I pick my 2-year old son, Eddie, up from daycare every day at noon, and we have about an hour-and-a-half to fill before he goes down for his nap. It's a funny amount of time because it's too short to do something fun, like go to a movie, but too long to just go in the house and read a book or play with a toy. So, we usually break it up, doing a bit of this and a bit of that, and invariably end up at the park just near my house that is affectionately called "Pooper's Park" because so many people take their dogs there to do their business.
We were about to head over to the park yesterday when I remembered our neighbor, Sheila, had given us a large, blue ball. It was an exercise ball, though the smaller version, and it made the perfect child's toy. We took it with us to the park.
Eddie and I rolled it back and forth and kicked it around for a couple of minutes, but when it rolled off and Eddie became interested in a nearby tree, I pulled out my phone to check my email. I'm a compulsive person by nature, so checking my email is not just a convenience, but a psychological fixation. Smart phones have only made my preoccupation worse.
When I looked up from my phone, Eddie said, "Ball?" I looked around the park and it was nowhere to be found. I had been derelict in my duties and now the ball was gone. I feared that next time, it might be my son.
It wasn't the first time I "left the room" as they say, while playing with Eddie. Last summer, Eddie and I were at the beach, and he found a little plastic yellow ring. It had a big circle on it with a little dot in the center, reminiscent of Underdog's ring. Eddie didn't want to wear the ring. He found a place on the tidal flats where the water gathered, like a river, and he wanted to keep putting the ring in the water to watch it float. I showed him how to move the ring by making waves behind it, creating a current. We did that over and over again until Eddie decided to bury the ring. He dug in the sand and found it but then promptly buried it again. We played this game over and over again until he buried it too well, and he couldn't find it. I dug into the sand and found it and gave it to him. He buried it again, and again I found it. But after a minute or two, I began to daydream, and this time he buried the ring so well I couldn't find it because I didn't see where he'd buried it.
I began to frantically fish my hands under the sand, to no avail. I chastised myself for having daydreamed when I was on duty. What if he was in the ocean one day, and I began to day dream? I thought. I continued to feel around under the sand, from one end of the pool of water to the other, and finally, after a few minutes, I felt something in the sand and yanked it out. I was so relieved to find this object that had quickly become precious.
And now I'd done it again. I scanned the perimeter of Pooper's Park, but there was no sign of the ball. It was windy out, so I determined which way the wind was blowing and walked over to the houses along that side of the park. I peaked in all the yards and under trees along that side, reasoning that the ball could not have disappeared. The wind must have moved it somewhere.
There are times in a parent's life when you feel like your kid is counting on you. The only thing between them and the horrors of the world is you. This was probably not one of those times, but having fallen asleep on the job, I felt like it was. I was determined to find the ball.
"C'mon. We're getting in the car," I told Eddie. "We're going to find this ball."
We got in the car and drove down the block slowly.
"You look on that side of the street. I'll look on this side," I told my son, pointing to the houses he was supposed to survey. I thought he was too young to understand my instructions, but when I looked over at him, I saw him looking out the window on his appointed side.
"Wait, is that it?" I said and stopped the car and hopped out. I peered down an alley, but it was just a planter.
We drove about five blocks and when I got as far as our little grocery market, I knew the ball couldn't possibly have gone this far. I had failed. I took a right turn, and then another right, and started heading home on a parallel street. I was disappointed. I didn't just want to find the ball. I needed to, for my son's sake. And for my own. I wanted to make up for all the times I'd wronged him by spacing out, or checking my email or talking on the phone, or wandering off to weed some garden bed while he waited for me to come over to him.
"Come, mommy, come. Mommy, come, mommy. Come," he'll say over and over again some days, and sometimes, I don't come right away.
As we headed home, I spotted something on the sidewalk in front of our local realtor. It was a big blue ball, just sitting there, as if it had been waiting for us.
"There it is!" I shrieked and jumped out of the car.
I grabbed the ball and handed it to my son. "Your ball, buddy. It's your ball. Mommy found your ball!" I said, as I slid back into the driver's seat. As I put the car in gear, I looked at my son in the rear view mirror and saw that I was more excited than he was. But then, for him, it was just a ball. For me, it was salvation.