Yesterday before we went to the park, Porter was tossing around a three-pack of Wiggles underwear we’d bought at the mall the day before. They were a good size and the packaging was loose enough that he could easily grab onto them. He threw them near me and I caught them, which sent Porter into peels of laughter. He then asked me to throw it back to him, which I did. Much to my surprise, he caught them. He threw them back to me and when I repeated my throw to him, he caught them again.
Now before we get too far along in this story, a couple of digressions are in order. First, I’m not sure when the hand and eye coordination is supposed to kick in for kids to be able to catch and throw with any accuracy or consistency. As a result, I’ve never know where Porter stood on the continuum for this skill set or if his autism was any impediment. I’ve tried over the years to play catch with him, but with mixed results at best. Some days he’d seem to grasp the idea while others he’d stand there blankly as the ball hit his chest and fell to the ground at his feet. So I must confess I despaired that he might not “get it” so to speak. Of course, part of this is why is it so important to me that he catch a ball? Naturally, that’s a little complicated and also very simple.
My stepfather never played catch we me as a child. Not once. I don’t mean it was infrequent, I mean we never ever threw a ball in the back yard. I got not one iota of sports training from him. So what, you may ask. Most of you have seen me throw and catch a ball in the present or at least at some point in my adulthood. And I’m not too embarrasing at it. As a teen, I played pickup football and basketball, golf and tennis, ping-pong and handball, raquetball and even softball so what’s the big deal? True enough, I got a smidgeon of natural athletic ability from my biological father, who was all-state at basketball and beat me at badminton every time we played. And I generally became fairly adept at picking up new games that require hand/eye coordination so today I can hold my own at most sports.
The problem, however, was little league, that age old rite of passage for every red-blooded American boy. And I was no different back then. I wanted to be the star baseball player as much as the next kid. Trouble was, I knew virtually nothing about how to play baseball with the exception of what few facts I could glean watching baseball on television and reading books about it. And I have to tell you, there’s not a lot of practical knowledge to be had that way. But I went out for little league anyway and with high hopes no less. Everybody made the team, of course, but in those days there were no rules about everybody playing so my actual time on the field was practically nil. Our coach lived in the neighborhood and was the father of two brothers, one my age and one a year older. Naturally, his sons played every game. So did the other kids whose fathers taught them how to throw, catch and hit a baseball. Even then, I knew the disadvantage I had. So the other kids teased me about my lack of skill. It hurt and pissed me off, but kids are cruel. I understand (and understood) that. Sure it bothered me, but I don’t hold a grudge about it since they didn’t know any better. It’s not like I was never cruel to other kids so that part was just a natural part of growing up and I weathered it as best I could. But the coach was another story. For him I wish a separate wing of hell be opened in his honor. Because when the other kids made fun of me, what did he do? Did he come to my rescue and tell them stop, instill us all with a sense of team spirit? Did he take me aside and show me the fundamentals of the game that I was so obviously lacking? Did he have better players work with me so I might improve and so the whole team might be more competitive? Nope, his idea of being a little league coach was to also openly mock me thereby encouraging the others that it was open season on me. I think he was trying to make me quit. But he had no idea how stubborn I could be. I spent four years as a benchwarmer, refusing to give him the satisfaction, and enduring what I can only describe with nostalgia as my summers of living hell and torture. The fact that I’m still bitter about it today should convey some idea how it scarred me. Perhaps now you’ll also understand why it’s so important that Porter be able to throw and catch a ball. I don’t want Porter to share a similar fate. So back to the present.
So Porter was very excited about playing catch. He stood on the coffee table and we threw the package back and forth. The first time we did this, he caught four in a row. The second time, he caught eight in a row. He did ten a few times and his personal best was thirteen! Some he caught in his chest by pulling them in like a football while others he snatched from the air in his hands. It was so exciting to watch, especially the thrill on his face with each subsequent successful catch. He would have happily played catch with me all day. And while he’s caught things before, it always seemed more accidental. But yesterday was different. He really seemed to be watching the ball as it came toward him and maneuvering his hands to be in a position to catch it. And that was the difference. He was paying attention. It was soooo cool. I’m tearing up as I remember it. Man, this parenting stuff is great. All the tantrums and sleepless nights and struggles seem ultimately worthwhile when you witness those little, yet huge, milestones. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.