I met them at the corner between my house and where they live with their mother. The distance between our homes is no more than 250 feet, but our streets are divided at the intersection and we can’t see each other’s properties.
He needed his baseball bag for practice the next day as well as his pants and cleats. They’d been sitting in his room since last week when his team had practiced on my night with the children.
He called first to arrange for me to drop them off at his house in the morning, but I invited him to come to my house to get them and then decided to meet him halfway.
I slung his bat bag over my shoulder and stepped out into the night carrying his pants on a hanger. I walked out onto my front lawn and turned to my left and saw his silhouette coming out of the front door of the house where I used to live. I could see from that distance that his hair was wet and slicked back from his nighttime bath. Behind him I saw his sister moving around as though she were helping him with something on their front porch. Then she turned to walk back in the house and I saw the screen door start to close behind her.
“Hey,” I shouted.
My daughter is convinced the neighbors think we’re crazy and it absolutely petrifies her when her siblings or I raise our voice. For a moment I was worried that my yelling would send her back inside. But then I saw her body turn and come back out and follow behind her brother as he made his way across the street to meet me.
They’d been away with their mother for four days in Lincoln, Nebraska, visiting their grandmother. And I swear, even at this age – 10 and 12 – they still seemed six months older than when I saw them last.
My son walked up to me and took the bag and asked me if I’d seen the basketball game the day before. His favorite college team, Kansas, had been dominated by in-state rival Wichita State and knocked out of the NCAA tournament. I thought he would’ve taken it hard, but he hadn’t. He said he was going to wear his Wichita State T-shirt to school the next day. We’d been to see them play a basketball game the year before and had followed their baseball team too, so it wasn’t like he was completely switching allegiances.
While our conversation was going on, my daughter stood lingering behind him with her hands behind her back, nervously shifting from one leg to the other. I took a step toward her and asked her to give me a hug.
“I missed you,” I said.
“I missed you too daddy,” she said.
“Do you know why the Jayhawks lost that game?” I asked.
“Defense,” my son said.
I was finished hugging my daughter then, and I gave him a quick hug. Then I stepped back and looked at them both.
“Wichita State won because their players decided to stay in college and get their degrees,” I said. “Most of those players were juniors and seniors while the Jayhawks were mostly one-and-dones.”
They didn’t really have an answer for this. I could tell that they felt they should get back home already. Our moment together was over as soon as it has begun, and in the 30 seconds I had their attention, I managed to make a lame plea for them to complete their college education in six or eight years, depending on the child.
These are the moments you have sometimes after divorce. You seem to have only a few split seconds to parent and impart something worthwhile. And sometimes when you should just hand your son his baseball bag, you try to turn the moment into something more than what it really is.
I watch them jog back home in the light of the streetlamps. And then I came back to a quiet house with one more night to wait before my time with them could resume.