A few years ago, when Grace was very young, she and I went to the mall. It was important that she be homogenized and pacified by big business like the rest of us Americans. The recycled air and even, non-threatening music would do her good. Maybe I'd buy her a baseball hat, T-shirt, or a Happy Meal toy.
As I set up the stroller in the parking lot, a man called out to me (why is it that simply having a child gives everyone permission to talk to me?).
"Remember how easy it used to be to just go to the mall?" He flicked his chin toward Grace, squirming against the stroller's straps. The man was walking with a girl of about 11 or 12. She was wearing a shirt that read "GAP" in huge letters, and texting vehemently on a cell phone.
I could see her indoctrination was going well.
What's he talking about? I thought. All I have to do is spend sixty seconds moving Grace from her car seat to the stroller. Pfft, this guy's a pessimist.
It's AMAZING how the glee of new parenthood can impair one's perception.
Two weeks ago, the kids were playing a game in the kitchen. If I had to name it, I'd choose: Who Can Scream the Loudest, or Test Daddy's Patience, or Honey Come Over Here & Help Me Pour Melted Wax Into My Ears. Something like that.
The screaming meant it was time to leave the house. "Who wants to go to a baseball game?" I asked. "Me! Me! Me!" they shouted like lunatics. "Okay," I said. "Let's get in the car." Grace pulled the door open so hard it hit the wall, and the two of them sprinted into the yard as if the house were burning.
"Well, wait," my wife said.
"What?" I asked.
"You can't just 'go to a baseball game.' Get the things you'll need."
I thought I had what I need: the kids and a twenty. I was wrong. I was handed a tote bag and instructed to retrieve:
Toys for William
Toys for Grace
Tupperware with snacks
Hats for the kids (which they won't wear)
A cell phone
I hoisted the huge bag onto my shoulder, folded the stroller, and told the kids — who had covered themselves in wet sand — to follow me to the car. Once we were all strapped in, I drove to the game.
We parked far from the field. I pushed my collection of children and stuff across the pavement, wondering if I should've just let them play the screaming game.
When we got there, the kids went right for the playground next to the field. I could see the top of the batter's head but that was all. "Let's go watch the men play baseball," I said in a cheerful tone.
"We want the playground," Grace said.
"But I brought all these cool toys." I pointed to the enormous tote bag.
"No, thank you," she said.
Eventually, I got to see half an inning. I've tried to see other games this season, but it's always the same story.
That guy in the mall parking lot was right.
This post should probably end with a sentimental scene: a hug, a well-timed tender moment, the revelation that , yes, things are different as a parent — but for the better.
But you know what? I just want to see a friggin baseball game.