Steve, out of breath and late again, watched his son, wearing his tiger’s uniform, and an excited smile swing his black metal bat as hard as he could. “Strike one”. The smile dropped to a more concentrated, but still happy, look. He scrapped his foot in the dirt, digging a slightly bigger hole than the last player, as he let loose a couple of practice swings. Again his son swung as hard as he could. “Strike two”. Steve could see his son’s frustration build up. His son stepped back to take a couple practice swings, this time he almost lost his balance. He stepped back up to the plate, checked his batting stance, and… “strike three”. Jordan looked up to the stands at him; and Steve returned the gaze with his best encouraging smile. His son smiled back but it was obviously forced. Steve watched his son walk over to his coach and team. He pulled off the helmet, taking the cap with it, and threw it to the base of the fence lined with hanging bats. Jordan’s hair was soaked black from sweat. The game was over. His team won, but Jordan didn’t even touch a base.
This is the first game Steve has been able to make, to see is son, this season and there were only three more left. He grabbed his jacket as his wife grabbed her purse, and they followed the swarm of other parents and family to claim their players. Reaching the bottom of the stairs he heard his wife mumble something about making at least the games on time; then she immersed herself in the crowd. He just stood there staring at the field. Fresh cut grass and newly painted lines. Not a weed in the whole park, this place was so well taken care of. As it should be with the amount in property taxes they pay, they chose this area for the attention to detail, and he wanted the best for his son, unlike what he received as a child. The parks weren’t even close to this clean; you could find a condom on the ground on any given day. The people he grew up around, he would never allow his children to associate with. It seemed his parents were always fighting, with each other or with him. The house he grew up in was always falling apart; whether it was a burst pipe or a leaky roof, there was always something to fix. No, he wanted so much better for his family
“Mr. Wilson, may I talk to you for a second?” He looked up from the field and his thoughts to see the coach half smiling at him. He walked over to the coach as she ushered the last player off to their parents.
“Mr. Wilson. I don’t like to beat around the bush. Jordan needs more of you.” His stunned silence and wide blank stare must have meant continue.
“He complains during practice that you don’t have time for him; at first only to his friends, now openly. He constantly looks for you at games, and you seem to be where his mind is always at. Quite frankly I think he only plays to get some of your attention.”
Again he lacked words to speak, but his mind was racing to put together everything that she was saying. It’s not that he didn’t care; he had just been so busy with work, staying late several nights a week. How could he explain to an eight year old that all the work he put in was for him? Food, clothes, toys, and activities, they all cost money.
“Mr. Wilson? Is there anything I can do to help?”
Finally able to spit some words out, he blinked a couple times “No, I’ll talk with him. If you notice it again please put a stop to the conversation and direct him to talk with me about it.” He turned toward his wife and son. She had her arm around him and, with their backs to him, and was all ready walking down the sidewalk separating two overly manicured fields. He threw his jacket on, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and followed.
Jordan slammed the car door shut as Steve approached his wife. “Do you believe this? Coach is trying to play family councilor. I need to have a talk with Jordan to find out what he is saying.”
“If you want to have a conversation with him then fine, but not here and not until after you take a bit of time and think about why people are saying this to you” She had turned to face Steve, after having slammed a door shut herself, crossed her arms and gave him a glare. Steve recognized this glare as the one she normally gives him when he has spent too many late evenings at work; only, this glare was a bit different. It showed tired?
“I know why people are saying these things. Jordan is upset that I have to work so much, and the coach is sticking her nose into other people’s family lives. I just need to explain Jordan that I do what I do to make all of our lives better than what I had. He has no idea how hard it was to not have parents who cared and to live where I did.”
“Do you really think explaining this to him is what is needed? He doesn’t want to know why you do what you do. He doesn’t care about that. What he wants is time with his father. You are so busy that you don’t have time for us anymore and it is taking a toll on him. You promised him you would be here tonight. What happened? Did another computer crash and you had to fix it for another “big meeting” tomorrow? Whatever your reason, you weren’t there and that is where you messed up.” She got into the car and, with those thoughts, left him standing two blocks away from his car, the only parking he could get that late into the game.
Steve knew he was late. He knew she would be upset when he got home. She was always upset, it seemed like, these days. Sure he had to work late. Sure he needed to swing by this place or that constantly to help someone, helping his bonus at the end of the month. But, she wasn’t upset when he could take her out to dinner. She wasn’t upset when the kids got to do their activities. She didn’t have to hear anymore how hard it was to pay the bills. She didn’t have to work, and could spend her time with the kids like she wanted to. A little more time at work and their lives were easier. He pulled into the driveway and looked up at the windows. The kid’s windows were dark, “DAMN!” They will be sleeping. The kitchen window was dimly lit by the flicker of the tv program playing in the living room. She would be ready for bed, and the only thing keeping her up at this point was him. Steve got out of the car. His feet were sore enough in boots that weren’t meant to be worn that long. Through them he could feel the squish and sink in the mud as he walked to the porch. Two weekends ago he leveled the front lawn promising grass laid down in only a couple days. It’s just another unfinished project. He’ll get to it this weekend; along with finishing the hardwood floors in the living room, and the paint in the kid’s new play room; all projects that have been on his list for weeks. He could even listen to the game at the same time.
“Hunny?” he hears when he opened the door. He started taking his shoes off.
“Sorry I’m late; I needed to finish a last minute order that has to be shipped out tomorrow morning.”
“I still don’t see why it’s your responsibility to stay late to get it done when the man clearly did not order them with enough time to be shipped out tomorrow.” The tv clicked off and followed sounded the toss of the remote onto the couch.
“They needed me to finish this order. It was for very important people and it could be really good for business in the future.”
