There are certain images held in my memory like a snapshot. If my mind wanders over these pictures, I might spontaneously cry. So I keep them tucked away, and someday, when my children are grown, I know they (the images) will torture me.
Most of the pictures are of Ford, my oldest son. Ford and I have experienced and learned everything about parenthood together. I have failed him more than any of my other children simply because it was all new to both of us.
The first and most painful snapshot is of Ford’s face peering out the window of the bus on his first day of kindergarten. He was crying. I didn’t know what to do, but something told me that running onto the bus in my bathrobe to save him wouldn’t make things better. So I just stood there and waved until the bus drove away and I couldn’t see his face anymore.
The second picture is of Ford standing on the baseball diamond for his first night of T-ball practice. His new team jersey was too big and hung almost to his knees. This was a good thing because the pants hidden underneath were also too big and I had rolled the waistband over once to keep them in place.
Ford’s face was red from crying. I had forgotten to pack a thermos of water and we brought the wrong baseball glove. Dustin, then a Navy flight instructor, was doing a night flight with a student, so I thought I was doing good just to get all three kids in the car with their shoes on. Ford’s whining wore on me, and I yelled, “Stop acting like a baby.” I immediately regretted it. Especially later, when I looked at him standing there on the field, and I realized that he really was a baby — my first baby.
The third image is from two weeks ago, on the night of Ford’s first Little League practice. He hopped out of the van and ran across the parking lot. “See ya, Mom,” he called over his shoulder. So different, I thought, from the days when I held his hand and told him to watch for cars.
I struggled to get Ford’s brothers, Owen and Lindell, out of the van, as well as the bag of supplies (thermos, check; snacks for Lindell, check; ball for Owen, check), then the three of us followed several feet behind Ford. He was running ahead, his bat and glove held at his side. In front of him was the Little League field. The kids looked big. Definitely older, I thought. Must be the wrong field.
Suddenly Ford stopped running and turned around. He walked back to me and his brothers. “Mom, those kids look really big,” he said.
“That’s because it’s not your field,” I said, slightly annoyed. We were running late. “Now hurry or you’ll be late.”
Ford jogged away from us again, the gravel crunching beneath his cleats. Then he stopped and turned around. His face was red. “They’re very tall,” he said, more frustrated now at my lack of understanding.
I was frustrated, too. “Because that’s not your team,” I snapped. “Those kids are much older. Now, seriously, keep running or you’ll be late.”
Ford breathed in and grunted. I had seen that look on his face before, like the time I packed the wrong glove and no thermos. He turned around and started running again, then he disappeared behind the concession stand, and for all I knew, he had found the team of younger, shorter kids. I hurried along with Lindell on my shoulders and dragging a bag behind me.
When Owen, Lindell and I finally rounded the concession stand and came into view of the other baseball diamonds, I saw what Ford already had seen. There were no other baseball teams. Those big, tall, older-looking kids were Ford’s teammates.
Ford already was on the field. It was easy to spot him: He was the only one wearing white baseball pants and he was several inches shorter than the rest. I sat down on the metal bleachers and felt the lump in my throat growing. Yet I wasn’t sure which made me sadder: the fact that Ford looked so much like a baby again, or the awareness that in another two years, he will be a “big, tall, older-looking kid.”
I added the snapshot to my growing collection of images, the ones that I’ll revisit when I’m older and ask myself: Did I do enough? Was I good enough? Do they know how much I’ve loved them? But mostly: When exactly did Ford — my first baby, the kindergartner crying on the bus, the Little Leaguer in baggy pants — grow up?
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.