Look at him—look how happy he is, how satisfied. That’s right, this boy, on the cusp of Teendom (he’ll arrive there in two days, in fact), beat me mercilessly. Without so much as a drop of sweat.
“Hey Buds,” I said casually this morning. “How ‘bout we go out and hit some balls?” I should have known, of course, it’s never quite that simple. You know what happened next—one doesn’t just go hit some balls on those pristine clay courts. One doesn’t slip into a tennis skirt and flat-soled shoes, pull back hair just-so, fill a half-dozen sport bottles with icy H2O, grab the best of last year’s beaten, hollow tennis balls, check the vibration damper on the racquet, and with a ring-less right hand, load the car with all the gear for just a quick drive to the courts to lob the ball around. No, one engages in a bloodthirsty match when one steps on that hard clay.
I told the little man that he had an unfair “advantage.” Mother’s adult-onset asthma was acting up again (what with all this damp weather, indeed, it was!). But he knew the truth, even if he kindly kept it to himself: that unfair “advantage” is a little thing called YOUTH. And when you no longer have it, you realize what an advantage it is. But I never gave this much thought until I got on the court today with my near 13 year old son. We were both a little rusty—my first time, and the little man’s second at tennis since, probably, last September. We approached the court cautiously, chose our sides and began a low-key, friendly rally. Then it happened, one of us (I can’t remember who) suggested a game—a real game. “Oh, you sure?” I asked. “You remember how to score, Bud?” Of course he did; quite precisely, in fact.
It’s a somber day when your kids surpass you, whether on the court, or otherwise physically, athletically, or intellectually (and in my case, that’s pretty much already happened in the math department)—and Lord knows, at times, even emotionally. Yet, any sentimentality is eclipsed by parental pride. It’s what we all want for our children—we want more for them, we want them to meet (and maybe exceed) their potential, reach for their dreams, grab 'em and run, do even better than ourselves. And I’m sure that both of mine will (there’s just no comparison!). But I remember, not so very long ago (well, ok, maybe more like a decade—but what’s a decade in parental years?) when the little man used to refer to those tailed, flying-buckets in the sky as “hop-a-copters,” and red, sirened fire responders as “fly trucks.” I'll remember and keep those toddler days in my heart forever. But those days of toddler neologisms and playing with Tonka trucks are long forgotten by the boy-man, although he'll always have the stories.
“This isn’t the French Open, Big Guy,” I reminded him, as I rifled through my bag for my inhaler, and gulped down the last of the water, grunting to myself: enough already with the drop shots. “You can hit the ball directly to me, you know.” Well, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? Oh, I’m supposed to run for the ball? Somehow, that wasn’t such a big deal in the first set, but in my fairly advanced age, stamina plays a serious role in this game, and I didn’t feel much like hoofin’ it anymore—not in this painfully extended set. It was the boy-man's advantage, and the last of the three-set match. His last serve to me was a perfect low slice through the box, which, not even from well behind the service line—not in my wildest dream—could I return.
“That’s game!” I shouted quickly and jubilantly. Game over! Happy to lose! But summer’s just beginning, and if I’m going to keep up with this rapidly budding teen, and the girl-Tween behind him, I’d better get out there and start pounding the pavement; get serious about hitting those balls. I have a feeling I’m going to tire of being whipped; even so, I’ll never tire of that boy-man's joyous look of satisfaction.