“They needed you. That’s all I hear any more. This person needs you that person needs you. What about me? What about the kids? Do we not need you? I’m getting so tired of this.”
She stood in front of him hiding nothing. Her eyes were red and puffy like she had been crying for a couple hours. Her hair was falling from her clip and her hands were shaking. Steve hadn’t seen her like this in a few months. He started walking up to her. He opened his arms he stopped a few steps short of where she was standing. She turned away from him and walked down their hall.
“Kristina was crying tonight at bed time. I couldn’t get her story in between her screaming ‘no I don’t want you to tell me a story, I want daddy to read my story’ and ‘when will I see daddy next’. She wouldn’t have me tonight. I had to leave the room and let her cry herself to sleep.”
He looked to the wall on the left as he headed down the hall. She had, over the years, hung a collection of pictures on that wall, had insisted on just the four of them, no one else, go up on that wall. ‘The last thing I want to see before I go to bed each night and the first to start my day is the memories we make as a family.’ She had once told him. He stared at his little girl. In each picture she shared her mother’s smile. His favorite by far being the one from the zoo where she was peeking out of the cave next to the bronze wolf pups.
“You missed another of Jordan’s practices. He hit a couple of balls and then gave up half way through practice. He didn’t eat his dinner, and spent his night locked up in his room.” Jordan’s pictures were scattered throughout the wall as well. Tee ball, football, track; his yearly sports. There were pictures as well of him growing up, but the one he looked at every night these days was of the two of them building a model dinosaur together. The two of them together, both with elbows on the hard wood table, both with their eyes glued to their tiny pieces. Jordan with sandpaper in one hand rubbing gently and him with the glue gun.
“I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”
“Do better? That’s what you said last time and the time before. Do better how, and for how long? I’m just so tired.” She went into their room and plugged in her phone. Steve knew the distance he had put between them. This isn’t the first time this week she went off on him. Last time didn’t have as many tears. They climbed into bed and she turned away from him. The lights went out and he was alone in the darkness. He laid there thinking about what she said. How could he do better? He needed the extra money so ends would meet smoothly but he needed more time with his family. Time, he’s never been good with time. But she has. He hardly saw her anywhere without that bright orange planner by her side, checking off lists and constantly writing new things in it. When he looked at her weeks he wonders how she still has hair with everything she needs to get done, but she accomplished it.
‘Maybe it’s time’ he thinks to himself. ‘I can’t seem to get it right by myself. Maybe I need help. She’ll help’ He rolls to his side and kisses her to wake her.
“I can do better. I will do better. Can you help me this time?”
“How can I help you? You say I nag you to much as it is.”
“I need to plan my days better, and I don’t know anyone who can plan like you. If I tell you what I need to get done can you find better times for me to get those things done, and still be spending time with you and the kids? Communication. That’s what I need to do better. I need to listen and communicate better.”
She sighed and rolled over to him “I don’t want to control your life. I don’t want to be the wife who is resented for telling you what you can and can’t do. I don’t want to become your babysitter.”
“I don’t want that…”
“But,” she cut him off, “I will help you if you want. I can plan your days if that is what you need, but only as suggestions. I’m not going to remind you ten times that something needs to be done, or nag at you to be somewhere. I’ll plan; it’ll be up to you to follow through.”
She laid her head into his chest. He wrapped his arm around her and combed his fingers through her hair. How many times had he told her he’d do better? He can’t risk losing her and the kids. This time had to be different. He would have to make the change and listen to her. “thanks”
He rolled over to an empty bed. Nothing new she was always up before him. He climbed out of bed and went to the kitchen for his cup of coffee, looking at the pictures on his way. In the kitchen, she had his coffee ready for him next to her open calendar. When he sat down, she came over and joined him.
“This is what our week looks like. These are the kid’s activities.” She pointed out the different days, swimming twice a week, practice as well, and more. “What do you need help with?”
They sat there for about thirty minutes going over things he wanted to accomplish both for money and to take care of the house. They went over the kid’s schedule and found there are many things he had been missing that he did not need to; not everything he could attend but most he would be able to. As the sugary part of his coffee hit his lips and the sun threw its blinding light over the trees and through the window, they finished with their time together. There’s not much left for that, but she swore with a smile on her face that it was enough. She got up to start the kid’s breakfast. He was going to have to get to work soon. Finishing entering his new calendar into his phone he headed to the bathroom to start his new schedule.
‘Jordan’s second to last practice is today’ he reminded himself as he walked into the flower store, ‘He has one last game next week and the season will be over.’ “May I help you?” a sweet voice sounded out from across the room.
“Yes, I need to order some flowers to be delivered two weeks from now.”
“Birthday? Anniversary?” The older lady set down the baby’s breath and came around the counter. Grabbing a book she motioned him to sit down at the tiny glass bistro table to the side of the room.
“Anniversary and thank you all in one.” He sat and started flipping through the book. He came across one he liked, added a dozen deep red roses to it, and placed the order. On the simple card he chooses he writes ‘Happy anniversary! I wouldn’t be the man I am without you. I love you.’ Wrapping up the sale he rushed back to work knowing he took too long for his lunch break, but knowing it was worth it.
Steve screeched to a halt at the practice field. His son walked up to the car disappointment smeared across his face. ‘Late again, I need to do better’ Jordan climbed into the car and buckled up without a word. When Steve pulled away from the field, “I know I missed practice and I’m sorry. Work ran late again, but that means nothing.” With silence from his son he continues. “When we get home can you and I spend some one on one time out in the yard? I’d like to see how far you can hit the ball.” Still silence. They stopped at a red light and Steve turned to his son, “I’m trying to do better. It’s hard but I’m trying. If you don’t want to hit balls, I won’t make you. But, I’d love to spend time with you” With that he got a smile.
“I’d like that.” Short and sweet, but at least it was something.