we get past the green patch. Focus! Low and away.”
I pitch again and he hits it high to right field. He runs fast to his first base grass patch. “See? That was a good pitch, Mom! You can do it!”
I think about how that was the same pitch he thought was unsatisfactory an hour (two hours? I have no idea at this point) earlier. I also think about how, when I used to play soccer or baseball or tennis—volleying against him, back before it made sense to just be a full-time pitcher—he would always rack up the points and then right before winning, make a million mistakes and allow me to rack up the points equaling his. Then we had to battle for the last point. It was exciting. And exhausting.
“Now I want a perfect pitch, Mom!”
He gets all of his 10-year-old force behind the swing that connects head on to the perfectly-pitched low and away ball that, in an instant, sails high above us, high over the field we’ve now traversed in a thousand trajectories, and lands, miraculously, on the green patch!
“Not good enough!” Gaping, I turn back to hear him say, “Needs to go past the green patch.”
He does have an amazing grin on his face.
So let’s get back to that Haiku contest. Who won? I’ll let you be the judge, but in Mikey fashion I will say I had a lot of distractions while I was trying to write and I want a rematch.
Rain falling outside
My window at night is like
Mirror of starlight
Dark and gloomy day
Arose with quite a bang then
Pound it hit the ground
At least I can say we both won batting practice.