My husband is really good at remembering people’s names. They’re just not the names that belong to the people he’s talking to.
“We ran into Noah and his dad at the park,” he boasts as he and our two sons tumble through the door.
“Who?” I inquire. No Noahs we know live nearby.
“No-ah, Dan’s kid,” he enunciates like I have a hearing problem.
“Do you mean Jo-nah, Dave’s son?” I enunciate like he has a memory problem.
“Oh crap…I just called the dad Dan.”
I roll my eyes up, side and back, as deep as they can possibly go in my head. This form of anomia has been going on for some time, my husband confidently addressing a person by first name only later to discover he failed at the matching game.
So you can imagine my astonishment when I arrive at our older son’s second basketball game with a new team and I hear my husband belting out kids’ names assuredly from the sidelines. “Nice pass, Colton! Good D, Zachary! To the hoop, Sy! (Well, the last one is ours.) Not only is he paternally involving himself in a way I’ve never witnessed, he appears actually to know every team member’s name. He is not an uninvolved dad, but let’s just say he’s not the one counting cacao nibs for the rain forest tasting project or collecting toothbrushes off the floor for a run through the dishwasher. He’s also not a joiner. He’s cool outsourcing stuff.
“I’m thinking of assistant coaching next season,” he says offhandedly at the third game. For the past ten minutes, he’s been aww shucksing ref calls and chummily shouldering fellow dads when Brooklyn Boss scores. Who is this man to my left? I don’t recognize his after-school spirit or the register of his voice, which is two octaves higher than usual. Moreover, my husband is speaking a language I don’t understand — sport talk. “Hands up, Blue!” he yells unselfconsciously, even if not a player complies.
One of the things I fancy about my husband is his range. When he controls the remote at night, which is 100% of the time, he frequently flips between basketball playoffs, a Jacques Pepin interview, and Shtisel. He and I are equally enthralled when our sons casually perform a number from Les Mis, but until now, I had no notion how competitive sports would sharpen his recall and put a thrust in his fatherhood.
“What’s the coach’s name?” I ask, thinking I’ll volunteer to bring snacks next week.
“I dunno…” he shrugs me off. “I just call him Coach.”
Apparently, there’s a limit to what his athleticortex can handle. It has room for five kids on the court and four bench warmers, no more.
“Look at him,” he points to our son. “He’s staring at the scoreboard and he needs to go to the bathroom! To the hole, Sy!” he bellows.
“Let him be,” I say, slouching into a metal fold-up chair he arranged courtside as I shoot my forty-seventh video of the game.
“I didn’t tie his shoes tight enough,” he winces as our son trips down the court, for once blaming himself instead of me. And then it hits me like a ball out of bounds. Why I’m feeling so content, so relaxed, so at ease. It is because I am sitting and spectating. While he’s in high-gear parenting mode, I’m coasting in neutral. For once, I am on the sidelines watching our son. It’s a passive parenting role that I’ve never known and it feels grand. It’s why I wanted to have boys — I figured at some point it would mean less work for me.
In our regular life off the court, I never sit. Like most moms, I’m perennially packing and unpacking, filling and emptying bags, thermoses, bottles and containers, sorting through those dead trees, aka “work” and “art,” that come home nightly in their backpacks. Then there are the tasks that have no names. What is it called when you painstakingly peel packing tape off a Tae Kwon Do uniform-turned-Ninja-suit that accidentally got put in the dryer? And what about laying out fresh PJs for the anticipated 3 AM pee pee wardrobe change? Screen Time setting management? Shame on you, Apple. You’re protecting my kids, but at what cost to My Time?
I am in constant motion to the point when once when I sat down at our table, nothing in front of me, perfectly still, the boys looked at me perplexed while my husband interrogated, “What’s going on here?”
“I’m making myself available,” I said calmly.
“Well, it’s making us uncomfortable,” he replied, at which point I rose and began to busy myself again.
Other times when I sit long enough to chew a few bites of the dinner I’ve prepared, I am called to my evening duty, or rather, my younger son’s. It’s as if my mastication triggers his elimination. Before I can swallow, I’ve relocated to the bathroom floor where I sit cross-legged across from him fielding his question du jour. “How does God decide if something is an animal or a person?”
So you can imagine my delight to learn there’s a sport for every season and we’re signed up for every fucking one of them! Call me a promoter of gender stereotypes, but I will ride this dad sport thing to the college finish line. I will take pleasure being, not a soccer mom, but a spectator mom, watching my boys like they exist solely for my enjoyment and entertainment. Let their dad double knot their laces and if needed, at half time wipe their butts.