I was having a rough day on the mound, but thankfully the game was almost over. I only had to get through one more batter. Unfortunately this batter had rocked every pitch I had thrown at him in his previous at bats. He was good, really good. Probably the best hitter I had ever seen. He had a keen eye, giving him the rare ability to be able to see a 95mph fastball in slow motion. His gift allowed him to perfectly time his swing, ensuring that the ball would only make contact with the “sweet spot” of the bat.
I looked down from the pitcher’s mound and stalled for a second as I ran through my rolodex of pitches. I looked back over my right shoulder to check the runner on second base, and then turned my attention back to home plate. As my eyes met the batter’s, a light bulb went off in my head and I suddenly knew the perfect pitch to throw.
It was the greatest pitch I had in my arsenal, and certainly my only chance of striking him out. The pitch would take all of my energy to pull off, but a quick gut check showed that I had just enough in the tank to get through this one last pitch. It was time to pull out the “Supersonic Extra Deluxe Flutter Trick Curve Chocolate Chip Sprinkle Loopty-Loop” pitch.
I wound up and threw the pitch as perfect as perfect can be. The ball left my hand at a supersonic speed designed to make the batter think it was a fastball. If you listened closely you could actually hear a little “boom” as the ball broke the sound barrier. After about 4 feet at top speed, right on cue, the ball would come to a complete stop, pausing there in mid air as if stopping for a sudden red light. As gravity tugged on it, the ball would begin to flutter. The fluttering would cause chocolate sprinkles to shake out of the ball, which were secretly hidden in the middle, causing a fog of sorts and masking the exact location of the ball. Then instead of falling straight to the ground the ball would start into a series of roller coaster-esque loopty loops until it crossed home plate. As you can imagine the pitch was virtually unhittable. But unfortunately that wasn’t the case on this day.
My 5-year-old son, Will, never took his eye off the ball and wouldn’t fall for any of the tricks designed to get him to swing early. He reared back with his giant blow up bat and timed his swing perfectly, knocking the cover off the ball as it soared out of the imaginary stadium. He raised his hands triumphantly and ran around the bases, making sure to touch each of them: First base: a baby stroller, Second base: a door handle, Third base: a poster of a little kitten, and Home Plate: a small dark stain on the blue carpet.
Now I’ve played in hundreds of baseball games growing up, but I have to say that this was the most fun game I had ever played in. Oddly enough it took place in a 12’X12’ room in the back of a Church, with a giant blow up bat, and no ball. The game had come to life as my two youngest sons and I had setup camp in the Church playroom after my 7 year old had finished performing at his annual piano recital. (Side note: He nailed it, hitting every note perfectly. He even took the time to tell his teacher how well he had played as he exited the stage.) His performance was near the beginning of the recital, and thus there would be another hour and a half of classical music, a little too much for a 3 and 5 year old to handle. So Game on! Without the luxury of a ball, gloves, bases, or a baseball field, we decided to use our imagination and we had the time of our lives.
One of the first things that you are supposed to do as a parent is encourage your kids to use their imagination. It’s right up there with potty training and teaching them to walk. It’s part of the nurturing process. Their imagination allows them to dream up new worlds and new friends. It’s what allows them to see a banana, not as a long yellow fruit, but as a super powered rocket ship. In short it’s what allows them to be kids. As a parent I urge my boys to have fun and use their imagination as much as possible. It’s part of their development but selfishly I also hope that it allows them to stay kids just a little longer. What I recently realized though is that it is just as important (if not more so) for me to use my imagination too. For when I do I suddenly become a much, much better parent.
I’ve noticed that it’s basically impossible to think of two things at the same time. If I focus all my attention on coming up with some new rules for Duck, Duck, Goose, or handing out super powers to everyone, or inventing an imaginary pitch to throw then I can’t be thinking of work, or the mortgage, or sale numbers, etc. I am often guilty of being distracted when I am with my kids by “work related” issues. It has become a cliché in our society to have the parent typing away on an iPhone or Blackberry while the kids play around him, and unfortunately I very often fit that stereotype. Even during “down time”, emails, text messages, and sales reports fly through my phone at warp speed. When my phone signals a new message, my ears perk up and I start salivating like Pavlov’s dog. I have become addicted to information, and that addiction often overrides whatever activity I am currently doing. One of my boys can be talking to me, but amazingly I don’t hear a single word he says, because all I can think of is that email that I need to send, or that new strategy we should try with that customer.
When I encourage my kids to use their imagination, it very often forces me to use mine as well. I am often the one who comes up with the topic to draw or the story to tell. As I get more and more immersed into their activity, the emails, phone calls, and text messages suddenly fade into the background, at least for a little while, and it suddenly forces me to be present with my kids. It forces me to listen to them, to talk to them, to laugh with them, and to play with them. My imagination allows me to come up with stories that we laugh about and invent crazy games that we love to play, but most importantly…… it allows me to truly be there with my kids, it allows me to really be a dad.